By Sara Boman
To Infinity and Beyond: Imagining Liba College Futures and Other Science FictionsShort Stories
By Ami Regier
The new entrepreneurial president was desperate. What small colleges do that no other form of higher education can do, he thought, is create a world. It is a very special, intense world, characterized by full-body, full-mind, live time scenarios 24-7, involving arduous journeys through the rugged terrains of, among others, liberal arts, technology, music, undergraduate research, and athletics. With much creativity, small colleges create their own educational structures and intercollegiate competitions. While musing about this, the president was multitasking along with the first-year students, having occasional google hangouts while reading the community-wide text Reamde, by Neal Stephenson. Reamde imagines that videogame realities are starting to intersect with real-world economies and power-brokers. In Reamde, students in China hack into Russian mafia financial data in order to make college tuition money. The data sets get imported into the game and held for ransom. Students problem-solve how to win access to the data sets in gaming logic (by winning in the game construct) but end up resolving real-world conflicts. When the president read the line about how people were tracing each other’s locations in two realities, the president turned to the webcam and shouted “Brilliant—that’s it!” Before long, the college had shifted the location of classroom learning into narrative worlds. A new major combining gaming, programming, international business, and writing was developed. Students developed problem-solving methods in the narrative context of multiplayer games, writing the next plot event after each problem was solved. As in Reamde, tuition money could be sited in the game, with portals for payment and collection based on student research, labs, logic proofs, performances, and creative activities built into the game. Soon, students world-wide were enrolling in the narrative world of Liba College. Residential inhabitation was optional, but students tended to choose it, because they could live as their game avatars and written selves during the duration of each class segment. Invented lives of mathematicians, economists, scientists, computer programmers, musicians, innovators, and super-athletes became real lives.