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Lose the game, save the world

Lose the game, save the world?

Via Philip Trippenbach’s blog, I found OILIGARCHY, a fun (and instructive) little flash game by WWO friend Molleindustria. Or should I say, “a playable commentary on the oil industry” as Molleindustria terms OILIGARCHY in their excellent dissection of their own game. OILIGARCHY, it seems to me, is a model for these types of games in that it’s transparent about its biases.

My own play result surprised me a bit, in that I did “good.” I dispossessed and killed relatively few people, and left ANWR and Iraq alone.  At game end, I weaned America off its oil addiction, set it on a course toward a better and sustainable quality of life, kept my board of directors happy (and if not happy, more perplexed than angry) and even made a killing (which Molleindustria points out is not hard) and retired happy. Instructively, the secret seemed to be (spoiler): I declined to spend cash to rig the U.S. political system. Hmmm….

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by Leigh Alexander

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.

What can videogames learn from alternate reality games? And vice versa? Brandie Minchew summarizes the two discussions at SXSW here in her article at ARGNet. One of her conclusions: “Serious games have found a niche in the game world as game designers turn society’s search for ‘fun’ into a dialog about social and political issues.” This echoes a point I like to make: World Without Oil was a really fun game, just a different flavor of “fun” than what we’re used to finding in a game. Exactly the kind of fun you get from a really good dialog?

Making Your Media Matter“Making Your Media Matter” is the yearly conference put on by the Center for Social Media at American University. It starts tomorrow (Feb 7), and World Without Oil will be represented in their first panel, “Games for Social Change,” by Dennis Palmieri of ITVS. Other games represented include A Force More Powerful, Peacemaker, and ICED!, so Dennis is in good company. You can follow events at the conference starting here.

Transbuddha includes World Without Oil in its 2007 game review. Alphamonkey writes that WWO is “a way of getting people thinking about how we can shift the world into being less dependent on oil, and it succeeds on just about every front.” WWO is the only ARG to make TB’s cut, but the thoughtful ‘Buddha honors many serious and educational web games, most notably February’s Climate Change and Against All Odds, November’s game of the month.

Jane at Web 2.0Just found this today: Jane McGonigal’s talk at the Web 2.0 summit in mid-October, on blip.tv. She observes that games these days offer players many joys and satisfactions they can’t get as easily in real life, and predicts that we will see more efforts to make reality more like games. WWO is one of the signs Jane cites that indicate this shift is happening. Check it out…

Ken Eklund at VIEW 08VIEW is a conference for digital artists and animators, and as such they take an interest in games and other interactive storytelling. In between the sessions on developing realistic behaviors for 3D food in Ratatouille and capturing acting nuances in Beowulf, there was time for me to explain what alternate reality games are and how serious ARGs such as WWO will save the world. You can find a short summary here. How’s your Italian?

Jane McGonigal (or should I say, mPathytest) speaks out about the potential of gamers in The Christian Science Monitor yesterday.

IPTV DTV logoIowa Public Television hosts a premier event for TV and video production, technical and education professionals, and this year they invited WWO Creative Director Ken Eklund to speak about crowd-sourced storytelling. Listen to the MP3, or go here and scroll down to Tuesday, Oct. 2, 9:30 am to view his snappy presentation.

Yours Truly appeared today on Your Call at KALW 91.7. The subject was purportedly, “do videogames have the power to change history?” but the other panelists and I never got around to answering that question. Best moment for the listeners: when host Sandip Roy gets one of us to admit that in actuality (s)he has never played a videogame.

Alice, in Wonderland, features WWO in this post-mortem. She calls us brave. O yeah.

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.