The thing from the future
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The Thing From The Future is an award-winning imagination game that challenges players to collaboratively and competitively describe objects from a range of alternative futures. The object of the game is to come up with the most entertaining and thought-provoking descriptions of hypothetical objects from different near-, medium-, and long-term futures. The game helps individuals and groups of people develop a “suspension of disbelief” around change as well as a divergent and diverse mindset about the futures.

Description of the tool

Following a gamified and materialized approach, the Thing from the future constitutes an easy entry point for the collective, yet entertaining, exploration of alternative futures. This exploration is done following the Experiential Futures Ladder and allows groups to wiggle from the concrete, situated and experienced (ex. objects) to the abstract, general and high level (ex. scenarios). Each round, players collectively generate a creative prompt by playing a card game. This prompt outlines the kind of future that the thing-to-be-imagined comes from, specifies what part of society or culture it belongs to, describes the type of object that it is, and suggests an emotional reaction that it might spark in an observer from the present. Players must then each write a short description of an object that fits the constraints of the prompt. These descriptions are then read aloud (without attribution), and players vote on which description they find the most interesting, provocative, or funny. The winner of each round keeps the cards put into play for that round, and whoever has the most cards when the game ends is declared the overall winner.

Steps of application

The deck of cards  Situation lab has disposed of a print-friendly version of the cards ready to be used.  Set Up Gather game cards, blank index cards, and pens. Shuffle the cards and deal out 12 to each player. Set the deck aside. Before the first card is played, the dealer should state how long players will have to generate ideas for this round (usually 2-5 minutes). If players are new to the game, the dealer may wish to allow slightly more time for the first round or two. Number of players A single deck of The Thing From The Future cards may be used for play by individuals or by groups of two to six members. For larger gatherings (such as in a classroom or workshop), the game may be played by parallel groups with one deck per group and a central facilitator to orchestrate the timing of each round. Four players is an ideal group size. The cards There are four types of cards in The Thing From The Future: Arc, Terrain, Object, and Mood. Each round, players will generate a four-card creative prompt containing one of each kind of card. Based on this prompt, players will imagine a thing from the future.

ARC CARDS ARC cards broadly describe different kinds of possible futures. These cards contain two kinds of information. The main (top) text of each Arc card specifies one of four generic images of alternative futures for players to imagine: Grow, Collapse, Discipline, or Transform.  Grow is a kind of future in which everything and everyone keeps climbing: population, production, consumption… Collapse is a kind of future in which life as we know it has fallen – or is falling – apart. Discipline is a kind of future in which things are carefully managed by concerted coordination, perhaps top-down or perhaps collaboratively. Transform is a kind of future in which a profound historical transition has occurred, whether spiritual or technological in nature.

TERRAIN CARDS TERRAIN cards describe contexts, places, and topic areas. In a completed prompt, the terrain card describes where – physically or conceptually – the thing from the future might be found. Two terrains appear on each card in order to provide richer possibilities for the deck.

OBJECT CARDS OBJECT cards describe the basic form of the thing from the future.

MOOD CARDS MOOD cards describe emotions that the thing from the future might evoke in an observer from the present.  

The round Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player must play a card from their hand by placing it face-up in the middle of the table. Players may choose to play any card of a colour different from those already in play. Terrain cards each offer two options, and the applicable terrain for a given round is chosen by the person playing that card. (The alternative terrain is not used in that round.) Replace each card played with a fresh card drawn from the deck. In groups of two or three, continue taking turns until a complete prompt is in play. In groups of more than four, every subsequent player gets to take a turn by replacing any card already in play with another of the same colour. Once the prompt is complete and every player has had a turn, the dealer starts the timer. On one side of an index card, each player must write a brief description of a thing from the future inspired by the four cards in the prompt. When the time is up, the dealer collects index cards from the players and reads them aloud without attribution. Players vote on the Thing that is most evocative, and the player who created the winning Thing receives the cards currently in play as a reward. These cards are now out of play and should be held by their owner until the end of the game. Start the next round by rotating the dealer role to the left. Ending the game Once players have exhausted the deck or otherwise decided to call it quits, the game is over. Everyone wins (but the player with the most cards wins even more).


This tool constitutes an excellent entry point to creatively, deeply and diversely think about futures. This ability is one of the prerequisites for enacting change: recognizing some kind of dissonance and the possibility of an alternative state of affairs. Highly functioning communities possess the capacity to collectively imagine alternatives and organize their work towards those visions.  This tool is to be used specially along the following movements presented in the Prefigurating Utopia framework.

Context of origin

Visual representation


Jim Dator’s four generic images of the future. Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. Situation Lab



Stuart Candy and Jeff Watson CC-BY-NC-SA @Situation Lab