Witness in Sicily: where we are, what the residency will look like, and how to use it

As the worst of the COVID pandemic lifts, we are in the condition to finally move forward with the writer’s residency we have planned with the Fondazione di Comunità Messina.


The residency will be integrated into the Horcynus Festival. Possible dates range from late August to mid-September 2022. @yudhanjaya and @hugi, are all of these dates OK for you?


@yudhanjaya is to be writer-in-residence. His participation is funded by FDCM. Edgeryders will fund participation of three more people. I plan to be there myself.

What we will do

After a call with Yudha (for which I am personally grateful, given the difficulties of scheming around long-term issue in the midst of the current Sri Lankan mess), I propose we use the residency to do three things.

1. Start a novel

We will use the bulk of our time to kickstart the writing of a sci-fi novel set in Witness. Co-authors will be Yudha himself, and at least one economist (myself), though we will try to involve more co-authors on the economics side (for example, I think we would benefit greatly from @petussing’s advice). The actual output will consist of:

  1. Some preparatory materials (plot, list of characters, various notes, mostly care of Yudha)
  2. Draft prose (first chapter, or something similar, mostly care of Yudha)
  3. New Witnesspedia entries, or add-ons to the existing ones (mostly care of myself). These will become necessary as the writing of the novel requires new information to be incorporated in the canon: maps, toponyms, notable people and organizations, economic policies and their history, etc.

The benefits of the novel are the following. First, as we write, we need Witness to become more vivid and textured, but still maintain intellectual consistency and incentive compatibility (I think it was @lidiazuin who pointed this out the clearest, over a year ago). So, we need to invent details (and many of them will be shaped by the underlying economic systems) that are fictional, but still make economic sense. Second, the novel is, well, a science fiction novel. It contains plenty of economics, but economics stays in the background. In the foreground, as always, stand imperfect, likable characters and an engaging plot. This is what triggers identification and imagination: “wow, it would be cool to live and work in The Covenant, or be part of the culture of The Assembly!”. Additionally, Witness is an open source world, and the more it is used, the more valuable it becomes, therefore encouraging more people to write (or film, or LARP) their own material set in Witness.

The choice of a specific format for our science fiction follows from two observations. First, short stories are a bad fit for what we are trying to do. This is because they are… short, which means authors have to focus a lot on plot and need their worlds to be as simple and two-dimensional as possible (“like the real world, but with teleportation”, or some such). Second, novellas would have the space for some serious world building, but they are considered “lesser novels”, and most publishers won’t touch them.

In Yudha’s estimation, a novel of his written in collaboration with economists and with an economic slant is likely to be an attractive proposition to publishers (then, of course, the novel still has to be good!). The involvement of professional economists is going to be the equivalent of Steve Job’s “one more thing”: not enough to bring about a publishing deal by itself, but a “nice to have”, especially during promotion.

2. Strategize

Another thing we need to do is to think where we want to take Witness in 2023, and how to do it. 2021 and 2022 have generated some new ideas and prototypes. First, it seems to have some power as a format for getting small groups of people to think about the future without being constrained by the overdetermination of late-stage capitalism (next month, I am presenting it at the Futures Conference in Finland). Second, Witness is also being used as the setting for a serious game (for now an online LARP) used to get people to do “radical” scenario planning about climate change adaptation. This is based on work led by @nadia in 2021. In 2022, a proposal led by @matteo_uguzzoni was awarded a grant as a kind of participatory science project, to begin in September. So, many news, we should pause, re-evaluate, and make new plans. For example: some time ago, when it looked like COVID would not let Yudha come to Europe, Gaetano Giunta and Giacomo suggested we use the residency to think about a Witness-inspired installation on economics (and climate!) in the immersive room of the MACHO Museum. of the MACHO museum. A possible outcome of the residency is an application for a proper project of interactive art, that we could then try to get funded (Ars Electronica)?

This involves all of us, both on the Edgeryders side (@hugi and others) and on the FDCM side (@giacomo.pinaffo and others).

3. Communicate

The residency happens in the context of a festival, and it makes sense to use the opportunity to better interface with the reality on the ground in Messina. How to do this, I am still not sure. We could keep it simple, and schedule a talk where we present the Witness vision; or go complicated-and-interactive and ask Matteo to schedule a play test session of the Witness LARP (Matteo, will you be in Italy in that period?). Not knowing the audience of the festival, I am not too sure here, but we could hash it out easily with Giacomo and Gaetano.



Yes, so far it should be okay - but the sooner we can confirm the final dates the better.
Blivande and Edgeryders are covering the funding for the three people from our side.

This plan sounds fantastic. A highlight of the year!


Quick one, I will not be able to be in Italy in that period (we are stuck here apparently until Jan '23). For sure, depending on when it’s the festival, we can have some features to play-test, maybe not the final design yet, although since it’s an in-real-life festival maybe people will not be up to play online? Definitively it’s great news that the world of Witness is evolving again!

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I’m in – you know how to tempt me!

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Got the mail from Maria De Cola who is managing the residency on the FdCM side.

FdCM will decide on the dates of the festival on their meeting on 30 May.
Once we have that, we can start to plan the trips.


unless someone else has already committed I would like to join you guys in Sicily @hugi and @alberto ? If the funding is insufficient I could pay the travel there myself.

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I support this idea. I think @nadia and @hugi can usefully engage with the tech team at MACHO, with the goal to produce the start of an art funding application. You, Nadia, could even prepare this: talk to your contacts in the art world, see where this could go, so once we are in Sicily we have a clearer idea of what to do.

As for the funding, Hugi is the master of that. But normally that would be OK, as I understand it.


FdCM proposes to integrate the residency it in their Festival by organising writing labs/workshops.
These would build on the already ongoing educational activities with the high school kids in Messina.

Timeline & structure:

  • mid September to mid October:

    • FdCM educators organise a series of introductory courses on climate change & inequalities.
    • during the courses, Alberto presents Witness through online sessions
    • the kids - facilitated by the writing workshops specialists - write their own stories set in Witness .
  • mid October: the residency takes place (working dates TBC with the schools next week - 17-27 October)

    • it includes 2-3 dedicated moments where the kids join Alberto, Yudha, team, share their ideas on the stories set in Witness and receive feedback/input on how to work the structure, storyline and characters,
    • in the final session, Yudha shares the ideas developed during the residency.
  • after the residency: the kids develop their stories autonomously

IMO, this has a nice potential. It connects a new (and very young) energy to the project, it can be well presented in the media and create visibility with both the focus and the participants. Finally, the creative workshops like these can open unexpected paths and synergies.

Fantastic news about the residency finally happening. I have preliminarily blocked out 17-27 October in my calendar.

Absolutely, on board with this.

Budget is secured for travel for @nadia, @alberto and myself. We have a total of 1,532 EUR at our disposal for travel tickets and 3,070 EUR for accommodation and per-diem. Invoices are to be sent to me and will be paid by Blivande. I must be able to produce tickets with names for travel to Sicily for all three of us, and the invoices for per diem must be made out to us and not somebody else.

It would work a bit better if it could be earlier, maybe stretching back to include the weekend of 15-17 October. Reason: I have a Witness-related invitation (TBC, to be fair) to an economics festival in Norway, and it takes place on 26-29 October.

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Actually, no, I stand corrected @hugi @nadia @giacomo.pinaffo: I double checked, and it turns out that ICQE 2022 is on October 15-20. We have submitted a paper proposal last week, and I really hope it will be accepted. That works super well with the Norway festival should it happen, but not with the residency.

So, I propose to reschedule the residency. I could do most of September (except 16-25) and early October. If I could make a wish, I would suggest something like 30 September-9th October. Another possibility (though it does create a bit of the conflict with the EU Week of Cities and Regions) is something like 6-15th October.

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Those dates in September are hard for me. I have a thing in Riga in early September (also TBC) and a confirmed Trans Europe Halles conference September 21-25.

October is wide open though!

The only available option for us would be 6-15 october. On the 6th and 7th Gaetano will not be there, but that’s not a big issue, we’ll take care of the welcoming and the following week he will be available.

We will discuss later about how to schedule the activity with the students.

Fine to you?


Yes, this fits the Edgeryders crowd. I have not heard from @yudhanjaya, but we’ll reach out to him again.

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Update: heard from Yudha, he’s in, the dates are now set in stone. @hugi please tell us how you want this done administratively.

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I propose we all buy our own tickets and issue invoices to Blivande for the tickets and per-diems. I need the invoices to have the tickets and accommodation receipts attached, but no need to include any other receipts to account for the remainder of the per-diem (if there is any remainder).

Invoices should have the reference “Project: Sci-Fi Economics”, and the travel ticket cost should be on a separate line from the accommodation and per-diem.

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Hi Alberto,

any news from Yudha?

We’re having a new meeting on the Festival calendar this saturday and we could fix the dates.



Hello @giacomo.pinaffo, @yudhanjaya confirmed the dates and awaits instructions from your colleagues as to visa procedures.

Here’s an idea: we could also schedule a session of the Witness game. By then, @matteo_uguzzoni should be ready to start with at least the play tests (is this correct, Matteo?). We have a language problem with the schools, but not much of one since Matteo and I are both Italian native speakers.

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The witness game could be a nice option: could you send me by tomorrow a very short description of the game (in italian if possible), so that I can share it on saturday with the team organising the festival?



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