“History will have come to an end. It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God-but to create him. And then our work will be done. It will be time to play."
– Arthur C. Clarke (1968), The Mind of the Machine, Playboy.

Automation and climate change have abruptly ended the era of industry, consumption and, above all, paid work. Legal reforms around data ownership obliged big tech platforms to compensate users for harvesting their data. The shift became particularly attractive for many gamers, who put their income immediately back into the blooming economy of virtual items. Data harvesting from XR play proved valuable to integrate human imagination, the final frontier, into hybrid AI. Fuelled by the AI arms race, sparcades (fully automated play and wellness campuses) became the new pinnacle of cultural aspiration. New York's 'Dolphin Waves', the original model for this concept, popularised an early generation of fully immersive virtual reality, combining sensory isolation with a neural interface.

The audio fiction piece ‘Liquid Dream’ (7:04 min) imagines how XR play-based deep learning could make it attractive for people to exchange their play data for access to special facilities, catered to a balanced lifestyle that prevents exhaustion: the sparcades. The history of New York’s original sparcade ‘Dolphin Waves’, is narrated, from the point of view of the AI, through a mythological account of rebirth and transformation after the collapse of the era of industry, consumption and paid work.


1 Ludification is a concept derived from Johan Huizinga’s anthropology of play in his seminal work ‘Homo Ludens’. Play, according to Huizinga, is not concerned with material gains or survival but is practised for its own sake. The romanticisation of ‘pure play’ distinguishes ludification from the narrower concept of gamification. The ludification of culture is a concept from cultural anthropology and media theory  (e.g. Dippel & Fizek, 2017) describing the increasing importance and valuation of playfulness and games in the 21st century, juxtaposed to the dominance of labour, survival and material gain in the industrial era.

2 Adapted from the back cover description of Ecco the Dolphin, SEGA GENESIS, 1992

3 The accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land conceptualises successful ideas as hyperstitions: collective, self-fulfilling superstitions that bring about their own reality (e.g. O'Sullivan, 2017). Srnicek & Williams (2015) describe the historical development of universal political-economic paradigms as hyperstitional.

4 The Great Reset is a term first coined by economic geographer Richard Florida and describes the reshaping of the economic and political order that typically emerges from a period of systemic crisis such as the Great Depression, resulting in a new period of growth and prosperity (Florida, 2010). Whereas Florida focuses on organic innovation, the term has been adopted by the World Economic Forum as a coöperative vision for global leaders and stakeholders.

5 The potential of both social media platforms and virtual worlds such as MMO’s as disruptive, “osmotic” parallel economies have been increasingly recognised as practices such as ‘gold farming’ (routinely extraction of in-game currency traded for real-world money) and ‘user-created virtual goods’ attracted media publicity in the late 2000s (e.g. Heeks, 2010; Lehdonvirta & Ernkvist, 2011), while the announcement of Facebook’s Libra in 2019 shook the entire world (Gerard, 2020).

6 The British economist Guy Standing combines the words precarious and proletariat to describe a newly emerging underclass which suffers from the lack of income security, stable occupational identity and, increasingly, basic rights of citizenship (e.g. Standing, 2014). Both Standing (2014) and Srnicek & Williams (2015) argue that these conditions, that resulted from late 20th century neoloberal policy and globalisation, have created the potential for a new class struggle that rejects the ‘full employment’ ideal of the old Left and demands the abolition of labour.

7 Towards the end of the 1980s, an optimistic techno-mystical counterculture formed from a cross-fertilisation between 1980s cyberpunk culture and the psychedelic movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. One of its pioneers, the flamboyant futurist and prominent psychedelics guru Timothy Leary, who had been advocating to ‘drop out’ of society through the mind expanding qualities of LSD, extended this vision to the potential of cyberspace in the 1990s (e.g. McCray, 2019). Ruthofer (1997) shows how contrasting visions of technology, varying between ‘back-to-nature’ neo-luddism and techno-transcendentalism have co-existed in countercultural movements since the 1960s, kept together by a shared attitude to oppose the status-quo not (only) through protest but by tools for self-reliance and empowerment.

8 Williams (2013) and Srnicek & Williams (2014), suggest a possible accelerationist scenario in which automation technology developed under late capitalism acquires the required type of intelligence to transcend its own narrow purpose and bring about a yet unimaginable type of post-capitalist society. Similarly, Dery (1996) describes how visions of abundance-providing ‘Machines of Loving Grace’ were already articulated in the margins of the hippie movement in the 1960s and ‘70s, including the idea that they would be brought into existence not by political revolutionaries but as an unintended by-product of techno-capitalism.
9 Sociologist of technology Nishant Shah coined the term ‘No UI’ as a wordplay on GUI (Graphical User Interface), for an omnipresent Internet of Things where most communication is taking place between machines, whereas the location of the interface has become invisible to the human user, by design (Shah, 2017).

10 A system that itself needs to be non-human in order to acquire an ‘objective’ understanding of human behaviour (Zuboff, 2015).

11 Liquification is a vision by IBM for the economic impact of the Internet of Things. Bringing the global immediacy and ease of transaction from the digital into the physical realm will eventually disrupt the rigid structures of manufacturing, transportation and retail to a similar extent as the internet did to news and entertainment media (Lougee & Pureswaran).

12 Facebook’s UX design is described by marketing director Michelle Klein, quoted in Shoshanna Zuboff’s ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’ as: “narrative, engrossing, immediate, expressive, immersive, adaptive, and dynamic” (Zuboff, 2019).

13 Accessing dreams through wearable technology is a research programme put forward by Adam Jedidiah Haar Horowitz at MIT (Horowitz et al., 2020; Horowitz, 2019). Hypothetically, the pop cultural significance of the Indigenous American dreamcatcher could become integral to the mystifying rhetoric surrounding this type of technology, especially when it comes to harvesting dream data.

14 Exploit is a hacker term that describes a way of taking advantage of a system through modulating its functions to serve external purposes. Philosopher of AI Rainer Mühlhoff uses the term to describe Facebook’s strategy of using data from spontaneously emerging social behaviour on the platform to train its face recognition algorithm (Mühlhoff, 2019).

15 Although games have been central to AI since chess, the advent of open world multiplayer RPGs as a sandbox for simulating individual and collective behaviour in Non-Player Characters or generating realistic interactive environments is an emerging field of AI research (Statt, 2019).

16 Magic Circle, a term derived from ‘Homo Ludens’ and applied to the digital realm by game designers Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, is the space in which the normal rules and reality of the world are suspended and replaced by the artificial reality of a game world (Castronova, 2005).

17 Rephrasing a famous line from William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ about the ephemeral subcultures in The Sprawl (Gibson, 1984).

18 Behavioural futures is a self-invented neologism combining Shoshana Zuboff’s concept of behavioural data and the stock market futures contract: a tradeable asset based on the predicted future value of individual or aggregate behavioural data.

19 Agilitas (travel at the speed of thought), impassibilitas (strength and freedom from suffering) and subtilitas (the ability to pass through physical matter) are supernatural qualities of the risen bodies of the saints in Catholic theology (e.g. O’Gieblyn, 2017; Pohle, 2014).

20 As a speculative interface, we imagine saltwater floating combined with a combination of ubiquitous neural and biofeedback sensing as an alternative to a Brain Computer Interface that focuses exclusively on the brain.

21 Homuncular flexibility is a concept coined by computer scientist Jaron Lanier, denoting the capability of the human brain to learn to remap its body image into vastly different shapes and forms (e.g. Won et al., 2015; Won et al. 2015).

Zhōuwéi Network

Liquid Dream is set in one of the 16 worlds developed as part of our long-term research umbrella Zhōuwéi Network. In 2019-2022, we have focused on three worlds: Dolphin Waves, Dragonfly and Project Gecko which are all driven by fundamentally different ideas of a ‘good life’, coupled to different dynamics of power. As a result we hypothesize that they are also experienced very differently by people with unalike positions in their societies.

All of the worlds of Zhōuwéi Network ambitopian, meaning that they aim to go beyond the binary of dystopian or utopian futures. All of them are diverse, ecologically sustainable and post-consumerist, yet, they are not so much about how we ourselves think that a better future should be, but rather about how they could take very different, mutually contradicting shapes. Also, we were interested in how these worlds, from their ideological perspectives, would use different styles of utopian rhetorics to justify themselves and potentially win over an audience.

While previous presentations of our research have been focused on cinematic outcomes (see for example DEMO moving image and Contemporary Attitude), we decided to focus on this submission in an immersive audio-based narrative which hasn’t been published before.

AUTHORS explores value paradigms in emerging technocultural developments through speculative worldbuilding, material artifacts and immersive media. Grounded in the research field on ‘affect’ and its use through datafication, we unpack the design of affective undertones in different social systems by forward-engineering them from a critical perspective. Our goal is to contribute to public discourse on emerging technological conditions in the context of the 21st century's converging challenges.


Text & sound collage - Victor Evink (S x m b r a)
Voiceover - Herikusu


Romance Relic - Exhale
ps4 main home menu music
Ecco the Dolphin (Genesis) playthrough
YAKA - Affirmed
Astropilot - Makosh
Volkor X - Aquatic Ambience
Blank Banshee - Eco Zones
Martins Garden - Oculus
Yarinka Collucci - The Rolling Dolphins
Nmesh - 黒い水の上に反射
Flagalova - Under the Tree
Porter Robinson - Sea of Voices
Gouryella - Ligaya (Lucio J cover)


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Dery, M., 1996. Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the end of the century. Grove Press.

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Florida, R., 2010. The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. HarperCollins.

Gerard, D., 2020. Libra Shrugged: How Facebook Tried to Take Over the Money.

Haar Horowitz, A. J., Cunningham, T. J., Maes, P., & Stickgold, R. 2020. Dormio: A targeted dream incubation device. Consciousness and cognition, 83, p.102938.

Horowitz, A.J.H., 2019. Incubating Dreams: Awakening Creativity (Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Planning, Program in Media Arts and Sciences).

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Utopian Thinking in the dark times – Season 2: Autumn/Winter 2022 – Research Capsule by Neo-Metabolism – Editors: Georgia Kareola, Lynn Gommes, Oskar Johanson – Contributors: Damian Borovsky, Olly Bromham, Camila Chebez, Shreya De Souza, Torben Koerschkes, Max Kuwertz, Christopher Michael, Liminal Vision, Zach Whitworth, Rue Yi – Paintings: Eric L. Chen – Design: Clint Soren, dolor~puritan, Ghikhan – Published: October 2022