Bianca Carague is a Filipino social designer of virtual spaces. Combining design research and storytelling, she curates diverse pockets of intimacy, connection, and self-expression in her digital worlds. Her graduate work for Design Academy Eindhoven was built while on isolation during lockdown, comprising a game world of virtual mental health Care Commons. Touching on digital wellness and her fresh take on the Metaverse, her work has been recognized in ACIIID’s Virtual Design Week 2020, Vogue and FRAME Magazine. She also has an ongoing exhibit on futures literacy at Tetem art center in Netherlands.
We sat down with Bianca after her presentation at ACIIID’s AForeum 2022, a new series of talks with innovative design professionals all over the world. She featured her work in virtual worldbuilding for Bump Galaxy and Somnium Treehouses as well as her upcoming game Mind Tower, and ongoing exhibit Gen C: Children of 2050. As we exchanged insights on the future of virtual spaces, the Pluriverse (alternate Metaverse), and its impacts on the built environment, we found common ground in the mediums of worldbuilding and storytelling.
Bumping into each other
Contrary to some digital conglomerates’ concept of the Metaverse, Bianca defines her virtual design scope as a Pluriverse. Wherein, the former sees virtual reality as the internet’s next “big” platform, the latter acknowledges the creation of virtual worlds from multiple points of view, entailing “plurality”. Bump Galaxy was Bianca’s first exploration in virtual worldbuilding in the sandbox video game Minecraft. Carved as spaces for collective mental health care, Bump Galaxy was created to help users introspect, engage in therapy, or simply play together. Reflective sand dunes, a meditation forest, and a hypnotic underwater temple among other mystical Care Commons cover the landscape of this digital world. With time, the landscape should grow and develop along with the members of its community as they “bump into each other” and facilitate togetherness in healing.
Virtual safe spaces
Continuing her exploration of built environments and their effects on wellness, Bianca migrated to the immersive VR platform Somnium Space. Right on the blockchain, she designed organic womb-like treehouses stood amidst a flowing creek and sprawling greenery — a far cry from the cyber aesthetics of the virtual spaces usually found here. The enveloping shelters facilitate moments of human connection and talk therapy. Somnium Treehouses set community values within the future space, equipped with sensitivity towards our social needs even within the technological realm. Such virtual safe spaces are some of those emerging as designers look into the evolving and encroaching future, a trend ACIIID has termed Future (R)evolution.
On the long-term implications of design
Further reflecting on our speculative fate, Gen C: Children of 2050 invites users into the individual spaces of children from the future from varying backgrounds. In the context of climate change for example, she introduces the “non-fungible kid”, a digital child brought to life solely within the Metaverse due to the deteriorating environment. The project is ongoing as Bianca facilitates conversations with visitors of the exhibition on their individual visions of the future, specifically those of children. By encouraging visitors to hone their own futures literacy, the story is weaved over time.
The storytelling evident in her game worlds and narrative projects are attributed to her background as a designer. And with the sensitivity that entails her work as a social designer, storytelling becomes her own way of relating her ideas with others while aiding them in facilitating their own conversations and expression. She brings to notice how this unique process allows designers to really focus on the long-term implications of design — environmentally, socially, and culturally.
Leading with optimism
Even with the critical lens provided by her training as a social designer, Bianca still roots from an innate optimism that pushes her work to make more of a constructive impact. “Designing virtual realities helps shape ourselves” she quips, adding that worldbuilding helps communicate reflections of our own inner selves, ideas and innovations. Motivated by emotion and wellness, Bianca is one of many designers ACIID has connected to the emerging trend — Emo(tiva)tions. They find optimism in togetherness, in play, and in collective healing. And for Bianca, that is made possible in the environments we create and share.