Online Reality Game: A World Without Oil

May 3, 2007 at 11:46 am
Contributed by:

This is interesting – a new online reality game designed to simulate the impending oil crisis. See the article below and give it a whirl.


A world without oil, in a game

A San Jose designer is trying to solve a crisis
before it can happen.

By RANDY MYERS/MediaNews staff

Article Created: 04/22/2007 09:09:44 AM

In a matter of days, gas prices will skyrocket, a dwindling food supply will
rot, and the oil crisis will literally stop Americans in their tracks.

How can you and your loved ones survive a crippling breakdown?

Log in to “World Without Oil,” a free alternate reality game that taps our
collective ingenuity to stop a plausible crisis before it happens. Or at least
prepare a post-Katrina nation to deal better with a disaster.

Sprung from the imagination of San Jose gamemaker Ken Eklund, the 30-day
Internet game begins April 30 at

“Oil’s” creators herald the venture as a first – an alternate reality game
that wrestles with a significant social problem. Another topical game, the
obesity-themed “Fatworld,” is in production.

“This is the alternate reality game that will change reality,” Eklund said.

“People are realizing that (an alternate reality game) is not only a viable
way to teach and entertain people, in many ways it’s better than booklearning.”

Players enter the game by e-mail, phone calls and creating real or imagined
personas on MySpace. What they say will shape the game.

Organizers hope more tech-literate players will blog, make YouTube videos and
post audio clips and photos.

Most difficult for organizers will be harnessing the collective brainpower so
it doesn’t explode into chaos.

To provide cohesion, eight characters will be gamemasters for the virtual
crisis. Players drop in at any time to offer their thoughts about dealing with
issues they might encounter, from soaring prices to trying to commute.

“We’re asking people to come and write the story and that’s mainly because
the subject is too big for any small group of people,” Eklund said.

“The No. 1 challenge is that people’s imagination is so great,” Eklund said.
“We’re going to be running as fast we can to keep up with people. ”

When the game ends, its makers expect the postings will provide insight and
solutions to an oil crisis.

Expect growing demand for games like “Oil,” said Jane McGonigal, a Berkeley
futurist and game designer for the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto.

Beyond its social resonance, “Oil” illustrates what Web 2.0 is all about,
said McGonigal, an “Oil” collaborator. She appeared this week at a Web 2.0
conference in San Francisco. (Web 2.0 is the term used to describe the
internet’s much-debated next stage.)

“Web 2.0 is all about participatory culture,” she said. “Nobody’s just
receiving content, everything is collaborative including content and analysis.”
Web 2.0 draws it together, and so does “Oil.”

“Oil” players visit the website and plunge into a drama orchestrated by the
49-year-old Eklund.

“I was looking for an issue that affected everyone,” he said. Hurricane
Katrina and its devastating aftermath, which produced a surge in gasoline
prices, fueled “Oil.”

“Katrina definitely left me with the impression that in times of crisis you
need to have your own resources,” he said. “You can’t depend on a helicopter
swooping from the sky to save you. You better have a plan you can rely on . . .
Oil just fit the bill because it is the oxygen of our country.”

Focusing on game solutions, might equip Americans to deal with a real crisis,
he said. Eklund expects fresh insights to come from the large group of online

The resulting game community will likely return to the real world to evaluate
and possibly cut consumption, he said. Regardless of outcomes, the game
sidesteps political posturing and fingerpointing. “Oil” was funded through a
Corporation of Public Boardcasting grant.

Educators wanting to keep pace with internet-age students have expressed
interest in using “Oil” in class.

“I can’t tell you how many educators and nonprofit organizers I’ve talked to
see this as the next generation’s type of curriculum,” McGongial said.

The game’s topic and interactive nature sold Jeff Towey at Richmond’s Making
Waves. He plans to have his afterschool students patricpate. He is particularly
intrigued by how reality games can cover academic subjects, from science to

“It’s not straightforward like writing an essay,” he said.

“Oil” isn’t the first game to tackle social issues.

The nascent movement for serious-minded games includes MTV posting at a Darfur game created by college students and the
International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s “A Force More Powerful,” an
activists’ how-to for non-aggression at

What distinguishes “Oil” is that it is an alternate reality game aimed at
benefitting the public, McGonigal said.

Can it achieve such a lofty goal? A UC-Berkeley professor of practical art
and new media hopes so.

“(Oil dependency) is an extremely serious matter, and I think it’s good to
engage with these questions,” said Greg Niemeyer.

“There’s an aspect to it that is a little hard to translate into a game. Some
of its seriousness might be obscured by the fact that we’re encountering it in a

“What we need to learn is what are our core social values and how to find a
balance without an abundance of resources? That’s a huge question. If this game
will bring us to that it could be very successful. If it doesn’t it’s too bad.”

Where to play

• To check out “World Without Oil,” visit
The game begins April 30.

• “World Without Oil” is a joint project of PBS’s Independent Lens and
its Electric Shadows Web-original programming. To see the company’s other
interactive ventures, go to

• To learn more about alternate reality gaming, visit the Alternate
Reality Gaming Network at

• To read what gamers think of the idea, go to

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Copyright © 2008 GetRealList
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.