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It’s eerie to open today’s newspaper and see the headline “Gas at $4.” Because this is exactly how the World Without Oil serious game began, which launched exactly one year ago today.

Watch the video by KalWithoutOilIt’s depressing of course to see U.S. gas prices dominate our news, because they are unimportant. Or, rather, are important only if they lead us to see the actual problem (which is the role they served in the WWO game). The actual problem being that, in today’s world, people starve without oil. I mean that in both an economic sense and literally.

And what we learned in WWO is that yes, you can prevent people from starving, both economically and literally. But right now you can’t do it without more oil.

You can stop crime, get more water, quell disorders, recover from disasters, address climate change. You just can’t do it without using more oil.

You can build a hydrogen economy, nuclear power plants, an all-sustainable energy grid. You just can’t do it without using more oil.

Where do you get this oil? There are no more gushers, no more huge oilfields, no more cornucopia. The world’s oil industry is now in its Red Queen phase, running as fast as it can to stay in the same place.

What WWO players came to experience is that the oil was going to come from them. From people, that is, who use a lot and have no good claim on it other than that they used to be able to afford as much as they wanted. The inexorable logic of this led many of them to change their real-life lives. They can’t change U.S. energy policy or the production capacity of a Middle Eastern oilfield โ€“ but they could (and did) change their own consumption. Thus adding their bit to the angle of the trim tab that will in time alter the course of the great big ship.

How about you? Gas is hitting $4 a gallon in the U.S., 129p a litre in the UK. Is the game is starting, for real this time? What have you learned?

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He bent the locking cap, but it held.Varin (who some of you know as Illiana_Speedster, or maybe his daughter) told me about fuel thefts in Indiana. I had just seen an article here about fuel thefts in California. So I Googled it. Not surprisingly, with diesel well over $4 a gallon and gasoline also in many places, there are reports of fuel thefts all over. Not just gas-n-gos, either, but pretty major stuff: Pump reprogramming. Tank drilling. Fleet and storage tank drainings. The sort of stuff, I’m thinking, that never appears in official scenarios but which impacts people’s lives hugely, the World Without Oil experience tells us. So I’m off to the store to buy locking gas caps, if any are still in stock. As Varin says, “It’s like we’re playing the game all over again.” ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

On the left, the World Without Oil fiction; on the right, the realityNina Simon works on cool museum stuff (like the Spy Museum [cue theme music]) and posted a thoughtful post-mortem on World Without Oil some months ago in her richly ideated blog, Museum 2.0, pointing up the game’s educational side. She’s presenting museum-quality newtech ideas at a museum conference this week and sent me the slide above with this note: “Your pic on the left. On the right, cellphone pic we took yesterday in SF. Using it in upcoming presentation. Sometimes I wish games didn’t have to be so real.”

I’m reprinting here a letter to the editor of the San Jose Mercury News, April 22, 2008.

In 50 years the oceans will be stripped clean, yet we keep fishing. Species extinction is the fastest in world history, yet the rain forests burn. Our oil supply peaked, yet we drive SUVs. The world’s food supply collapsed, yet we idle on ethanol. It’s terrifying to see the zombied indifference around me. So what dreams will I be allowed to have? My future won’t resemble anything the world has ever seen let alone prepared for. This is the world that’s been left to my generation. I wish I wasn’t going to live long enough to see it, but I’m afraid I will, and I’m afraid I don’t know what to do. Daniel Dixson, San Jose.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9-gzJGxTI8]Although food prices are going up, there’s some food that’s going up less than other food: local food, bought from local farmers. The reason: smaller farms are often less oil-dependent than agrobusinesses, and often more flexible about the fuels they do use. Eating locally was a big theme in World Without Oil; witness the above video by player Burnunit, or this one by Inky_Jewel and Gala_Teah.

Finger Lakes Environmental Film FestivalThe Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) is “a one-week multimedia interarts extravaganza that reboots the environment and sustainability into a larger global conversation, embracing issues ranging from wars, health, diseases, music, digital arts, cinemas, popular cultures, fine arts, experimental media, literature, economics, archives, AIDS, womenโ€™s rights, and human rights.” I was pretty delighted to find that World Without Oil earned a place in the exhibition of serious games at FLEFF this year, curated by Ulises Mejias of SUNY Oswego. From his notes: “World without Oil… was entirely a discursive, transmediated experience, as open as human expression itself. The goal, according to Sebastian Mary, was to facilitate ‘collaborative problem-solving to escape the boundaries of gaming and become a real-world way for distributed groups of people to address a problem they cannot fix by themselves.'”

Suddenly everyone’s talking about it: rice rationing in the USA. Coming seemingly from nowhere, although that’s just a bit of American myopia. The faulty rationales behind food-based fuel have been apparent to some from the start, and WWO player GailTheActuary laid them out pretty clearly in this post back during the game. But it’s still strange to see this sort of unintuited ramification of oil addiction burst onto the scene โ€“ it’s in eerie parallel to the World Without Oil game itself, when this sort of thing occurred every day. As we approach the first anniversary of the start of the oil shock, it’s preja-vu all over again. (Thanks Marie)

The WWO Lesson Plans have only been out for a week or two, but some early-adopter teachers are already putting them to use in their high school classrooms. . . and industrious students are blogging, commenting, and posting videos like this one and this one. Cool!

The Electrifying Th!nk Car In keeping with the day, no bad news such as the new highest ever price for oil. Just good news such as the new electric car coming to the U.S. from Norway (named the Th!nk, more on that in a moment) and ESolar’s announcement that it has raised $130 million to make and install 33 megawatts of small prefabbed solar-thermal power plants in California. The smaller plants can be situated closer to where the power is consumed, thereby cutting transmission waste. Converting transportation energy from oil to electric is a big step forward in sustainability and resiliency, as electricity can be a renewable resource.

If the name “Th!nk” sounds familiar, this is why: it’s a Ford car, one they killed in 2002, citing lack of demand. Here’s a news report from 2002.

Was this not a game? Was World Without Oil indeed a look at the shape of things to come?

This article by Jacob Adelman in today’s paper tells of farmers in America who have seen the cost of fertilizer jump 20% a week in recent weeks. “We’ll get four or five price increases in a single day,” says a fertilizer distributor. In 50 years in the business, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“It’s like there’s no end in sight. It’s very scary,” one farmer says. The cause? Competition for fertilizer from China, India and other rapidly growing countries – and the rising cost of petroleum energy, which in turn is diverting natural gas from fertilizer manufacture into (more profitable) use as fuel. As we’ve already seen with corn-based ethanol, our demand for energy won’t stop even if it means less food for the table.

Instability growing as food prices jumpAnd make no mistake, there is less food for the table. “Global food prices surged 57 percent last month from a year earlier, according to the United Nations, and the World Bank warns civil disturbances may be triggered in 33 countries,” reports Bloomberg.com.

“Recent weeks have seen Philippine authorities scramble to augment rice stocks in the country, Indonesian officials warn of possible social unrest due to skyrocketing prices for basic foodstuffs, irate Egyptians protesting bread shortages, and international food aid programs unable to buy enough goods to meet their food distribution targets for vulnerable populations,” Voice of America reports. “This is the world’s big story,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, reports CNN.

Doesn’t this sound like WWO? The alarming dependence we have on oil in order to grow our food was one of the major themes of the World Without Oil alternate reality game, and explored in depth by our players. We use oil to plant our food, to fertilize and pesticide it, to harvest it, refrigerate it and transport it great distances. We use oil to truck in its pollinators and pump in its water. Irrigation lines, row cover, and other essentials of the farm trade are made from oil. In the game, when the price of oil jumped up and its availability went down, the price and availability of food inexorably followed.

What to do? Get educated, especially about local sources of food. One of the WWO Lesson Plans can help.

Meanwhile, oil hit $117 a barrel, and experts say oil prices may remain high even if demand begins to fall. Photo by mattlemmon via Flickr.

WWO Lesson Plans at PBS - Independent LensVia Independent Lens, ITVS has published the World Without Oil lesson plans on the Public Broadcasting System website โ€“ PBS.org. The announcement went out Thursday in the PBS Teachers newsletter for April 20-26, 2008. So that’s a big honor โ€“ and a nice way to direct teachers to this novel way to engage students with energy policy, sustainability, and the role energy plays in the American economy, culture, worldview, and history. The lesson plans now include an independent study track, so self-directed students can get themselves into the serious game. You can also find the lesson plans on the WWO site, right here at worldwithoutoil.org/teach.

WWO finalist in Environmental Art at 01SJ01SJ is the Zero One art-on-the-edge digital festival here in San Jose, and it’s chosen World Without Oil as a finalist for its Environmental Art award. That is so cool as to render me speechless. We are shoulder-to-shoulder with such WWO simpaticos as The Miss Rockaway Armada and The Yes Men. See the entire list of finalists here. And if you’re in the area, come on down to the 01SJ Opening Ceremony in San Jose on Wednesday, June 4 โ€“ that would be a great way to celebrate the first anniversary of the close of the World Without Oil game.

Webby logoYowza, folks. WWO is up for an Academy Award (not that Academy, its interactive sister: the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, aka The Webbys). World Without Oil is a finalist in the Games category, which if nothing else gives us trifecta honors: won for Activism at SXSW, nominated for Environment at the Stockholm Challenge, and now for Games at the Webbys.

If David Bowie et al groove on WWO, that’s cool. The thing I’d really like to win, though, is the People’s Voice Award for our category. Because WWO was all about the people’s voice, in a way that no game has ever been before. And this is the year for serious games. And although you might read that WWO was “Ken’s game” or “Jane’s game” or whatever, we all know that’s basically not true. It’s PeakProphet’s game and Blueski’s game and MsGeek’s game and Burnunit’s game and RockLobster’s game, and on through two thousand more player names and 1,500 player stories.

If you need convincing, check out our Lesson Plans: players’ stories are now at the center of immersive high school teaching. If you find us worthy, please go vote People’s Voice for World Without Oil: http://pv.webbyawards.com/

(register -> websites -> entertainment -> games -> World Without Oil)

with Steve PaikinGames make us happy. A simple enough premise when the game is football or soccer or chess or Monopoly. Can the idea be extended? Can it get serious? Can it get real? Can it go global on the Internets? Why not?

Jane McGonigal talks ARGs, WWO and happiness with Steve Paikin of The Agenda (Canada’s biggest news magazine). Roll tape!

Jump at the Pump…is fuel prices, according to a study released by the New York Times this week. David Leonhardt, who writes about economics for the Times, tells Renee Montagne of NPR that “eight in 10 people said they’re staying even or falling behind,” which basically means they understand what’s actually going on. “Household income set an all-time record in 1999, and we still haven’t returned to that record. That’s really remarkable. There is no other economic expansion in history that failed to give most people a raise.” And thus the worry about fuel prices: the jump at the pump is cutting directly into the income that’s already failed to keep up with prices; it’s the tangible sign that people are falling farther and farther behind; and as we found in WWO, it’s the thing that has the power to get people to change their lives. (Thanks, Laurel, for this lead.)

Across the country, truckers are beginning to engage in roadblocks or rollingblocks to protest the squeeze caused by high diesel prices, now over $4 a gallon nationally. Independent truckers in particular (1 out of 10 trucks is an independent) have been caught without a mechanism in place to compensate for rapidly rising fuel costs, and for them rolling down the road has become a lose-lose proposition. The alert “WWO Lives” reader will flash back to this post on this blog and wonder just how deep this resentment runs, and how far this protest might go.

Meanwhile, testifying before Congress, oil company executives characterize their recent profits as “in line with those of other industries.”

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.