Nonprofit Commons Recap: To Invent the Future, We Must Build Dreams

article by Alexandra Bezdikian, Online Community Coordinator, TechSoup Global

On October 26th, 2012, the Nonprofit Commons welcomed back John (Pathfinder) Lester, a man whose unparalleled work in virtual worlds and 3D environments has allowed the development of new systems for immersive learning using next-generation virtual world platforms that integrate with the web and mobile devices. Work he’s currently pursuing as Chief Learning Officer at ReactionGrid Inc. (

Although his presentation addressed key features of next generation virtual worlds and best practices on how to build truly engaging simulations within them, he began with a dream.

“I was looking at the sphinx, then suddenly the jet car from Buckaroo Banzai drove up to me,” Pathfinder dreamed out loud. “A classic mix of dream reality and surreality,” he said as he came back to the crowd. “I think as designers, as people thinking about how to deeply engage visitors in virtual worlds, dreams are a good template to explore because next generation virtual worlds must focus on deep engagement and capturing people’s imaginations, and there’s no better place for that then dreams.

Too often what we end up creating in virtual worlds,” Pathfinder Lester confessed, “or any new medium, to be honest, is most of the time a recreation of the familiar, recognizable because familiar makes us feel safe. But the deepest engagement does not happen when we feel completely safe. It happens when we see something bizarre and when we are ‘challenged’ by our environment. That’s just how we our brains are wired. Our brains kick into high gear when we’re challenged.

I think the BEST place to look for inspiration, for finding that balance between familiar and truly fascinating, is in human dreams. Our dreams are often a perfect mix of the mundane and fantastical. Virtual environments are as malleable as dreams. So i think it’s important to explore the full range of emotional states in them.”

As Pathfinder put it, “to invent the future, we must build dreams.”

He wrapped up his presentation by projecting the road ahead for next generation virtual worlds. 

“I think the real future of virtual worlds in general will lie at the intersection of virtual spaces and physical places. The intersection of Augmented Reality and Virtual worlds. There’s a lot happening right now with Augmented Reality, but I think there’s a single serious roadblock. I think the roadblock is the fact that our mobile device are tiny screens we have to pull out of our pockets to see. For things to really take off, I think we need something like Google’s Glass hardware. Something we wear. Something that gives us a seamless malleable view of the world. And all of the work everyone here has done with virtual worlds will be critical in building that broader future of malleable reality.”

Written by: Rhiannon Chatnoir