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World Without Oil Launches

world without oil

Last night at midnight, the alternate reality game (ARG for short) World Without Oil launched. In the game, the world has hit peak oil and there are news reports of crises from around the world. The goal of the game is to get real people around the world to start thinking about life without oil. To get them to answer questions like: How will they cope? What will they have to sacrifice? What can they do to help the world?

They are using content scattered throughout the web to create this new reality. Youtube videos that tour the oil fields of Texas, blogs and a LiveJournal Community are attributed to fictional characters like RedHatty, Gwen McGinnis, txchuckles, and Gala Teah. The puppetmasters use these characters to pull real people into the game and get them to start contributing. The characters have been posting for a while, dropping hints about an impending crisis. Now that he game has launched, posts like gala_teah’s provide more details about their situation and direct actions for potential players to take:

So it was not a rumor. The oil shock is real. And it’s our new reality for several years at least, if Nico is to be believed (and he’s been right on so far).

We have been preparing for months. But to be honest, I think I always held back a little – hoping we were wrong. Now that it is beginning, and it is real, I am daunted by the task before us. Lots of people are wondering, what do we do now?

The first step for many people is to create an account at LiveJournal. It’s free. By creating an account, you create an identity so you can participate in the growing community here. Exchange of ideas and support is so important.

The center of this world is the World Without Oil website. It contains pointers to most of the content out there. It produces the facts of the world via news briefs that paint a bleak picture. Here’s the backdrop of news for the first week:

Fuel prices jumped this week, led by gasoline which gained over a dollar a gallon on average. Oil distributors pointed to several “renegotiated” delivery contracts as proof that a long-rumored shortfall in the supply of U.S. oil has finally arrived. Oil producers were tight-lipped about the adjusted contracts, and as I write this it’s still unclear how extensive the shortfall will turn out to be.

and the site has a dashboard showing the world’s current energy prices (I suspect these will go up over time as the situation becomes dire):

world without oil energy ticker

Users can create accounts and find out how their locale is doing (Seattle is not quite in crisis mode just yet; neither is San Francisco).

The game was proposed by Ken Eklund. Jane McGonigal (Cruel 2 B Kind creator, an ETech keynoter and Expo Ignite speaker) helped make it a reality and serves as chief puppetmaster. It is funded by Independent Television Service (PBS).

As mentioned above the goal of the game is to get people thinking about this potential real world future and to build a community around the issue. They are using these tools to connect people. Riding on top of existing, proven community building tools like LiveJournal, Vox, YouTube, podcasts, and the phone (anyone can call in and leave a message for other players to hear).

The amount of content that Jane and her puppetmasters have created is dizzying. I started diving into it yesterday and have only been able to ingest a small fraction of it. Once players start contributing to it, it may become more than any one person could consume on their own. ARGs are fast growing medium. Previously it’s been used for advertising (like with Jane’s I Love Bees for XBox) With World Without Oil they are now being turned on current issues. I think it is safe to say this is only the beginning of this method of outreach.

[See also coverage by CNET, SF Weekly)

Members of the World Without Oil team will be at Where 2.0 in the Where Faire and will discuss how they handled a game that simulated a global scope entirely via the web.

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  • http://www.smallsoftware.co.uk Richard

    Ha. For “World Without Oil”, read “America Without Oil”.

  • Andrew Russell

    Yes Richard, that is true, but as they say they are only 10 people, probably with day-jobs.
    I suspect that if you in UK (or me in NZ) got into the swing of it we could get our little corners of the world included which would be a very good thing.
    Andrew

  • sylvia

    I don’t really understand the point of this game. I mean, it sounds like a good idea, to get people interested in the issue, etc, but as far as I can tell, we’ve already hit peak oil. Gas is quite possibly going to go above $4 this summer, in the real world. It seems like too little, too late, to create an online game about it. Also, it might be confusing to people who come across the website or any of its affiliated blogs. It’s mostly factual information, and links to real websites about the impending energy crisis, but then of course there are the fake blogs and fake youtube videos…

    I explored a few links and watched a few of the videos, but stopped after a while because the real peakoil blogosphere is actually more interesting. The thing is, the oil crisis is already here, or a few months away. No need to create an alternate reality in which it’s happening.

  • C

    Strange how self centred the US is with regards to Petrol prices – at current average petrol prices in Ireland (1.10 EUR per Litre) that equates to approx. $5.65 per gallon… and this is not the peak price (recent peak at over 1.20 EUR/litre!!!)
    To get below a price of $4 per gallon the price would have to drop to approx. 0.77 EUR/Litre here – this hasn’t been the case for several years now (I’m not sure if its even been that low since the introduction of the EURO several years ago!!)

  • Marty Lund

    C > Speaking of “self-centered about Petrol prices” – maybe you could examine the difference

    >

    Or your government could stop charging you such ridiculous tax rates on your Petrol. My total taxes per gallon of gas are about $0.38 between Federal and State taxes 0 – not counting Sales Tax. Compare that to, say, Britain’s rate of approximately $4 / gallon Fuel Tax AND a 17.5% Value Added Tax.

    The Americans pay almost the same as the British and Irish on the actual cost of petrol – our Governments simply have different rates of extorting us for the privilege of buying it.

  • Marty Lund

    Apologies for the formating issues. It seems this commenting utility has some odd character-reading quirks.

    The part in question was simply quotation of C’s last section regarding the price of Petrol in Ireland compared to the US rates.

  • http://wikiwebcomic.penguindeskjob.com/ KSG

    The player community at the unfiction forums found it pretty amusing that you thought our buddy RedHatty was fictitious.

    Anyway, the point seems to me to be this: eventually, we are actually going to lose our oil supply, or at least it will become more expensive here than our current lifestyles and economy can continue with. At that point, changes will have to be made anyway, so this is a way for people to consider and confront those changes now, while it’s safe, and not later, while everyone’s panicking.

    Also, rather than just getting people to “think about” the problem, it actually gets a large and actively interested community of people to throw ideas off of each other through their in-game blog posts, and the out-of-game Alternate Reality Game community. There’s some potential for innovation there, for someone to think up a brilliant lifestyle change for the better that people can start jumping on board with.

    Finally, I’ve seen it posted that WWO is encouraging groups in schools to follow along. Maybe most politically savvy adults know about peak oil, oil’s part in our economy, other crises in history, and so forth. I bet most school children don’t, and watching an Internet game complete with characters and some element of plot is a much more memorable learning experience than hearing some teacher prattle on about it.

  • RedHatty

    Wow, I guess I should take it as a compliment that my submissions are thought to be an in game character’s. Reality is I am just a person playing the game. My posts are based on real knowledge or experience, I really live in the New Orleans area & am also a real Hurricane Katrina survivor.

    As to the purpose of WWO – the game… The amount of actively, effectively vocal people who want to get the monkey of Big Oil off our backs is not as large as it needs to be for anyone to take us seriously. If using an alternate reality game can make more people aware of alternative fuels, the real costs behind an oil based life & culture, get more people to exercise by walking or bike riding, get more people growing their own produce & therefore eating healthier food, even if it does not create people who will call & write their congress critters and give them pressure to support alternative fuels legislation, it will still have a positive effect.

    Now in a perfect world, this game would help wake some people up, make them see just how bad their own addiction is to oil and start to change & also call for the country to change. Reality is that we are all in slavery, we are in slavery to big oil. I realized that & I refuse to buy another car, I use public transportation & a bicycle. I have reduced my use and waste of plastics, and have taken positive steps to reduce my energy usage at home.

    We hope that the people who play the game will ultimately live some of what they “pretend” if they don’t already. Right now there are over 400 active players, by conservative estimates, that means there are probably 3000 people following it, but not making submissions.

    You know the old MLM game, you tell 2 people & they tell 2 people? Well if that happens with this game, tht is a whole lot of awareness about the reality of peak oil, a coming oil crisis & how to survive it without losing your mind, morals or health.

    So what could be wrong with that?

    Thanks for the compliment, calling me a character (although I have been called that before, just never in reference to a game) & hey – give the game a shout out on the radio, why don’t ya? Did you hear that Bill?