Oiligarchy: Peak Oil Videogaming

This is a guest post by CYH volunteer, Lyon Lin.

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The concept of Peak Oil defines the mechanism and consequences of the precipitous rise and fall of world oil production. Regardless of when it will occur (or has) pessimists such as Michael Ruppert in Collapse exhort about nothing less than the utter dismantling of modern industrialized society; others, while realizing this, talk of transition.

In my flitting research of energy material on the Internet, I came across where you are an “Oiligarch” (play on words on oligarch) directing the operations of a U.S. oil corporation. Your goal is to please your shareholders by properly exploring and extracting enough petroleum to meet world demand and make enough to earn profit.

I don’t think this game is intended to be an edu-game, but even elementary school students can learn of the relationships between petroleum and power in the US through this. Events and actions, though serious and based in the real are bright and cartoonish. It can be a phenomenal tool for anyone wanting to learn something about petroleum and the complex political, environmental, cultural, and social justice issues surrounding. Some topic highlights for me included: Hubbert”s Peak, War, Economics, and Campaign Financing.

When I played the game for the first time, I didn’t enroll myself in the political element of campaign contributions. This money buys influence in congress so they can pass “oil friendly” laws (like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil extraction); if you donate to enough politicians, you even get access to the executive office. Thus, the game lets the player explore the close relationships between corporations and governments. By ignoring this political avenue when I played as the “oiligarch”, environmental activists had enough power to pass bills that favored a transition to alternatives and I achieved what I thought was the good ending: retirement and a sustainable future.

However, being someone that thought retirement is a soft ending and wanting to explore the different issues in the game, my ego spurred me to play again and this time — I paid off everybody. Not only did the game become much more interesting (albeit troubling) as pseudo-real actions related to imperialism and unilateral corporate practices became available, but I earned, I don’t know billions? trillions?, and ultimately reached what was clearly the bad ending: Mutually Assured Destruction. This happened when (my) corporate power was left unchecked – the lessons here for a sustainable future are clear.

In this game, your “goal” is to unequivocally earn profit off the charts; but money seems to solely function as a meaningless score because you may only use it to influence politicos. Anything less and you could be fired. If you want to “win” you must eschew ethics, and among the many actions you can initiate: instigate tough police action on environmental activists, corrupt the Nigerian government to chase indigenous groups off of drill sites, you can even invade Iraq. It online casinos is troubling to think of a world where these actions are seen as “winning” and desirable and the game illustrates this in its endings.

The actions that an influenced U.S. administration can undertake allude to real history and events, some that are still ongoing like, for example, the Ogoni People and Shell, Alaskan Wildlife Refuge Drilling, or using an unreliable source as a pretext to invade Iraq. News events also feature prominently. Your relationship with everything is illustrated rather well; your “god” point of view serves to highlight your distance from meaning and real consequences, in part hoping to impart a microcosm of the feelings of being management in a major corporation. If you want to win the game you are required to be aloof to the suffering that you cause, especially if you take it to the zenith. And that is just so easy. By creating this sentiment, the game underscores the importance of local experiences, open and transparent dialogue, and engaging multiple perspectives on environmental issues.

Now, as I mentioned, there is an alternative to being an unethical, money-high, world destroying 1%er, and it is to retire to a post-carbon alternatives transition world. Admittedly, I achieved that ending accidentally, but after seeing how easy it was to buy influence and exert power, I’m inclined to think that it simply isn’t that easy to be an ethical petro-corporation. How a player navigates the demand curve and what sacrifices are to be made to sustain production seems harder then earning everything and destroying everything.

A Peak Oil ending does exist. If the player is able to earn well, sometime in the early 2000’s a news article will pop up about oil reaching the peak of production; if you look at your stats and reservoirs, they would reflect that. If you stop all new development and watch the news, it gets increasingly grimmer as the years go by. Eventually—Farewell West, and that’s it.

My only design complaint about the game is the lack of inclusion of other world powers as elements such as Russia or China. Also, the use of “human burners” as an illustration of a petro-alternative was too exaggerated and inaccurate.

The developer: LaMolleIndustria speak of attempting to: “free videogames from the “dictatorship of entertainment”, using them instead to describe pressing social needs, and to express our feelings or ideas just as we do in other forms of art.” Oiligarchy’s core gameplay transcends pleasure or education. Not intending to be defined by one or the other its aesthetic accomplishes what very few video-games are: art.

The game: http://www.molleindustria.org/en/oiligarchy

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Lyon currently spends most of his time attempting to ascertain if he has an extremely rare (though popular) mental disorder. Otherwise he likes to spend the rest of his time consuming the bleakest media imaginable. Also, he likes games.

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