Little Blue Dot
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives--
on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. (Sagan, 1997)
As the most devastating effects of climate change loom, societies struggle to make decisions about who and what should be protected (and at what cost). The UN, anticipating these challenges, released 17 Sustainable Development Goals in an attempt to address this in an equitable and thoughtful way. On a city level, however, meeting these goals requires much more than ticking off sterilized items on a list. Cities will have to attend to long-term dynamic processes that effect the everyday, and demand collaboration, creativity, and resilience from multiple stakeholders.
As Collective Intelligence scholar Geoff Mulgan points out, learning to act collectively “is in many ways humanity’s grandest challenge since there’s little prospect of solving the other grand challenges of climate, health, prosperity, or war without progress in how we think and act together” (Mulgan, 2018, p.6). For this reason, learning to communicate across disciplines is more important than ever, and I believe participatory mechanisms like those found in digital games can help to enable that process through shared experience.
Little Blue Dot is a multiplayer, story-based city simulation that allows players to become stakeholders in not just the outcome of the game, but the values underlying it. The fate of the city unfolds from the perspective of the main character, Dot, whose life begins in 2030. Dot’s city is affected by the decisions of players and what they speculate will be important during Dot’s lifetime. Using word vector analysis, keywords from player-entered texts are weighted towards a dictionary of values, which will be used to shape the city over time. The game is also punctuated randomly by both direct and indirect human-made problems like pollution, resource scarcity, and climate events. Dot cannot be controlled by players directly; rather, the character’s story unfolds through its relationship to the city (and the values underpinning it). At the end of each round, players must discuss not just the conditions necessary for Dot’s survival, but whether the Little Blue Dot lived a good life, and what constitutes a sustainable future in a world ravaged by the climate crisis.
On 14 February 1990, Voyager I took a snapshot of Earth from six billion kilometers away. Earth appears as a pale blue dot occupying less than a pixel of the screen; a view so distanced that Carl Sagan was driven to reflect on the significance of its insignificance. All wars, all economies, all social movements struggle to affect just a tiny fraction of this little blue dot. From a distance, the image is undetailed, but those viewing the photograph understand that everything that makes up our lives resides within it. Filling in the details of this hazy dot is the sum total of all actions happening on the Earth; details we determine based on our decisions, and our vision of the world we would like to occupy. Little Blue Dot attempts to model this by showing that the effects we have on the planet are, in fact, effects we have on a single life, and that we must learn to work together in order to create a place we are proud to call home.
Mulgan, G. (2018). Big mind: How collective intelligence can change our world. Princeton University Press.
Sagan, C. (1997). Pale blue dot: A vision of the human future in space. Random House Digital, Inc.