“Play it- before you live it”

….is the premise and tagline of the popular Alternate Reality Game (ARG) World Without Oil (WWO).

WWO, described as a collaborative simulation of global oil shortage, was an ARG created by game writer and designer Ken Eklund along with other ARG superstars Jane McGonigal, Marie Lamb, Krystyn Wills, Dee Cook, and Michelle Senderhauf.

The purpose of this game was to bring awareness to the impending shortage of oil and its possible impact on the world and global economy.  The creators aimed to ignite the world’s thinking about what could happen when the demand for oil is greater than the supply.  This was achieved by simulating the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis beginning on April 30, 2007 as though it were really happening in reality. 

The following dialogue was used on the game’s site to explain the ARG:

WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?

Tell us your story. Fuel prices are sky high (see top of this page!) and the ripple effects are pulling at the seams of our society (see the latest Weekly Story). Everyone’s life has taken a hit – but how much of a hit are you taking? How much pain are you in? No one will know if you don’t add your voice to the collective shout. And who knows? If enough people speak up, maybe the force of collective truth will help prevent this crisis from ever happening again.

The players played the game by contributing online media stories that they created.  The stories posted by the players were of an imagined reality of an oil shortage crisis.  At the top of the game’s interface, players could see the rising gas prices and its availability percentage. They told their personal story through e-mails, call-ins, by posting blogs, photos, videos, and through social media avenues such as twitter.  The game’s “masters” ranked the players based on their realistic portrayal of the oil shortage. The game encouraged quality with daily awards and recognition for authentic and stimulating stories.  Emphasis was also placed on player created communities, collaborative stories, and collective efforts.  

WWO concluded on June 1, 2007, and based on reviews, the game was a huge success.  According to Jonathon Waite, “WORLD WITHOUT OIL breaks new ground in serious gaming (gaming with a serious purpose). By weaving fact and fiction closely together, and entrusting players with power over the story, the game creates the sort of immersive collaborative engagement that makes for effective learning.”  Approximately 60,000 visitors followed the game’s events, and over 1,800 people signed on to participate. There was player representation of every major U.S. metro area as well as Germany, France, Iraq, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Holland, Norway, Poland and Venezuela. It created a fictional, but impactful documentary of an oil shortage shock while becoming a forum for citizens to share life-changing ideas that could happen in reality.  As a result of the game, people reacted proactively by doing things such as planting gardens, shopping at farmers markets, and using bicycles for transportation instead of gas guzzling cars.

After looking at the success of WWO it made me think McGonigal’s theory could actually be true.  Maybe if more ARG were created with the purpose of improving society, society would actually improve socially and economically.

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