World Without Oil: towards a responsible ARG

At GDC recently, Jane McGonigal announced her latest game: World Without Oil. It officially begins on April 30th, but sites and content are up already. It is apparently sponsored by Independent Lens and PBS, and is designed by Jane and written by Ken Eklund. This looks to be Jane’s move towards creating more socially responsible games since leaving 42 Entertainment. The game is described by Jane in Gamasutra: 

It’s a different kind of ARG –- a collaborative alternate reality. There’s a lot of content creation on the part of players that is not traditional to ARGs. What is traditional to ARGs is that there are characters and a full life online, which people who are starting to poke around the website now are finding. There are hints of how you might find these characters. There’s a chat transcript posted amongst a bunch of characters. Maybe you could send them a message. […]

The World without Oil game is really going to let people use any means necessary to drive the story, to test the limits, everything from posting, documenting things with photo, video, to live flash mobs. You get to decide what’s happening, and by documenting it, you force us to build it into the story.

The sort of end game is, does the country recover? The characters might all be dead by the end of the story depending on what the players do. We’re keeping it pretty flexible because the idea is that when you start to play you join as a puppet master. In that way, it’s sort of the first collectively puppet-mastered game ever. We’re giving away more power but holding the reins enough so that it’ll be a satisfying experience. We’re taking you to the next level.

If we want it to be collective, why don’t we let the players run it collectively and see what they come up with? The subject of the game is a very real scenario. If we did suffer an oil shock, it would be the ordinary people, the players, who would be ultimately shaping what the hell happened, whether we descend into chaos or whether we band together. It’s better to see what the people really think and want to do now. Play it before you live it.  [Gamasutra]

I look forward to studying this game and people’s reactions. Personally though, I do not think that getting people to think about figuring out ways to survive a stark future is the way to make people happy. I have always been against fear-based approaches in rhetoric about climate change and in industry presentations. Games are no different. So, at this stage, the call to action does not address me. But I’ll check out the design, as Jane definitely knows what she is doing when it comes to game design. And I think her goal of a game designer winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a fine one. As for this ARG, there is already character content online, see the links from the main site, where you can sign up too.

Slides from Jane McGonigal’s talk at GDC: http://www.slideshare.net/avantgame/creating-alternate-realities-or-hacking-happiness

Unfiction Forum: http://forums.unfiction.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=18592 (hardcore players)

Player Wiki: http://www.oilless.info/

Register to play/do good now: http://worldwithoutoil.org/