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The Petro Razor: one of the useful precepts to come out of World Without Oil. In the game, once the global oil shock began, the Petro Razor went to work slicing away the things that depend on oil. And then the things that depended on the things that depend on oil. And then the things that depend on the things that depend on the things, etc. And it cuts away with an inexorable logic all its own. As Inky_Jewel put it: “The Petro Razor is trying to shave us clean. But nobody knows how to use it right, so it keeps cutting us instead.”
Here in the real world, the Petro Razor is also busy. I think a lot of its work has been masked by the subprime mortgage crisis, and certainly the two are working together to cruel effect. But hearing about the rise in abandoned pets and children’s activities being cut and people hiring hoods to torch their gas guzzlers and people setting fire to gas stations in protest and so on, sounds to me like the keen snick-snick-snick of the Petro Razor. Photo by I See Modern Britain via Flickr.
Just in time for summer vacation, the Manitoba Teachers Society has prepared a gameboard with 66 great web destinations (and World Without Oil is one). Fun! Edify yourself – visit all 66!
In this Gamasutra article, game designer Ian Bogost talks about performative play – play which has an affect outside the game world, upon the real world – and uses the World Without Oil game as an instructive example. This is just one of several instances lately where I have been talking or thinking more about how WWO brought reality and an alternate reality together for people, such that they could find it easier to change their lives in preparation for an oil shock.
Circumstances have conspired to create an explosion in backyard gardens. I heard this first anecdotally about a month ago from my friends in New York City, who reported that the nurseries near their farm in Vermont were just about out of everything. And now it’s hitting the newswires.
The backyard garden may conjure up patriotic memories of the Victory Gardens of World War II, but as the article notes, the last time that Americans really got serious about gardening was the Oil Shock of 1975. And sure enough, backyard and urban gardens were a central theme in the World Without Oil game – and local food and guerrilla gardening  , too.
It’s easy to see why – A garden turns some dirt, some water, some seeds, some weeding and some sun into food – the most efficient solar power device known to man. And as many WWO players cautioned, it’s good to start now: gardening is a skill that takes years to acquire – best not to count on a lifesaving bounty your first (or second) time out. Photo of the Farmers Market in Union Square, June 2008.
“VaderJets Executive Jet Charter
Hello Ken, My name is Darth Carbon, Aviation Specialist with VaderJets based out of New York City. We provide worldwide private air charters with offices located in New York, Dubai, and Tanzania. Please feel free to contact me with questions you may have. We appreciate your consideration and trust in VaderJets for your flight needs as they continually arise. Imperial Jets is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
(An email I got yesterday – some names have been corrected)
Alert reader Cathy sent me the link to this article by Damien Cave which begins: “Higher fuel prices are forcing cities across the country to cut public services, limit driving by employees and expand public transportation in what has become a sprawling movement to conserve energy.” The article goes on to cite that 90% of 132 cities surveyed are altering operations in response to higher fuel costs. This forced cutback in public services was a big item in the WWO game: almost every service a city offers consumes fuel, and cities draw up their budgets in advance, so sudden increases catch them flatfooted (as we’re seeing now).
But the article goes on to quote the mayors at the conference: “some of them also acknowledged that higher gasoline prices could eventually make their cities bigger, better and richer.” The mayors are reporting transit use is up, the movement to resettle pedestrian-friendly downtown is accelerating, and new interest in bike lanes.
In Newsweek, Robert J Samuelson acknowledges that the equivalent of Peak Oil is here – demand has outstripped supply – and quotes economist of CIBC World Markets as saying that this will help U.S. manufacturing: no longer can jobs go overseas with such impunity. Relocalization works for manufacturing as well as food. Indeed, I’ve already read of a case where IKEA moved a manufacturing plant to the U.S. for this reason – it was cheaper to build bookcases here than to ship them in from elsewhere.
Samuelson can’t see past the current infrastructure, unfortunately, but the Economist can. In their most recent issue, entitled “The Future of Energy,” the editors cite this “failure of imagination” as the key to our problem with energy. They put forward instead ideas for “a world where, at one level, things will have changed beyond recognition, but at another will have stayed comfortably the same, and may even have got better.”
What patently doesn’t work is to cling to a wasteful system that’s loaded with problems and is incontrovertibly beginning the decline of its useful life. To quote the out-of-game “addiction” teaser for World Without Oil: “You know that it’s bad for you. You’ll cut back someday.” More drilling and more wars are the addict’s groping for one more fix: they solve nothing and don’t change the fundamental forces at work.
As the effects of high fuel prices play out around the world, many people are commenting on the predictive power of the World Without Oil game – and it is remarkably eerie to see the events described by WWO players appear in real-life headlines and news stories.
But the real power of the game, I feel, goes beyond anticipating external events – i.e., telling the external truth of our relationship with oil. The real power is in activating internal truth: enabling people to see events and understand their connection to petroenergy. To pirate an old saying, telling external truths is giving people a fish, i.e. feeding them for a day; enabling internal truthtelling is teaching them how to fish, i.e., feeding them for life.
As an example, let’s look at a comment to the previous post by WWO player PeakProphet: he relates his experience trying to find a home for two abandoned puppies. This is not a story that on its face has anything to do with oil. But once he scratches the surface we see it has everything to do with oil: $4.50 gasoline has really impacted people in rural areas; many families are seriously stretched; pets are expendable. And PeakProphet knows from the WWO game that the oil crisis burden will not fall equally, that alas it will fall mostly on anyone less able to scramble out from under it: the poor, the sick, the stretched, and yes, the defenseless family pet. From two half-starved puppies we come to see an entire region overloaded with abandoned pets, and thus we begin to apprehend the ways in which our oil crisis has already kicked the legs out from under so much that we take for granted. “Tiny Little Kitten” by TrekkyAndy via Flickr.
“Americans are angry about the economy, I’ve come to believe, in a new and profound way…. our anguished cries may be fueled by our unwillingness to accept an unmistakable message the economy is now sending us: We must fundamentally change our behavior.” From a column by Chris O’Brien in Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News. He goes on to prescribe the ‘casserole economy’: “Simplify. Have more discipline. Begin to do the things you’ve known all along you should be doing, but haven’t either out of denial or inertia or because cheap gas allowed you to avoid them.” He quotes Kit Yarrow, economic psychologist at Golden Gate University: “Oddly enough, I think there is a huge silver lining. I think people will be less wasteful.” And Chris calls for government leaders to restore our tattered social safety nets and to galvanize the Victory Gardens of the 21st century.
In short, he sounds just like the voice of experience talking about the lessons of World Without Oil.
This is the point, folks, where the World Without Oil game wants to cease being prophetic. We were supposed to play it first, then live it differently. As the next stage of the crisis looms ahead, let’s focus hard now on that “differently” part.
“We hear a lot of chatter about the price of gas these days. Most of it is just complaining and finger pointing. The few ‘solutions’ bandied around seem to have to do with biofuels and drilling for oil in new locations –- both problematic in their own ways. How can we get people to start thinking out of the box and looking at other alternatives? Seems like the following approach to involving and engaging people with important issues could be used in a lot of other educational contexts.” — The Education for Wellbeing site, talking about the World Without Oil game archive and our Lesson Plans for high school teachers.
I’m mulling this morning over the similarities between the subprime mortgage crisis and the high fuel price crisis. Both strike me as little garden paths that the unwary were led along, by people willing to make a buck over the inability of others to visualize the future.
In both cases, people were sold a dream of the unaffordable made affordable, and sold the products that go with it: big new homes in the suburbs and plush low-mpg vehicles to make their long commutes comfortable. Now however the payment rates are being radically readjusted and the balloon payments are coming due. The purveyors of this dream – the subprime lenders of U.S. energy policy, the oil and auto companies and others aided and abetted by a subprime administration – are escaping with their gains and leaving people made destitute by their deception.
What’s needed is action that materially reduces our dependence on oil forever – higher fuel efficiency, plug-in hybrids, alternative energy. Solutions such as drilling for more oil are merely a continuation of the cruel deception. For starters, it will take about 10 years for any new well to actually produce any oil – no help whatsoever to those being squeezed hard right now by high fuel prices. But the main point is: more oil, from any source, amounts to no more than taking out a second mortgage on a subprime energy policy, something that only puts the inevitable foreclosure off another year or two.
“A top Ford Motor Co. executive urged the government to make a greater commitment to the development of plug-in hybrids on Wednesday… Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, said at a conference on plug-in hybrids that bold incentives are needed to speed up the development of advanced batteries that are key to the green vehicles….’This is a race we absolutely must win,’ Fields said,” then went on to say, ‘It seems clear that a business case will not evolve, in the near term, without support from Washington.’ Hunh?
Meanwhile, in an adjacent article, Toyota’s president Katsuaki Watanabe demonstrated a plug-in hybrid car, with a next-generation lithium-ion battery, at the Tokyo Environmental Forum. Toyota said its plug-in hybrid should be in the U.S. market by 2010; last year, Ford estimated its time to market at 5-10 years, or presumably never, if the government doesn’t help them out. Perhaps, if Ford had diverted one-tenth of its marketing budget for SUVs to hybrid research over the last 5 years, it wouldn’t be in such an embarrassing palm-out situation today? Bold never quits, but apparently it’s not above whining. And cutting pay and jobs; Mark Fields announced a 15% cut for white-collar workers last week. More reverberations of WWO themes, from AP articles on Thursday.
“Games that center on realistic problems can help develop many important skills, ranging from teamwork to problem-solving to understanding relevant content,” says Eric Klopfer, the director of the Teacher Education Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of the book Augmented Learning. “In many ways, these games are more scalable and classroom-friendly than other video games, in that they don’t require special technologies or even extensive training. World Without Oil is a great example of how this could be possible.” Nice article about Alternate Reality Games in Education by Katie Ash. Reminder: you can find WWO lesson plans for high school teachers at http://worldwithoutoil.org/teach
Clifford Krauss is living World Without Oil, but it’s no game. Clifford wrote an article that appeared yesterday in the New York Times. It’s about the effects of high gasoline prices on rural areas in the U.S., where people are reeling under the triple strike of low incomes, fuel-inefficient vehicles, and long commutes to work. Folks, you have to read this article: this is not fiction, this is really happening.
Cars abandoned at the side of roads. A man loses his truck because he couldn’t afford the payments and the fuel. People eating less meat, giving up video rentals to buy gas. People forced to choose between food and transportation. People praying to God for lower fuel prices. People unable to afford the transportation cost to get medicines. People defaulting on their electric and phone bills. People quitting jobs because working less is the economically rational choice: all the wages just go down the fuel spout.
And the ripple effects: stores and restaurants closing. Layoffs. Theft rising. Local governments abandoning services. A new calculus is at work to define the haves and have-nots: the Petro Razor. Fissures are appearing along the lines that WWO foresaw.
“Oil prices raise cost of making range of goods . . . Hard choices all over . . . profits suffer, prices rise, workers’ hours are cut . . . airlines, shippers and car owners are no longer the only ones being squeezed . . . companies that make hard goods are watching their costs skyrocket . . . unpleasant choices . . . the sense that many companies may be hitting a wall is palpable . . . cutting jobs at an accelerating pace . . . more dire action may be in store . . . since last spring, the average profits of the nation’s corporations have declined at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent . . . ‘starting to be confronted with unprecedented price increases’ . . . ‘these surges in energy prices are just one surge too many’ for companies to handle. More news that sounds eerily like World Without Oil, from a front-page above-the-fold article today in the New York Times.
One of the core messages of World Without Oil is that happiness does not depend upon petroleum (but unhappiness may). Think, for example, of a highway gridlocked with solo drivers, each of whom would identify “loneliness, isolation” as the thing that is making them the most unhappy.
Here’s a perfect example of what we’re talking about: check out what the New Digital History Education blog has to say about the Ciclovia idea, and then watch the video by StreetFilms. There are elegant solutions to a world with less oil.
01SJ began last night with giant tentacled aliens invading City Hall, so you can only imagine how sorry I am not to be there. World Without Oil did its part in the festival opening, receiving an honorary mention for “making a sustainable difference by challenging the norm and melding ideas, art and technology” in the Green Prix Award for Environmental Art sponsored by Salas O’Brien. If you’re in the San Jose area this week, check out 01SJ. Photo by cookieevans5 via Flickr.
Here with the “games for social change” crowd at G4C, a big question on everyone’s mind is funding. Not surprising then that the first question in the Q & A was about the cost of making an ARG. The basic answer is that a traditional ARG can be fairly expensive ($250K-$500K), mainly because you need to develop the transmedia story that you will then hide all over the Internet and real world.
WWO, however, was “only” $88K – not pocket change, but not out of the realm of possibility for social change organizations, or for corporations that want to help social change organizations get their message out (and get a little exposure in the process). The price break, of course, comes because almost all the (massive amount of) content was developed by the players themselves. So it’s not only inherently more interesting, it’s inherently cheaper. Yeah! Here’s a gamer news report about the 88K number from Leigh Alexander on Kotaku (thanks, Sarah!)
Meanwhile, out in the real world, GM declares the SUV to be dead, killed by $4 a gallon gas. Too bad they didn’t play WWO, I guess; they might have seen this coming a year ago.
I’m at the Games 4 Change conference in New York. It actually begins Tuesday, June 3, but today there was a preconference event, “Game Design 101,” an intensive program to give possible Serious Game funders and collaborators a head start on the behavior of game designers and the elements of game projects. I went because, well, I can always use a good review of the basics of my profession.
One of the interactive exercises was “designing a game in 1 hour.” In the picture above, our first-round facilitator, Mary Flanagan (director of tiltfactor lab), waves goodbye flanked by my teammates Anne and Tam. Our team eventually came up with a food politics game called “One Potato Two Potato,” a card game that explored the many complex factors behind where your food comes from. You play from the POV of a potato farmer.
Tomorrow I’m on a panel entitled “Alternate Reality Games for Change,” sitting with some pretty heavy hitters (Jordan Weisman, Frank Lantz) and moderated by Peggy Weil. Go WWO!