Back to the Future: A post about Jumanji

Something we have discussed a bit this week is including in the game for Flaten an opportunity for audiences to test a future. To allow audiences to make a decision, see it’s potential impact on the system and the outcomes it might create, and then allow them to go back and decide if they would make that choice again, or another.

This is a nice idea to play with. Because of the linear course of time we so rarely (if ever) get the opportunity to test out the probable consequences of our decisions and then get the chance to chose differently. We love the fantasy of the freedom of foresight though. We put it in a lot of our fiction – like in the movie Jumanji (or Back to the Future. Or Freaky Friday. Or so many more of my favourites. Some were even made/remade outside of the 90’s!).

Jumanji shoes

Can one decision alone change the future?

Movies like Jumanji seemingly show us the dire consequences of one small decisions over a long period of time. However if you look more closely at the film, there are many decisions that lead to even the existence of the game Jumanji. If it hadn’t been made (by some unknown magic force with a sick sense of humour) then it wouldn’t be possible to be sucked into it, and one kid breaking a machine at his Dad’s factory would not have had such dire consequences for him.

Similarly, it is quite a complex task to try and create an opportunity for showing even a fictional outcome of one decision about a complex system like Flaten. One decision or action does not change a system like this alone, it takes several, in relation to one another. Some of these decisions can be seemingly irrelevant – such as the development of modern efficient ways of fire control that mean a woodpecker begins to die out because it’s ideal habitat is a forest that burned through around 40 years ago – while some you can predict at least the more obvious outcomes of – a housing development might destroy natural ecosystems and create traffic in the course of building a new habitat for people who need it.


jumanji floor

Who could possibly have predicted this?

We know that systems are linked in complicated and sometimes surprising ways, and while in Jumanjii one simple action in time creates a happy ending change, this is just not realistic when looking at a non-fictional complex system. While I am interested in the possibilities of something along the lines of offering audiences the opportunity to see archetypal changes and change their decisions as a result of it, I wonder if this creates the impression of simplicity that decisions around complex systems just do not have.

On the other hand, when groups have been asked to predict the future of areas they are connected to, they often find it hard to imagine beyond their everyday experience. Responses rarely predict wild change, and are more likely to consider the future as being much like the present, just with more or less of something. They predict it might be a bit busier, or an extra service might be put in. We find it hard to picture large change in our lives. As children we find it difficult to comprehend a huge change like moving out of home and kids predictions for the future will often include that they still live with Mum and Dad while they’re enjoying a career as an astronaut or veterinarian. So while it is important not to simplify the complexity of cause and effect within a complex system, It is also important to push the boundaries of our audiences imaginations around what could happen in Flaten’s future.

How do we create a representation of a complex system that is simple enough to comprehend quickly, but complex enough to impart a realistic understanding of how complicated decisions around complex systems can be?

How can we push our audience to imagine outside of their ‘comfort zone’ and recognise our tendency to imagine a subtly changed present as the future when it is likely to be vastly different?

– Nikki


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