The Science of Fiction // USC Los Angeles, 2013

The Science of Fiction: World Building in Action 2013

Building New Worlds


5Di: Science of Fiction presents a day-long, live, & interactive demonstration of the power of World Building to create narrative solutions for a changing media landscape. World Building is the collaborative process of designing imaginary worlds to test virtual narrative solutions for real challenges. As the discourse of white-coated scientific objectivity increasingly seems like a quaint anachronism, we continue to invest a combination of wishfulness and faith in the efficiency and certainty of the scientific enterprise. How can both artists and scientists most productively share engagement with the gadgets and grandeur of scientific inquiry? Is it possible for media makers to articulate a creative equivalent of the scientific method for deploying the principles of Worldbuilding? Where is the line between legitimizing and clarifying a creative process and reducing it to formula?

The session themes include:


Space - virtual or real - offers a container for an unlimited number of narratives. Rather than “stories,” World Builders create narrative architectures, within which unpredictable events unfold with a set of narrative elements and technical infrastructures. While the temptation to overdetermine narrative paths and outcomes lurks around every creative corner, the potential rewards for maintaining an open system of narrative possibility remain great. What kind of spaces, built or otherwise, are most conducive to the richest variety of narrative possibilities? What principles from the real world field of architecture may be most productively deployed in the digital or metaphorical spaces of designed worlds?


Once denigrated as "meatspace," the physical world and the messy bodies that inhabit it continue to matter in the stories we tell, the ideas we engage and the relationships we form. While biological metaphors abound in our attempts to understand the rise of digital media, these obscure as much as they reveal, sometimes even diminishing our clarity on the impact of technology on social behavior and community structures. Socially networked individuals and physically connected communities share practices in both virtual and real world settings. The 2.0 version of social sciences must seek to understand both. How can Worldbuilding best account for the interests of both individual bodies and collective communities?


What can we learn from the ways that various fields of science have incorporated play? The concept of a magic circle that separates game space from ordinary space has been widely misunderstood and often maligned, yet the otherness of “play” continues to serve as a productive distinction in both real and virtual worlds. In reality, the imaginative potentials of play far exceeds its current deployment in game space, opening new doors to creative thinking, social interaction and consumer innovation.


While photographic and cinematographic images increasingly resemble computer generated ones and computer images asymptotically approach "photorealism," the line between "real" and "virtual" seems blurrier than ever. But image perception is only as important as the content it represents. This theme is meant to catalyze a discussion of the realities of Science as revealed in Fiction and the perceived realities of Science as a result of Fiction. At stake is our fundamental relation to reality and the ease with which data spaces increasingly serve as flexible and evocative narrative spaces.


Science fiction has long served as an unfettered idea space for utopian and dystopian prototypes of what could be. But is it necessary to posit an alternate universe or space-time in order to open our imaginations about the here and now? Design fiction offers a powerful rhetorical strategy for suggesting alternative futures, paths and products while bringing with it a new set of constraints and limitations. How do the organic principles of Worldbuilding extend the practices of design fiction and science fiction prototyping?

5Di USC School of Cinematic Arts LA

5DI USC School

5DI Institute

The Science of Fiction: World Building in Action, USC School of Cinematic Arts, 5Di 5D Institute: The future of Narrative Media, Los Angeles, US. 13 April 2013.

KEYNOTE | The Science of Fiction: Brian David Johnson and Jeffrey Kipnis challenge us:

  • Dissolve the distinction between science and fiction, then deal with the consequences for one and all.
  • Imagine a built environment that has no beginning and no end, and a story that is just the opposite.
  • Design a new human body with none of the failings of the old, and a world for which it is entirely unsuited. Or not.
  • Dissolve the distinction between play and ‘grind’, then design a world where having fun is grounds for punishment.
  • Declare a winner in the war between data and images and then show us what the world will look like the day after tomorrow.
  • Create a design fiction for a world where there is no such thing as design or fiction.