Does it make sense to imagine worlds that do not exist? Well, to me, the answer to this question would always be yes, absolutely. Over the past two months I attended a course in which we created an imaginary city called Rilao. This was the result of a team effort led by designer Alex McDowell for which we used the storytelling model he terms World Building.
Rilao is a floating island built around some oil platforms. The city has some history, but the most attractive feature for its visitors is all the innovation possibilities it offers. Creating something new is difficult, but not impossible. The city of Rilao is the main character of a story or, rather, of many stories that must meet certain conditions. For example, they must be consistent as a whole as well as compatible with the stories built by the other course participants. Each person has his/her own perspective, and in this case we got our inspiration from other imaginary cities.
We imagined not only its geographical situation, as shown in the next video, but also its social and political organization, culture, religion, and even rituals. Each of these dimensions raises specific problems that must be tackled. Although most of them are directly related to an imaginary world, they also make sense in the real world. Hence the interest in building these world: the power this technique has for promoting new ways of thinking and feeling. If we go deeper into this, we will soon discover that although the hero of these stories is the city itself, the imaginary world, its citizens are also all-important as their creators often project themselves onto them.
An outsider in Rilao
When I arrived in Rilao, the construction of this imaginary city had already begun, which made it difficult for me to work at the same level as other “world builders”. Therefore, I had no choice but to play the role of the outsider and give an outsider perspective.
Newcomers always tend to have a rather naive approach. I already had the impression of living in a science-fiction world, so creating for the sake of it made no sense to me. This might be related to the fact that we are used to looking for immediate practical uses. However, I gradually discovered how this task could be interesting and became aware that I needed to create in a coherent way in which my own creation would be compatible with those coming from other people. And what was even more important: it was paramount to find a specific problems, almost always related to a digital universe.
Art and digital worlds
Thinking about specific situations taking place in this imaginary city, I soon noticed that its inhabitants were always connected through screens, no interpersonal or actual relationships could be found there. Human interactions were ice-cold, I should say. From this moment on, art and digital relationships among humans began to be present in my imagination.
The city of Rilao was enriched by the ideas of Jacob Hashimoto, a Japanese artist living in the United States. His theories helped me define a gateway to access Rilao. One of his main areas of interest is to design new spaces which are very close to virtual worlds. once you access those spaces, which can be done by visiting his exhibition at the MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, you immediately have the feeling of building something new.
As they arrive, newcomers discover unexpected artistic forms for a floating island built to work with oil. Rilao’s gate, a key element in the city, is part of Jacob Hashimoto’s universe. The artist redefines images found in Japanese paintings by transforming their colors; they move all the time giving the impression that space and time are never identical.
Rilao and virtual reality
Hashimoto’s aesthetics are inspired by the boundless spaces of virtual reality. Just like video games, art can combine unlimited levels, for example those present in games such as Minecraft, Spore or SimCity.
Both simulation games and art provide a reality without any defined boundaries for the players and the inhabitants of Rilao. Accessing Rilao through Hasimoto’s art will help people understand real and virtual life from a different perspective. Every person accesses it differently, but the perspective that interests me the most is that of children.
Children in Rilao
As far as I could see, no-one in the group had children in mind at the time of building Rilao. Considering than screens mediate all adult interactions, something similar must happen among kids.
Children are also citizens, and they learn how to look at virtual and physical reality by interacting with other people. They live among adults and peers, and all of them experience transformations in their everyday lives. We must keep imagining ways to enter those worlds. Software and hardware are needed to make it possible for us to live in them. Here are two examples that will hopefully serve as an introduction to this idea.
The strength of these images is impressive. They could be a starting point for new forms of education, a topic we shall discuss on another occasion..World Building: An Outsider in Rilao