[-empyre-] playing World Without Oil

Ken Eklund writerguy at writerguy.com
Wed Mar 20 14:57:47 EST 2013

Claudia wrote:

I'm familiar with WORLD WITHOUT OIL, though I'm not sure how the game mechanics play out beyond the website form, or the discursive exchanges. Could you please speak a bit about this? (I have the impression that the game is distinct from Mcgonnical's work, which plays off and online). Do players play out these simulations?

/Ken: Sure, Claudia. The unfortunate thing is, it's much harder to explain WWO than it was to play WWO!

I wrote earlier: 

"WORLD WITHOUT OIL had a simple device: on its website (worldwithoutoil.org) it pretended that an oil crisis had started. It presented itself as the "citizen nerve center" for the crisis and asked people to send in reports describing their lives in the oil shortage. It immersed itself in its own fiction, i.e., the metadata about the project was made unobtrusive; once you acquainted yourself with what the project really was you need never be reminded again.

"In WORLD WITHOUT OIL, then, there was no separate representation of yourself, and there were no rules. Because the gamemakers set examples with themselves in the game, people understood they were to try to imagine their lives realistically in an oil shortage. This proved to be a very fun experience for a lot of people and a very powerful experience for some."

That describes the game mechanic, but of course it smacks of describing soccer as "kicking a ball around." Back in the day, I prepared a blog to relate a typical game observer's experience -- it's here, at Gretchen Sans Petrole: http://gretchenv.wordpress.com

If Gretchen had been a player, she would have included an account of her contributions: she would talk about the things she read and observations of her own life that inspired each story she created, the responses each of her contributions got from the game and from other players, and the effect they had on the game narrative as a whole. It would be readily translatable into typical game lingo: "I entered the game, and I made this move, which kinda worked, so then I tried this, and that worked better, and then I did a bunch more, and in the end I felt really good because I played really well and added some elements to our victory." 

Re: Jane McGonigal
WORLD WITHOUT OIL is and isn't distinct from what Jane does. It certainly isn't distinct in that Jane was a part of WWO -- she became available shortly before the game rolled out and I immediately hired her on. You can see her touch in the "missions" and "awards" that we added to WWO after she came on board. It is distinct from her work in its core gameplay mechanic of "immersive participatory narrative" as described above.

Re: "Do players play out these simulations?"
In their heads, certainly. Which is all you need.

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