Oil God

Only a liberal would find this game remotely interesting and even then not for long.

So says an anonymous reviewer of “Oil God”, another Persuasive Game.

I found it more than remotely interesting, but most of all as an object of analysis. The Persuasive Games site says

The game explores the relationship between gas prices, geopolitics, and oil profits. Gasoline prices are affected most by possible or actual disruptions in oil producing regions, which might reduce supply without altering demand, thus driving prices up. One feature that characterizes the current fluxuations in gasoline prices, unlike previous ones in 1973 and 1981, are a multitude of simultaneous world events and geopolitical uncertainties: the Iraq war, missiles in North Korea, Hurricane Katrina, pipeline problems, the Iran/Korea nuclear, war between Israel and Lebanon war, and so forth…

But the game is seriously broken as a game, and that stands in the way of its being effective either as propaganda or as a teaching instrument. With a bit of luck in the initial set-up, it’s easy to win in only a few moves; the comments of numerous other players show that I wasn’t the only one to find it so. I couldn’t find any difference between the easy and hard settings either — any of those scenarios could be won extremely quickly just by targeting a few choice territories with civil war. There may be subtle things going on beyond that, but the game play simply does not last long enough to make the player learn the underlying rules.

I also think the abstract, non-existent countries were a bad idea — though of course implementing anything closer to the real world would be both more difficult and more politically loaded. Still, in reducing each country to a handful of characteristics, the designers remove the complex factors that make (for instance) North Korea worrying and hard to address. What’s more, I don’t feel the same frisson of terror when Imaginarystan gets bombed that I might in seeing the same thing happening to a real country.

Finally — the option of introducing an alien invasion is cute, but at the expense of pretty much all the remaining seriousness of the piece.

Ultimately, what we can take away from play is the assertion that war is good for the interests of oil magnates.

I think I found this one particularly frustrating because some aspects of the design and presentation are very slick, and because the game’s website seemed to promise a more nuanced, intellectually challenging experience than it provided. (“Presidential Pong”, by contrast, didn’t really disappoint me because it was clear going in what kind of experience that was going to be.)

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