World-building the real world. Part 1: The (personal) WHY.

This post was inspired by Christoff Beddow’s post “From Map Making to World Building

The Snügl from peduncle.
Logo, and mascot.

I’ve been wracking my brain how to combat misinformation, how to get people to understand the incredibly (even to professionals) complex interplay of natural resource management, guiding people to take responsible action in the face of climate change, true sustainability, … I acknowledge, accept and embrace that it takes time. We need to complicate the narrative, give people time to play with the data in a way that is accessible, engaging, fun. But how?! I think 3D is critical, there is just too much to convey on a single plane. My short hand for what I want to create is the metaverse. Our working project name is peduncle, and Siri made a beautiful logo for it!

But I’m stuck on trying to explain the big WHY. When I stumbled on Christoff’s blog about worldbuilding, it made sense, but trying to respond to that blog with my own version gave me verbal constipation for 6 months. I feel vulnerable working on this project. It’s soooo big. And when I mention metaverse people hate the word. Thanks crypto and Zuck. It’s hard to make your own story in the middle of all that. I recently joined the Linux foundation’s Open Metaverse Foundation and while some aspects are really useful – being among smart people who take this metaverse idea seriously without the hyped up aspects polluting it – it’s still a narrow subset of use cases, mainly focused on games and social engagement. This prompted me to try write this post again.

OK so why, why am I doing this project.

I want a visually engaging way of complicating the narrative of our world. Personally, I want to have some sort of hope that I can live in this world. I want a different narrative to the apocalyptic one that dominates my thoughts.

But when I close my eyes I do not see a digital twin earth, like the amazing Digital Earth Australia and other applications built on terria.js; it’s too much. Too much detail that is not immediately relevant, and when you zoom out it is all drab and brown and olive green. It’s not curated.

On the other hand, when I go to a fantasy world, it’s not real. It feels like a waste of my preciously limited time. I agree with this LA Times reviewer “that right now I don’t want a game to show me a new world; I want a game to rekindle my love for my own.” (I just want to do that without worrying about where my data goes – which is why peduncle is built on Solid data and Free Software.) (And I want to be able to modify the style of the game because holy cow those Pikmin things are freaky ugly. I want everyone to be able to do this. On the fly. At will. Anyway, moving on.)

In one way I want neither fantasy nor reality, but really, I want both – a mash-up. A representation of the real world that is scientifically useful, but is beautifully curated and fun and entertaining to be in. I want to be free from absolute scientific constraints that just make us scientists boring and irrelevant and without humanity. For example, I never knew how many islands there were! They need to be made larger than life! (Look at the maplibre community page to see outlines of these awesome islands. Islands everywhere!)

To tell good stories sometimes we need to represent things a bit differently than pure, boring, facts. At the same time I don’t want science to be shoved in a corner because of how boring and incapable it is to give straight answers. I don’t want to answer “it depends” to everything. Sometimes the facts really shouldn’t get in the way of a good story. So this means I am not really at home anywhere. Engineers find me too much of a hippie. Hippies find me too much of an engineer. Academics find me too sensationalist. The general public find me too intense with the facts. Oh well. It’s a mestiza consciousness.

I would love this project to help people understand the world they live in better. But writing and re-reading the previous paragraph, maybe I just want to build something where my crazy little brain can find peace. Even if I end up being the only one in there.

I have been learning three.js (3D web) and d3.js (data driven (documentation is the third “d”) visualisation and will learn terria.js and maplibre to cover the map stuff at some point. It’s hard. But it’s been keeping my crazy little brain happy enough and I think it will contribute enough to the world to at least keep the bills paid.

P.S. I haven’t even touched the previous draft of this post and you know what? I am just publishing this as is and will do a part 2. Otherwise this thing is never getting done!

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