Find the Future: The Game at the New York Public Library

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Find the Future screenshotLast week, the New York Public Library announced Find the Future, an upcoming event tied to its Centennial Celebration that will combine a scavenger hunt, all-night writing, an exquisite collection of historical artifacts, and 500 participants on May 20th at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street. To earn a spot, interested participants answer a simple question about the future, and judges will determine the best entries.

Find the Future is an interesting example of library community building, and the in-person event serves as marketing for a crowdsourced book that will be created through game mechanics.

At the event, 500 special guests will play an on-location game involving a hundred historical objects on display (including for example, the library’s copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand), QR codes read by smartphones and used on laptops, and quests that serve as writing prompts. Through the gameplay, participants will submit content—text or images in response to the quests—that could be included in a publication compiled from player submissions, using the Biblion: The Boundless Library app, which will be launched at the event. After the on-location event, an online version of the game will also be available to play for free as well, so the experience is not limited to those able to attend the live event.

From an interview with the NYPL, game designer and writer Jane McGonigal claims that “The game is designed to empower young people to find their own futures by bringing them face-to-face with the writings and objects of people who made an extraordinary difference. Like every game I make, it has one goal: to turn players into superempowered, hopeful individuals with real skills and ideas to help them change the world.”

That player contributions will result in a book is just one of the compelling dimensions of Find the Future. Using game mechanics to encourage collaboration and to creativity, while focusing that playful energy into positive projects is the hallmark of game designer Jane McGonigal’s work, brought together in her recent New York Times bestseller, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. With an emphasis on social awareness, one of McGonigal’s previous games, Evoke, channeled gameplay into over 50 social enterprises, and McGonigal has appeared in numerous venues to discuss the transformative power of games, from a talk at TED2010 to the Colbert Report to, most recently, being named Speaker of the Event at South by Southwest Interactive.

Encouraging user-created content and even channeling gameplay into creativity seem to be among the more commonly adopted strategies to encourage interactivity by blurring the lines between creator and consumer. Another example of focusing the user experience toward an active and productive end include the recently completed alternate reality game Black Helix, a project supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland that will result in a crowdsourced fiction project. In a less fictionalized experience, Digitalkoot, a Finnish library project that uses game mechanics to correct OCR conversions manually in order to improve the quality of the library’s digitized heritage collection.

It will be interesting to see what will result from real-world engagement with historical artifacts and game mechanics at the Find the Future event, but excitement about the experience is already high: at the time of this writing, there are over 1600 entries for the 500 spots. Submissions will be accepted until April 21: just head over to the Find the Future website and respond to a writing prompt about your vision of the future.

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