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People surging into cars in a transit stationThis just in from Jane McGonigal (otherwise known as mPathyTest) who’s in New York for the Stories From The Near Future conference: an article in the New York Times titled “Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders To Mass Transit.” Apparently, gas prices are motivating people to take transit in record numbers, catching transit planners by surprise. “Nobody believed that people would actually give up their cars to ride public transportation,” says the executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. “The whole NYT article reads like a KalWithoutOil report,” Jane says.

The biggest surges are occurring in metro areas in the South and West – the very strongholds of American driving culture. The article says Denver ridership is up 8%, for example, and several routes now run at capacity at rush hour.

Now this is no surprise to WWO players. Player Ararejul explicated this very situation in her video posted from Denver, titled “Is Public Transportation Ready?” Posted over a year ago, I might add. “This was the first thing our players predicted and documented when gas hit $4 a gallon,” Jane notes. “Dude, WWO seriously worked as a forecasting device.” One that looked not to the past for answers, nor to experts, but to the future and the collective imagination.

Photo by caribb via Flickr.

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Character icons from the WWO game.The World Without Oil game centered on a website (www.worldwithoutoil.org, now archived here) which gathered all the in-game ideas and expressions of the players. In the fiction of the game, the website had been put together by eight (eventually, 14) ordinary citizens who had reason to believe the oil crisis was coming. They called themselves the 8TSOC (8 To Save Our Country).

Like the game itself, the 8TSOC characters were fiction but just barely. WWO’s gamemasters (“puppetmasters”) played them, but for the most part they were alternate realities of who we are (or might have been). Like the game itself, they come across as pretty real.

So it’s fascinating, a year later, to read these characters’ Manifestos – the characters’ thoughts as the reality of the oil crisis loomed larger and larger. Take a moment and check them out.

(To learn who in real life played each character, go here and scroll down to Puppetmasters.)

South By Southwest Web Awards 2008World Without Oil has been nominated for a number of web awards, and yesterday we got word that it’s a Top Five finalist in the 2008 South By Southwest Interactive competition, in the “Activism” category. You can see the list of finalists here (some pretty cool sites, yow). Plus WWO sponsor ITVS has its Independent Lens website as a finalist in the “Classic” category… plus WWO’s participation architect Jane McGonigal (some of you know her as mpathytest) will be a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive on Tuesday, March 11. So we look to be well represented at SXSW – let me know if you’re gonna be around.

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.