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Spaceship Earth, the Game
Jon Lebkowsky, 31 May 05

Buckminster Fuller argued that "spaceship" earth could sustain a growing population at a decent standard of living if we used our resources effectively. Fuller had studied war games at the U.S. Navy War College, and it occurred to him that you could create a "World Peace Game" that focused on the logistics necessary to share resources and make the concept of war obsolete. From this evolved what he called the World GameTM, now called the Global Simulation Workshop. In May designers and scientists met via the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology to create a massively multiplayer online game based on Fuller's thinking. [Link]

In the 1980s – fueled by Fuller’s claims that there were enough resources on the planet to sustain a growing population – his colleagues created a multi-player, hands-on simulation called World Game Workshops. Played on a world map the size of a basketball court, the game was a unique and immersive visualization of the Earth and a simulation of its complex systems. It gave players an opportunity to solve global-scale problems by using prudent design and good science. Players worked to develop the world's technology and resource use while maintaining the Earth’s ecological integrity. Fuller envisioned Spaceship Earth as a metaphor for understanding the earth as a closed-life support system for which we are all crew members and stewards.

Fast forward 25 years. The Buckminster Fuller Institute and Calit2’s Game Culture and Technology Lab collaborate on designing a new game for a much more sophisticated audience. Recognizing the potential of digital networked technology and cutting-edge scientific simulation and visualization techniques, they held a two-day design “charrette,” May 11-13, to create a blueprint for a game inspired by the World Game and Spaceship Earth concepts.

The designers’ challenge was to create an online game that would use real-world Earth and planetary system science data and real-time Earth Science visualization tools, while appealing to gamers’ sense of fun. Ultimately, Spaceship Earth players should be able to explore environmental scenarios to understand how geophysical systems and events can be altered through individual action, shifts in industrial practice, changes in environmental policy and other events.

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Can I turn canada into a radioactive wasteland and are there mutant abominations of you realy screw up? If so you should sell it as its always fun to destroy mankind a few times. Would be kinda cool to destroy mankind and learn real science at the same time!

Posted by: wintermane on 31 May 05

I thought this was interesting:

"According to industry experts, in order to remain competitive, the digital entertainment industry needs to create games that are more socially significant. Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) referred to this goal in his 2005 State of the Industry Speech, delivered to industry executives this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. “We … need more games that are socially and politically relevant. If we can make games about terrorism, why can't we make compelling games about politics or global warming? Why can't there be games which force players to struggle with weighty moral and ethical issues within compelling game worlds?”

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 31 May 05

I think we're already seeing some interesting social simulation games produced by experienced game designers. My pals at Enspire Learning developed a business simulation game called Executive Challenge that's pretty interesting. Developed by game designer Allen Varney, the EC focuses on business ethics and leadership. Simulation games are also being used in the training of nurses, and the military uses games for training as well as recruiting.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 1 Jun 05

They have made tons of political games in the past and few ever sold all that well.

And I was serious if you add more GAME to your simulation and then offer it for download alot of people will play it and they might just notice what you want em to. Then again like me they might just consentrate on destroying the world over and over again while cackling madly.

Posted by: wintermane on 1 Jun 05

I did a World Game seminar at Southern Illinois University back in the early 1970s. It was interesting but not particularly informative. One thing that rubbed me wrong was even though World Game had been at SIU for a couple of years, we seemed to be the first group to be going to the library to collect basic data.

All the iterations of World Game I've seen since then, including the present one, seem to follow that same model.

Over the years, people have talked about putting together a dashboard for Spaceship Earth so we could at least see how fast our handbasket is hurtling toward Hell. We need that instrument panel, those indicators, and it should be a fairly easy thing to do but I ain't seen it yet.

If anybody is interested, please let me know if I can help.

Good luck to the latest version of World Game. R. Buckminster Fuller had a lot of great ideas. It's always good to see somebody continuing his work.

If you really want to have your mind melted, try playing with the concepts in _Syneregetics I and II_ sometime.

Posted by: gmoke on 1 Jun 05

I did the World Game workshop too back then -- actually a month-long planetary design charrette at SIU in 1972, (were you there then, George?! call me!), then in 1973 at USC -- where we built a fairly complex-for-the-time, and pretty engaging simulation game, using judges and scoring tables and plastic tokens.

(We may have been the first World Game groups to collect data, but for me the data was pretty powerful -- making it quite clear that there was no insurmountable resource sufficiency problem standing in the way of, as Bucky put it, "a world that works for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense, or the disadvantage of anyone.")

In any case, World Game and Bucky's proposed GeoScope gaming environment -- along with Stafford Beer's cybernetic democracy work in Chile (described in "Platform for Change") -- were powerful inspirations for what has become Business Metabolics, my company's web-based key performance indicator system. (PS: NOT so easy to do...) It could provide a key component of the Global Simulation Workshop -- and the offer to donate it to BFI for this purpose still stands. (And to help in any other way that's useful.)

PS: The point of the dashboard isn't to watch us crash (we've got disaster movies for that) but to help us steer this spaceship out of its dive.

PPS: So where's the World Game Wiki?

Posted by: Gil Friend on 1 Jun 05

Awww but watching us crash is soo fun. I sometimes get the feeling thats one reason things look the way they do there simply are too many people who WANT it to crash.

Posted by: wintermane on 2 Jun 05

One of the highest objectives of the World Game, after many interations, was the Global Energy Grid. Important progress is being made in making this solution more widely known. For more info, see or

Posted by: HDSolarGuy on 2 Jun 05

"Awww but watching us crash is soo fun. I sometimes get the feeling thats one reason things look the way they do there simply are too many people who WANT it to crash."

Death wish, Dr Freud?

The hope is that there are enough people who, if they knew the facts as displayed on the Spaceship Earth dashboard, might initiate course corrections so that we don't crash. Or if we do crash, then it's in the most spectacular way simulation can make possible.

Posted by: gmoke on 3 Jun 05

Everyone who wants it to crash feels they arnt part of it in some way and thus wont crash with it or will get out the other side better off then they are now.. The frightning fact is for some they are right...

Posted by: wintermane on 4 Jun 05



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