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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 – 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?

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.”

$4 a gallon - coming to your neighborhood soon!Presented without comment, from the front page of the San Jose Mercury News.

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.