Futures Poker was designed for the Somerset House Studios launch in October 2016. You can download a copy here. The deck is free to use, print, and translate into other languages: please credit Strange Telemetry when you use or share it, and do let us know what you get up to with it!
There’s more information about the history of the deck here, and we will be exploring options for mass production in the longer term.
“On a cold autumn evening, in the guts of Somerset House - former home of the Inland Revenue and the Admiralty - we invite you to join us for an evening of cards in the Snooker Rooms. Bringing together the amusements of Naval officers, state levies on gambling gathered by HM Revenue & Customs, and cartomancy, Futures Poker offers up the most high-stake of subjects: the future/s. From rogue geo-engineers and secession movements; rewilding to artificial empathy; weather weirding to class warfare: we bring an array of uncertain outcomes, emerging trends, complexity, frictions, and systems to the felted table."
For the launch of Somerset House Studios – Strange Telemetry’s new home – we produced Futures Poker, a card deck and ruleset designed to jimmy open plural futures.
The deck comprises 20 locations; five different years spanning 2018 to 2100; and 50 cards denoting different trends and drivers. Accompanying the technoscientific sheen of modular nuclear reactors, cheap sensors, and desktop genetically modified organisms, the deck includes a range of ‘partly broken realities’ (cf Nick Foster) – bug-ridden everything, resource scarcity, and antibiotic resistance.
The cards are illustrated with historical engravings – in part to circumvent issues of copyright, but also to steer away from the aesthetics of “shiny earnest futures nonsense,” stripped of friction and seams.
The dealer selects a location and a year. Dealt a hand of three cards, players are tasked with constructing a story which shows how these themes cross-cut, amplify, undercut, and co-exist in that round’s setting, with time on the clock to spin their tale. The most compelling, entertaining, or desirable offering – as determined by the other players – wins.
Spectacular and emerging technologies often draw light and noise, thrown up on travelling billboards as icons of innovation policy, with promises of bright futures used to marshal investment. We wanted to encourage a whole-systems approach, drawing out discussions about the cross-implications of emerging trends and issues. How might the rise of a cashless society interact with pervasive augmented reality, as overseen by increasingly super-national government bodies?
In one round, players were asked to consider 2020 Capetown. Having drawn Secessionism, Embedded Sensors, and a mooted New New Deal, one player described a city in which new rounds of public investment had been funded by the state selling swathes of their citizens’ personal, sensor-collected data to private bodies. In order to regain control, citizens defected from the state to become individual micro-sovereigns, thereby regaining access of their own data.
By forcing the collision of economic, political, social, and environmental factors with technological subjects, players have to consider how different forces can magnify and mitigate each other. Including time and location draws out further discussion on what can happen over five, ten, or fifty years; how the presence of, say, Radical Transparency and Modular Nuclear Reactors may play out differently in Shenzhen, Jaipur, or Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Rather than a clean linear pathway into some shiny future – in which, too often, forms of social and political life seem stolid and unchanging, a status quo society as scaffold for fantastic new technologies – Futures Poker draws out the complexities, frictions, and contexts of the interlocking socio-technical systems from which futures emerge.