Experimental Production

Sustainable Futures Game

Accelerating sustainability transitions requires imagination and creativity to concretise desirable futures narratives. For this purpose, Hellon designed the Sustainable Futures Game to focus on connecting societal sustainability goals with everyday organisational contexts and help build organisations’ capabilities for imagining alternative futures. The game is designed for decision makers and developers within public and private organisations, offering a creative and holistic approach to address sustainability challenges.

The game aims to help players co-imagine a desirable future state of a collectively decided city in 2030 through fictional storytelling and design prompts and then back-cast ways to tackle critical challenges to reach the co-narrated future. As the story is co-narrated, the outcome of each game session varies depending on the participants’ interests and aspirations. This diversity of perspectives helps the players to find new opportunities and create novel pathways for reaching desirable futures.

Sustainable Futures Game film introducing the project’s scope and motivations (Hellon, 2022).

The development of the game started from the motivation to foster desirable futures and feasible pathways towards them, while avoiding the production of disempowering dystopian or utopian narratives. Decision makers in business and public institutions were chosen as the preliminary target group for the game with the aim of influencing sustainable organisational transformations.

At the beginning of 2019, Hellon sought opportunities to contribute to social and ecological sustainability in partnership with other creative agencies and research institutes. Joining the CreaTures consortium in 2020 enabled Hellon to explore this endeavour in depth. The Sustainable Futures Game is inspired by Hellon’s two previous projects: Nordic Urban Mobility 2050 Futures Game for Nordic Innovation (2019) and the Opportunities for Finland Report for the Finnish Government (2018 – 2019). These experiences strengthened Hellon’s conviction on the need for novel processes to aid collaborative explorations of sustainable futures through creative methods and imagination. 

The Sustainable Futures Game can be played both physically and digitally, by eight to ten persons at a time. A game session starts with an introductory presentation by Hellon facilitators to prepare the players and introduce the key terms and concepts of the game. The gameplay occurs in two parts.

Details of the Sustainability Futures Game board (image credit: Hellon).

In the first part, players collectively imagine a fictional story set in 2030, which depicts a desirable near future state of a selected city. The fictional story unfolds through player discussions supported by various probing tools including. The main objective of this first part of the game is to facilitate a dialog on desirable futures and collectively imagine a fictional story that integrates multifaceted characteristics of this future narrative, such as personal desires, societal norms, and political structures.

In the second part, players identify critical challenges and barriers that restrict or hinder their co-narrated desirable futures from materialising. The game session results in concrete, action-oriented suggestions on what type of activities should be implemented today to overcome the identified barriers and move towards the co-imagined future.

The Sustainable Futures Game can be seen as an example of futures-oriented design games that help participants make abstract and ambiguous topics more engaging and personal by incorporating creative methods such as improvisation, fictional storytelling, visual prompts, and creative ideation.

From August – November 2020, the first game prototypes were tested in a series of pilot game sessions with partners from the CreaTures project and other stakeholders of diverse backgrounds, including sustainability experts, system designers, service designers, and business leaders. After each game session, Hellon’s design team reflected on the insights received from participants’ feedback to revise the game logic and elements.

The first public game session took place in November 2020 and invited members of the FIBS (Finnish Business & Society Corporate Responsibility Network– the largest corporate responsibility network in the Nordic countries. In May 2021 – 2022, four additional sessions were organised with diverse players including, among others, Laurea University of Applied Sciences service design students and members of the Finnish parliamentary Green Party.

The Sustainable Futures Game installation at the Helsinki Design Week 2022 – Designs for Cooler Planet exhibition (image credit: Savannah Vize).

In June 2022, Hellon created a short film summarising the game’s conceptual background, motivations and key principles. The Sustainable Futures Game board and film were exhibited at the CreaTures Festival in Seville, Spain (June – July 2022) and at the Helsinki Design Week 2022 – Designs for Cooler Planet exhibition in Espoo, Finland, as part of the CreaTures project showcase (September – October 2022).

The Sustainable Futures Game installation at the Helsinki Design Week 2022 – Designs for Cooler Planet exhibition (image credit: Savannah Vize).