Alternate worlds, with their branching timelines, are at the core of many Running Reality features. They are how it manages data of uncertain fidelity, how it lets you import your family genealogy, how it lets you experiment with alternate pasts or how it projects speculative futures, and how it lets you play with total fantasy worlds.


The engine underneath the world model keeps track of a world timeline and individual timelines for each object in that world. The timelines of each object can be altered by commands to the engine. When the command describes something "true" about history, it's known as a factoid and it has a citation to establish its veracity. But by tracking the fidelity of the factoid data at a fine-grained level, we can manipulate the world to show small-scale and large-scale deviations from a "Baseline" timeline.

In most software applications, when you open a new file, everything is blank. You are starting from an empty page and building your world up from that empty page. In Running Reality, it's far more convenient to start from "Reality" when starting a few file. Most edits are small changes from the "Baseline" timeline, such as adding your own family history to the world model. However, you can also make much large changes. For instance, a full alternate timeline might be a alternate history where the Rome loses the Punic Wars to Carthage and therefore all factoids after a certain date would be from the branched world, not the Baseline.

"Reality" Baseline

PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
The "Baseline" world that is our best representation of the history of human civilization.High, citations requiredRead-only

The Baseline is our best representation of the history of human civilization as it happened. By definition, it captures only a high-level overview of historical events because only just so much detail can be known about historical places and events. Also, the Baseline is under construction and gets better each month as more data is added. The Running Reality engine tries to draw the Baseline as best it can to give you a feel for who was where and how cities were laid out and what battles were underway at any given time, which means some interpolation is being done.

Contributing to the Baseline

PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
Creating factoids that will be submitting for review to include in the "baseline" world.High, citations requiredFull toolset

The "Reality" Baseline world is built by people like you, by "crowdsourcing" if you will. Running Reality lets you create an editable branch of the Baseline timeline so you can add new factoid data to it. When you have edited them to your liking and you are ready, you can share them back to the website. Our review team will review the factoids and then add them to the Baseline world that everyone sees when they come to explore world history. Areas of history which have had a lot of work done already are listed here as highlights and areas of history which still need lots of work are listed here as open projects.

Personal Worlds

PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
Adding your personal story to share just with friends and family, e.g. family genealogy.Citations optionalFull toolset, including GEDCOM import and sharing.

How can you show where your great-grandfather was born? Are you researching your family history and learning about the places from which they emigrated? For many of us, the changes in national borders over the past hundred years means that a modern map would show our ancestors' city being in a different country from the one they actually departed. Personal worlds are ones that you want to edit and maybe share with just friends and family. You can even import data from your genealogy software using the GEDCOM transfer file format. Then, you can share the whole world with them or just take some screen shots to create a map you can include in a newsletter, blog post, or school project.


PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
Exploring local uncertainty in data, e.g. two dates for an event.Citations optionalFull toolset, but sharing tools in work.

Running Reality is especially good at looking at uncertainty in historical events. A "bubble" is a spot in history where one of many different things could have happened and we are not sure which is true. For instance, a battle that could have occurred in one of three possible locations and for which an archaeological search is underway. Or we don't know when a person died. Running Reality supports a rich discussion about ongoing research by allowing you to show different hypotheses and share those with others.

Future Simulation

PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
Leaving all data in place for past events, start projecting forward to experiment with various decisions.High through today's date, citations optionalFine control of extrapolation models (e.g. population) in work.

The Baseline extends back from today, and only contains historical factoids. To show potential futures, you can use the engine to extrapolate the timelines of current nations, cities, etc forward. This is also a great way to see what it will take to build Mars colonies. However, the engine does not assign a probability to any particular future. It assumes that any future is possible and that you can experiment with any of them unhindered. However, it will not project a "likely" future -- if you think that any given set of future events or decisions is likely, then you can use Running Reality to draw what that might look like.

Alt History

PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
Leaving all data in place for events before a certain date, branch history to explore some alternative events.High through branch date, citations optionalComing soon

Whether as an alternate timeline or as a game, the Baseline can be branched at any point in history to explore off in a different direction that history could have taken -- but didn't. This can be like a work of historical fiction, where you want to lay out what it might mean for the Spanish to have failed to capture the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan or you'd like to take control of a specific object in the world (like NASA or the Aztec Empire) to play history like a game. Coming soon

Fully Alternate Worlds

PurposeFidelityEditing Tools
Fictional worlds not our own, like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, etc.FantasyComing soon

The most complex type of alternate timeline is when you want to create a world from scratch. This involves not just flushing all the factoids that represent our real history but also potentially creating a new planet with a map you supply. This can mean creating worlds based on movies or books, like a Lord of the Rings Middle Earth world. (Naturally, if you want to share such a world widely, you would have to handle copyright concerns about distributing such a map.) This is a lot of work to undertake, since it could take thousands of factoids to make such a world look the way you want, but that's comparable to the amount of work to draw a house in 3D CAD software or to do an illustrated portrait in Adobe Illustrator. Coming soon