BT designers are wary of futurism as
a seductive ideology for consumers
to embrace a company’s vision.
Collaborative design fictions in the BT
build on a history of indigenous artistic
practices that defy the idea of individual
authorship, problematizing the model
of intellectual ownership and copyright
that still dominates our own timeline.
In this way, design fiction remains true
to its critical and speculative roots, and
it resists attempts from commercial
entities to co-opt it for marketing
As we power down our
transdimensional portal, the differences
between today’s design fictions and
those that Octavia Butler could have
inspired come into focus: BT design
fictions are inclusive, transdisciplinary,
interactive, and used critically rather
than promotionally. Butler’s legacy
is not limited to the BT reality. Far
from it: Her impact as an intellectual,
activist, and visionary is widely
recognized throughout our own world.
Here is another part of her legacy that
we should take very seriously.
1. Lialina, O. “My Boyfriend Came Back
from the War” (hypertext), 1996; http://
2. Butler, O. E. Earthseed: The Complete Series.
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy, 2017.
3. Sterling, B. Shaping Things. MIT Press,
Cambridge, MA:London, UK, 2005.
4. Bould, M. and Shavers, R., eds. Afrofuturism.
Science Fiction Studies 34, 2 (July 2007);
5. Laurel, B. Computers as Theatre.
6. hooks, b. Black Looks: Race and
Representation. Bet ween the Lines,
Toronto, ON, 1992.
Gabriele Ferri is senior researcher at
the Lectorate in Play and Civic Media and
co-coordinator of the M. Sc. program in digital
design at AUAS. He works and teaches at the
crossroads of research through design and
playful interactions, urban spaces, interactive
narrative, design ethics, and futuring.
Inte Gloerich is a researcher at the Institute
of Network Cultures at AUAS. She co-edited
MoneyLab Reader 2: Overcoming the Hype (with
Geert Lovink and Patricia de Vries) and State
Machines: Reflections and Actions at the Edge of
Digital Citizenship, Finance, and Art (with Yiannis
Colakides and Marc Garrett).
use of video games, live-action role-
playing games (LARPs), branching
stories, and other forms of nonlinear
storytelling to involve people in
speculation. In our exploration of the
BT, we had the chance to visit the
Pasadena City College—Butler’s own
alma mater—and take a peek at some
of the syllabi inspired by her work. For
instance, an interdisciplinary end-of-
semester assignment for undergraduates
in sociology, design, engineering, and
social work required the students to
co-create a LARP about homelessness in
urban areas together with the residents
of a shelter. Students are invited to
experience the feeling of not having
a stable home and then tasked to let
their interviewees take a leading role in
imagining how social services might be
different. In this way, BT design fiction
is accessible also to those—for example,
migrants or refugees—who might be
uncomfortable with other research
Finally, in the BT universe,
researchers and educators embrace
design fiction as a critical tool to
challenge widespread beliefs, to
construct a dialogue between diverse
publics, and to extend their knowledge.
Through our interdimensional portal,
we witnessed a protest at the Las
Vegas COMDEX trade fair in 1997
BT, where cultural critic bell hooks [ 6]
took the megaphone to denounce the
use of diversity as a manipulative tool
of commercialism. For this reason,
DOI: 10.1145/3374882 COP YRIGHT HELD BY AUTHORS
A glimpse of the B T: “Vodunaut #002 (Hybercharger)” (E. de Medeiros) imagines an Afrofuturist
aesthetics of space travel.