Let’s play the future

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Playing together
Photo credits: De Tol

Playing makes things real and brings an imaginary world alive. Children understand this intuitively. When they give you cup of tea in a play, the tea is real and you have to drink it. Although they know it is not the actual hot liquid they are dealing with. Playing is perfect to bring the future alive, yet still be in a safe environment. Playing a game in a foresight project makes it possible to visualise and simulate complex issues with real things at stake. It can inform, communicate, educate and train the participants. Why is playing games so powerful? In one short sentence: because it is fun!
Have you ever wondered what is so special about creative people? They are almost always very playful persons, physically active and never hesitant to do something crazy. In the most creative companies, they have things like a soccer table, playful furniture and literally playtime. Playing and creativity seem to have a close link. And that is what we need in foresight projects.
In futurist thinking, one of the aims is to make people see a wider range of possible futures and open their minds to different perspectives. In other words, creative thinking should occur about how trends relate and what kind of consequences might be possible. Introducing a game brings people into that mode of thinking. We start to see the options, because playing makes things real. But we are still in the safe setting of the game.
Games in these kinds of projects are called serious games. Nice examples are the Delta games by Deltares (about coastal defence) and the The Future Game® by Future IQ (a simulation learning tool). For an hour or two, they plunge the whole group of participants in the world of the game. Playing is indeed serious, because it conveys a message and trains the group’s thinking. The message of what is at stake in that world comes through very lively. Playing the game also creates a memory of that future situation. Responding in the game, thinking about what happens in the game, makes it easier to understand future situations and anticipate quickly. It is just like they say at Shell, scenario thinking builds a memory of the future. Playing makes it even more intense.
An intense and fun experience absolutely makes an imprint. When I think back of projects that I have been involved with, I always remember the playful parts. So let it be a challenge for all of us who design a foresight project: interlink the fun and playful with the content of the project. Use the playful mindset to make people see how (long term) trends and drivers of change affect each other. Very much by playing the future we start to understand possible future worlds.

About Freija Van Duijne

Twitter: @FreijavanDuijne Futuring is my passion. I am fascinated about what the future might bring. Always looking around for leads about the future and open for new insights. I am futurist, trendwatchter and strategist at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a thinktank in the Netherlands. My background is in Human factors psychology. I did my Masters at Leiden University and I did a PhD in Delft University at the faculty of Industrial design engineering. I have been involved in foresight studies since 2006. I am frequently asked as an expert for future studies in area of food, natural resources, health and governance. I am also a speaker and workshop facilitator on futures studies, trend presentations and the many topics that I blog about. My contributions to Futuristablog represent my own personal opinion and is never a statement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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