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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