You're probably better at predicting the future than you think. But if future forecasting brainstorm sessions just aren't getting you anywhere, consider buying The Thing from the Future, a card game that makes it easy to think about distant hypotheticals.
Designed by futurist Stuart Candy and game designer Jeff Watson, professors at OCAD University in Toronto, the game features four types of cards describing "assets" of things in the future. There are arc cards, which describe broad trajectories of the future (i.e. Collapse seven years from now, Transform 100 years from now), terrain cards that describe contexts, topic areas, and places (Grandma's house, Socialism), object cards that describe a basic form (tube, postcard), and mood cards that describe emotions that the thing from the future would trigger in people from the present day (delight, excitement).
"Usually it takes a long time, and isn’t a satisfactory group process to come up with ideas about the future and then to prototype in a group setting. If you want to get people to do something hard you, can’t just push them into it. You have to lure them," says Candy.
A brainstorming prompt is complete when the group has one of each type of card. At that point, individual players write down their description of "the thing from the future" inspired by the prompt on an index card. There are nearly a million possible combinations of prompts. "It's a bit like Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples, in the sense that what constitutes the best idea is decided by the players according to their criteria," explains Candy. The winner collects the prompt cards, and the game ends when the cards have been exhausted (or when the players are exhausted).
Candy and Watson designed the cards in about three weeks, play-testing the deck with undergrad and graduate students at OCAD. Most recently, they held a daylong event called Futurematic, where students, alumni, and faculty all played the game. In the end, they filled a vending machine with artifacts from the future generated by in-game brainstorming. One artifact, called the Child Share Information Kit (tagline: "Because 52 parents are better than two") is an information packet for timesharing the child-rearing process. Another, the In-Touch, lets users put their finger into a receptacle to find out how they're feeling.
"The vending machine [idea] is sort of a joke in a way—it's what industrialization has done. It has taught us ways to be unimaginative, to cooperate, to fit into defined boxes. In the game, we’re playing with the industrialization of thought and subverting it." says Candy. "We're saying to people, there are a million different possible prompts in this deck, and you can take any one of them and run with it and delight and desire and provoke and dismay people with it."
The first run of cards sold out quickly, without much marketing. Candy and Watson are taking orders for the second run here.