[-empyre-] playing World Without Oil

paolo - molleindustria paolo at molleindustria.it
Fri Mar 22 08:50:21 EST 2013

I followed World Without Oil closely when it came out. It's a really 
fascinating experiment in roleplaying and Alternate Reality Games. I 
always wondered why, despite the significant media attention, there are 
so few examples of this kind.
Since Ken is with us, I'll take the liberty to go into more specific 
designy issues.

We are obviously talking about a different level of engagement and a 
different kind of model player here. These games typically ask a lot 
from the participants and require a certain predisposition and sustained 
 From the designer/developer side, it seems to me that a project like 
WWO needs a serious promotional effort to gather a critical mass of 
participants (relying on established network and organizations), and 
there is a degree of user self-selection in the process. Since the 
"content" is either collectively created or revealed gradually, I assume 
most people joining an ARG have a vague idea of what an ARG is 
beforehand. Similar projects like Jane McGonigal's Evoke have built-in 
viral campaigns. They essentially reward players for bringing in other 
players, but that's a bit of a turn off for me. I'd rather experience 
something first and then, if it's compelling, tell the world about it. I 
wonder what are your thoughts about it.

Another aspect that I always tried to wrap my mind around is: how do you 
manage agency in a distributed and collaborative 
storytelling/brainstorming effort? Formalized games, digital or not, 
provide a tight feedback loop that make the player feel like their 
action actually matter within the game system. Even in roleplaying games 
or free-form storygames players are constantly negotiating, affecting 
and limiting each other. My understanding of WWO or Evoke is that 
puppetmasters/organizers come up with a series of challenges along the 
line of "let's all think about how to save Africa" or "let's imagine how 
your daily life would be during an oil crisis" and then ask the players 
to produce social media content (blog posts etc) in response. I know 
sometimes there are external rewards for participating (like scores or 
prizes) but I didn't find examples of players engaging with each other 
and coming up with something unexpected, something that is more that a 
short essay. I'm sure you analyzed behaviors and user-generated content 
and maybe you can give us some insights.


On 3/19/13 11:57 PM, Ken Eklund wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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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