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Pedagogical Experiments with Futures Studies to Understand the Future of Entertainment Technology Design


Nandhini Giri1,*, Erik Stolterman2

1Department of Computer Graphics Technology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States
2School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana, United States


This article discusses course pedagogy and our experiences of experimenting with futures studies in facilitating discussions on the future of entertainment technology design with students specializing in computer graphics technology design. The classroom research activities are intended to apply futuristic design methodologies to challenge students to think about their own entertainment professional practices, grounded in a future where digital entertainment is intertwined with social, cultural, environmental, and political factors. We provide examples of our experimentation with fictional narratives and futuristic design methodologies in classroom and research settings.


Futures studies, Design Education, Entertainment Graphics Technology Design, Speculative Design, Design Fiction


This article discusses course pedagogy and our experiences of experimenting with futures studies in facilitating discussions on the future of entertainment technology design with students specializing in computer graphics technology design that includes animation, game design, data visualization and human-centered experience design. The classroom research activities are intended to apply futuristic design methodologies in existing pedagogical curriculum to challenge students to think about their own entertainment professional practices, grounded in a future where digital entertainment is intertwined with social, cultural, environmental, and political factors. We provide examples of our experimentation with fictional narratives and futuristic design methodologies in classroom and research settings.

Emerging entertainment technologies are redefining the notion of immersive storytelling, enabling media consumers to take up more active roles in designing personalized experiences that are meaningful to their lived experiences. Artificial intelligence enabled media platforms, real-time applications of computer graphics entertainment and emerging conversations on the metaverse are frequently discussed pedagogical topics in educational environments. This shifting landscape in the entertainment technology space necessitates a future-oriented design pedagogy in course curriculum, classroom learning experiences and research mentoring. The first example provides an analysis of student’s imaginary narratives of digital entertainment futures in the metaverse. The objective of this study is to understand student’s perception of the future of metaverse experiences, emerging entertainment technology design and transactional services. The idea was to allow students to critically imagine potential futures of non-fungible experiences and design human interactions with emerging entertainment technologies. The activity involved undergraduate students traveling to the year 2050 and account for their futuristic visions. Students documented their immersive experiences in a future-oriented metaverse that connects their current lives to a time in the future. The fictional narratives were analyzed to build generic design patterns that highlight interesting questions on what the future of non-fungible experiences could be and how it can shape our lives in a distant time. Our inspiration for this activity comes from Voros’ concept of future cones (Voros, 2001), Burdick’s process of designing the future ‘from the inside’ (Burdick, 2019) and Baerten’s article on napkin futures (Baerten, 2019). The second example provides an account of an ongoing graduate-level class project about applying speculative design in game development projects. Students in a graduate course explore the future of college sports in the metaverse and develop interactive prototypes that embody the on-campus sports culture, while projecting the sports spirit into futuristic digital platforms. Finally, the article concludes with our experiences of mentoring graduate students in future-oriented research topics. Novel entertainment technologies promise new research opportunities but lack evidence of prolonged success and impact among its stakeholders. We discuss the challenges and opportunities in exploring futuristic research topics and the lessons learnt through these classroom activities and research mentoring experiences. We share what we consider as necessary mentoring tools to equip students with the necessary skills to critically think about the future and conduct impactful research to shape the whole ecosystem of the entertainment technology futures.

Background Literature and Motivation for Experimentation

The work on futures studies by Voros (2001), lays the foundations for our pedagogical experiments with futures studies in understanding the future of entertainment technology design. The opening statement in Voros’ primer explains that the master concept of the futures field is in the existence of many alternative futures instead of one simple future. Future studies, foresight and the use of scenarios is built upon the three laws of future in that the future is not predetermined, not predictable and the future outcomes can be influenced by the choices we make in the present. This foundational concept motivates our classroom experiments with futures studies. The recent advances in the field of entertainment technology and the shift in media consumption and interaction behaviors of users – due to the impact of the pandemic have necessitated these discussions in classroom with students trained in computer animation, games, and interaction design.

The four classes of alternative futures adapted from Henchey (1978) namely the possible, plausible, probable, and preferred futures correspond to the questions of what ‘might’ happen, what ‘could’ happen, what ‘is likely to’ happen and what ‘we want to’ happen. These alternative ideations of the future are dependent on the current knowledge, trends, possibilities, and value judgements that result from our collective informational, cognitive, and emotional sources. We decided to explore the pedagogical implications of futures studies by applying these concepts in classroom assignments.

Design education lays a lot of emphasis on the design process, and the learning outcomes often focus on improving student’s skills in mastering design tools and applying design principles. Futures studies area has the potential to add the layer of critical thinking in student work that allows them to think about the implications of their design work, the long-term impact of their design products and how these critical ideas impact their own design process. Burdick’s article (Burdick, 2019) of designing futures from the inside provides an account of imagining new practices through the simultaneous creation of story worlds, plots and narrative elements with an emphasis on relations as opposed to things. The author suggests that this method of exploring human-concerned futures from the inside – ‘design fiction creators as participants-observers’ explores the interconnectedness of the futures by the internal worlds of our daily lives. The storytelling element in Burdick’s work and the idea of building fictional narratives through imagined lived experiences is yet another piece that we wanted to experiment with in our classroom activities.

In Sterling’s work (2013) there arises the question of what the atomic element of a design fiction is – the least thing that one can do which constitutes a design fiction. This pondering over the atomic element of design fiction led to the exploration of Baerten’s work (2019) on napkin futures. Baerten refers to archaeological practices of digging up fragments of past worlds and cultures, to actively reflect on the bigger picture by uniting the fragments in another timeframe. The suggestion to apply the same practice in the engagement of life in a futuristic context motivated our experiments. Napkin futures or micro narratives sketched on paper napkins appear to be stories from the future. The main take-away from this article for our own classroom exercises is the author’s perspective on moving away from dichotomy-based thinking to a way of thinking, acting, and knowing based on diversity.

Pedagogical Experiments and Contribution to Future Studies

The following sections provide our documentation of sample pedagogical experiments conducted in coursework over a period of three semesters with undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral research students specializing in computer graphics and interactive entertainment technologies. Each activity applied the philosophy of Voros’ future cone approach in identifying the four future classes, foresight, and future scenario building. There was an emphasis on the design process with futuristic design products tied to our daily lives and envisioned from within with the fictional narrative creator being a simultaneous observer of their own creation. Finally, a continuous mentoring attempt was made to help students think beyond a logical exchange of narratives and be able to see the interconnected emergent worlds from these fragmented narratives. The motivation, activities, insights from each case study contributes to the scholarship of applying futures studies in the context of designing entertainment technologies of the future.

A summary of these pedagogical experiments and their contributions are listed below:

Experimentation # 01: Speculating the Future (s) of Entertainment Technologies

Objective: Apply futures thinking concept in freshman course to speculate futuristic entertainment technologies and experiences.

Activities: Design fiction, Storyboarding

Insights: Qualitative analysis of student work helped identify futuristic themes that question humanity’s ideas of entertainment and interaction with these technologies.

Experimentation # 02: Sports Futures in the Metaverse

Objective: Develop futuristic prototypes that embody college sports culture

Activities: Trend analysis, foresight, plausible futures and what if scenarios

Insights: Hands-on approach helped students prototype futuristic solutions and critically analyze plausible futuristic scenarios.

Experimentation # 03: Futures studies in Student Research Work and Mentoring

Objective: Critically analyze the implications of student design practices

Activities: Student mentoring, project advising

Insights: Ambiguity of evaluation methods for futuristic solutions, siloed narratives confined to student’s field/discipline of study, lack of student’s personal lived experiences in narratives.

Speculating the Future(s) of Entertainment Technologies

Our first example documents the application of speculative design and futures thinking in a first-year classroom environment. The course introduces students specializing in computer graphics technologies to the fundamentals of graphics programming, visual design, motion graphics and human-centered design. The course is structured as modules with each module focusing on the different foundational concepts of graphics and entertainment technologies. During the final weeks of the semester, students were given a lecture on futures thinking in class. The lecture content explained how design thinking process diverges – starting from the current situation but converges into a feasible user-centric product. Futures thinking on the other hand, diverges and leads to the possible, plausible, probable and preferred futures as explained by Voros’ future cone concept. Speculative design approach was introduced to students from Dunne and Raby’s book (2013) on speculative everything, highlighting the fact that speculative design challenges design, to imagine alternative futures and pose problems for critical ideation. This speculative approach shifts design practices from applications to the implications end. The quantum parallelogram (StudioPSK) and the ice-cream cloud project (Tucknott, 2009) were provided as examples to these approaches. The introductory content was followed by some warm-up exercises that include the ‘brain cap’ activity for students to imagine future technologies that provide unlimited resources regarding knowledge, emotions, experiences/memories, skills, and messaging. Another follow-up activity was the ‘Thing from the future’ card game (Candy & Watson, 2015) that prompts students to idea on different future/thing/theme cards. The overall involvement of students with the lecture content was positive and interactive.

This class lecture and activity was followed by an online assignment in which students were encouraged to speculate future-oriented experiences in the metaverse and human interactions with emerging entertainment technologies. The assignment’s objective was to understand students’ perceptions of how emerging technologies are shaping the future of entertainment, especially in the context of the metaverse. Students were encouraged to apply the futures cone to speculate possible, plausible, probable, and preferred futures and generate futuristic narratives situated in the Summer of 2050.

Here are the assignment instructions provided to students:

1. Fixate on one future (probable, plausible, possible, preferable). Imagine an entertainment product or service in this alternate future. Situate it in a relevant social, political, environmental, or cultural context. Storyboard human interactions with this product or service.

2. Write a short narrative about your recent metaverse experience from Summer 2050 (max 500 words)

The student submissions were analyzed to develop themes and identify patterns in the fictional threads that explain how they perceive immersive experiences in a future-oriented metaverse that connects their current lives to a time in the future. The key take-away from this exercise is an understanding of what students in the computer graphics technology field of study perceive the future definition of entertainment activities could be and how interwoven it looks with our everyday lives. The following subsections provide details of the various themes analyzed in the student work highlighting some recurring examples.

Futures: digital entertainment experiences

A major theme observed in students’ speculations of future-oriented entertainment experiences is the personalization and diversification of digital entertainment experiences. The narratives explored futures in which humans have complete control over the content they consume and how it is consumed. The fictional narratives referred to how advanced technological intervention make our everyday lives more engaging. The ubiquitous nature of these entertainment platforms are intertwined with human’s daily activities making entertainment more educational, functional, and supportive of enhancing the quality of everyday human emotions. The pandemic’s influence is also evident in the speculations made by students about the future trends that shape these digital entertainment experiences. The following recurring examples were embedded in the fictional narratives and storyboards.

  • Travel bots for cultural literacy: Narratives explored technological interventions in virtual tourism with the assistance of immersive technologies and travel bots as tourism guides to cultural destinations. “Once you are on a camel, you can feel the breeze, smell the sand and see the scorching sun high up in the sky”. Students were optimistic about the photo-realistic graphical renderings in delivering naturally lived experiences, but also attributed these virtual travels as an alternative to counter extreme climate changes and withering cultural heritage sites.
  • Spiritual retreats & mental rejuvenation: Many examples highlighted the issues of prolonged media effects and the need for mental rejuvenation and spiritual retreats within virtual worlds. One of the speculated solutions was a digital detox from the multi-worlds using an immersive technology shower. Figure 1 shows a visual sketch of this concept.

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Fig 1: Visual sketching of futuristic experiences with entertainment technologies

  • Reliving childhood memories: This narrative was interesting, especially looking at one’s own life as a source of entertainment by revisiting the past and enacting the role to re-experience events through stored memories. “I went back to my 8-year birthday party where the theme was “puppies” and got to experience eating the best cake of my life again … It freaks me out a little bit because it feels weird knowing everyone in your memory is experiencing it for the first time, but this is your second, third, or even tenth time reliving it”. Figure 2 shows a visual sketch of the concept.

Fig 2: Visual sketching of futuristic experiences with entertainment technologies

Futures: shared digital experiences

The narratives focused primarily on personal interactions with entertainment technologies. However, they also provided a scope for shared digital experiences. References were made to existing technological affordances and how it can support shared experiences in futuristic digital platforms. Some of the multimodal interaction examples included holographic performance balls that project musical performances in social settings, drones with immersive projectors for shared experiences, smart contact lenses and touch screen windows. Students also speculated about interactions with celebrities and influencers in these futures “You could tell a story of yourself or a story of how the celebrity influences you. If the celebrity found your story interesting enough, then you would have a chance to meet them in the metaverse”. Crypto farms & Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) museums were other speculated venues for shared digital experiences. Some of the narratives also described transactions in the metaverse, used for virtual travel and souvenir collection – “In one day, I was able to see the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum, Notre Dame, and Big Ben with my family. I also did a lot of shopping with my friends too! We were able to get a ton of cool virtual outfits by selling some NFTs”.

Futures: metaverse and entertainment technologies collective design

This subsection takes the examples and emerging themes from the previous section to investigate some of the design considerations to shape the future. This includes human factors for prioritization of digital experiences and the ramifications of these futuristic technologies. A major portion of the fictional narratives explored futuristic entertainment experiences through the lenses of existing technologies like drones, holographic displays, sensors, and wearables. The speculations were situated in altered futures in which digital entertainment experiences are influenced by social, economic, technical, and environmental factors. Fictional narratives showed the influence of multiple stakeholders and interconnected systems in the design of entertainment technologies, products, and services. A need for self-care and questions of privacy were voiced by students as they critically analyzed the implications of their design solutions for the future of entertainment. The activity and the student work reduce to the question of whether the future of digital entertainment is going to be an introvert’s world?

Sports Futures in the Metaverse

The second example provides an account of applying speculative design in a graduate course that explores the future of college sports in the metaverse and developing interactive prototypes that embody the on-campus sports culture, while projecting the sports spirit into futuristic digital platforms. This semester long activity was divided into multiple components to engage students to think about the various design aspects of the final prototype. Further, these speculative designs were prototyped in an online metaverse platform to demonstrate a proof of concept of how college sports viewing experiences can be enhanced in emerging graphics technology platforms.

The ideation of these futuristic prototypes began with an exploration of traditional entertainment practices. Students were provided with the prompt to explore traditional practices that form the source of entertainment within their own cultural context. Students presented their exploration on this topic responding to prompts on: (1) What is this traditional practice is about? (2) Why it is entertaining? (3) What are the design elements that make this experience entertaining? (4) Do you identify and theorize the practice with the whole experience? This activity yielded discussions on a diverse source of entertainment experiences that inspire people from various cultural traditions. Classroom presentations and discussions revolved around the similarities in entertaining patterns and the different approaches employed in the practice.

The next exercise was related to experiencing realities. Students were tasked with the problem framing a new reality and make their peers experience this reality and later talk about how they design this reality. The topic was abstract and triggered a lot of questions from students on what is expected of this class assignment. The results were quite interesting as each student came up with their own interpretation of what they see as an experience in a reality defined by the individual. Presentations included multimodal approaches to experiencing these framed realities. A follow-up to this activity was to identify entertainment modalities. This time students were to (1) Identify an entertainment system in the physical – digital continuum (2) Discuss the input and output modalities of this system and user interaction modes (3) Explain how the system’s affordances improve or decrease the user’s interactive experiences? (4) Make suggestions to improve the interaction experience with the chosen system.

The final activity in this series was to explore emerging technologies and to speculate future oriented tools & interfaces. The task was to (1) Identify emerging trends in each individual student’s field of study related to technology tools & interfaces (2) Use these trends to speculate the future of technical tools & interfaces in this field over a span of 5 years (3) Discuss the influence of these technological trends on human experience and interactions in everyday lives. Students coming from various backgrounds ranging from virtual reality technologies, user experience, animation and social gaming presented work across multiple fields and technologies. Each of these activities and classroom presentation were spread across the semester and helped structure student’s ideas and approach to prototyping the sports future within the metaverse.

The sports future in the metaverse prototype also followed a set of design activities and the process influenced the way the final prototypes were delivered by the students. Students identified trends in the University sports culture that included historical facts, student rituals, statistics and blog posts related to the sports experiences among students. These trends provided directions to predict plausible futures of the University sports culture especially for the basketball and football teams. This trend analysis also helped students consolidate the major factors that influence these plausible futures. The next step was to develop four scenarios by picking four major factors from the trend analysis. This scenario development was followed by students providing design guidelines for developing futuristic stadium sports experiences in the metaverse.

This part of the assignment was graded based on the (1) Validity of the data sources used in the trend analysis of college sports and culture (2) Coherence of trend prediction and scenario development and characterization (3) Practical application of the prescribed design guidelines. This individual section of the metaverse sports futures assignment introduced students to a structured format to approach speculative design and predict future trends. This exercise also helped them gather the necessary preliminary data for the teamwork section of the project. Students were divided into two teams (basketball & football) and further collected data about the assigned sports team, on-campus student experiences & online activities related to sports events. Student teams identified pain-points from the data analysis to discover opportunities that could enhance the sports experience in the metaverse. The discovery activity led to speculations of the future to build a metaverse presence for college sports that is a solution space for the current issues faced on-campus. The prior activities described in the initial part of this section was a guideline to prototype interaction scenarios for in-world (metaverse) sports experiences. The prototypes were further tested out in a commercial metaverse content development platform through a sponsored company project.

This semester long project resulted in students speculating future-oriented prototypes for college sports experiences in the metaverse. These speculated concepts were also tested out in a real-time metaverse content generation platform. This hands-on approach has helped students develop the necessary skills in critical ideation, prototyping futures by building upon the four future-oriented ideation exercises and to present the working prototypes to a professional company (that sponsored the projects) for feedback and validation of their concepts.

Futures Studies in Student Research Work and Mentoring

A general observation from the above two examples in the above sections is that there is an increasing interest among students to experiment with emerging technologies. There is greater interest and engagement with hands-on activities and explorative assignments that challenge student’s mindsets. This leads to this section on mentoring and advising students, especially at graduate level on choosing projects and research topics that motivates them. We notice professional titles like ‘metaverse expert’, ‘web3.0 consultant’, ‘technology futurists’ and more. The pedagogical experiments documented in this article have not necessarily trained students in becoming these experts. However, the methods and discussions have provided them with necessary tools to critically analyze their own design process and evaluate the impact of their work in building the future of entertainment technology.

The main challenge we faced in these experiments is the lack of an evaluation rubric that can provide consistent feedback on student’s work. Futures thinking and critical reasoning were major learning outcomes of each of the classroom activities. However, we faced the challenge of evaluating design solutions – does a plausible future scenario of a decentralized metaverse service prove to be more impactful than a preferred one? Are the foresights developed for futuristic services in the music industry reliable enough to pursue? The corporate world seems to apply these tools to stay ahead of their competitors in terms of designing future products from existing data and trends. In an educational setting, there is greater freedom to test out new ideas in a sandbox. But the ambiguity of the evaluation methods urge us to seek more tangible well-tested frameworks to provide better feedback to students of future studies. Another challenge we faced in these classroom activities is the interdisciplinary nature of futures studies. Students were trained in programming, human-centered design, and visual language. Ideation sessions and presentations revealed narratives that were siloed within the student’s field of study. It was also difficult to identify simple narratives in the speculations. Students were excited about their knowledge of science fiction movies and video games. Their fictional narratives were a lot influenced by these popular storylines and culture. It took some conscious effort in identifying personal narratives that came from inside, through each individual’s lived experiences.

The reference section of this article includes a list of scholarly articles that were part of the graduate course reading list and class discussions. The article on games as speculative design (Coulton et al., 2016) was of particular interest, given the student’s educational background. The article’s discussion on the plurality of perception of the past, present and future helped generate open conversations on the alternate futures. Framing games as a medium of speculation and iteration provided step by step guidelines for students to generate ideas and iteratively connect them to co-create a complex ecosystem from simple individual narratives. One plausible future of wearable entertainment technologies and a preferred future scenario of body ingestible trackers sparked conversations of a collective future co-created by the two discussed scenarios.


Overall, our experiments with futures studies in the classroom has been positively engaging and has been a process of discovery and learning. Articles on future studies, speculative design, design fiction, probes and world building mandala have opened new doors for futuristic exploration. These experimentations can be applied in classrooms and curriculum related to entertainment graphics technology design. The insights gained through these experiments contribute to futuristic design themes that question student’s perception of entertainment technologies and human interactions in the future. They provide an opportunity to critically analyze the implications of student design practices. Insights also highlight a need for better evaluation methods of these futuristic solutions and ways to improve interdisciplinary work and personal narratives in classroom discussions of futures studies. We plan to explore further literature in this space and use games and interactive visualization software as a speculative platform to test out futuristic narratives. We plan to develop objectively and subjectively characterized futuristic probes and evaluation frameworks for intervention in the ideation, prototyping, development, and testing phases of entertainment product design in future classroom activities.


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