Game Review: Tying down heavy objects has never been more fun!

By Lars Olsen

Disaster is coming and it’s up to you to prepare your town’s defenses! ‘Stop Disasters!’ is a disaster simulation game made by the United Nations and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) in collaboration with game developer Playerthree. Released in 2007, this flash game provides a fun platform for learning about natural disasters and preventative measures that can save lives.

Similar to the gameplay of ‘SimCity’, players in ‘Stop Disasters!’ must develop and upgrade tiles to effect change. However, instead of creating an economically-thriving city, players are responsible for protecting their community from one of 5 natural disasters: a tsunami in a coastal village of southeast Asia, a hurricane on a Caribbean island, a wildfire in the arid plains of central Australia, an earthquake in the eastern Mediterranean, and a flood in a European valley. In each of these scenarios, players must develop sufficient housing, educate the community about evacuation plans, and protect vital infrastructure. Oh, and did I mention that players have a limited amount of money to accomplish all these tasks and only 10-20 minutes before disaster strikes? Success will come from proper strategy and planning.

Educational games frequently oversaturate the player with facts, but ‘Stop Disasters!’ does a good job of teaching through the gameplay rather than text. It is also fairly easy to pick up and play without a tutorial, but challenging enough to be fun. This is a single-player game, but students could collaborate in a classroom setting to share strategies and ideas.

Effective in-game strategies also translate into effective methods for preventing real-world disasters. The game does a good job of highlighting the importance of simple safety measures like education, tying down heavy objects, and planting trees. The mission of the game states, “If we teach them from an early age about the risks posed by natural hazards, children will have a better chance to save their lives during disasters.” This game makes a serious topic more approachable and understandable to children who might be turned off by conventional teaching methods.

Video games are such effective educational tools in part because they are so good at keeping young people engaged with their immersion in a new environment. ‘Stop Disasters!’ does a good job of immersing the player with its sounds and graphics which are bright, colorful, and inviting. Each scenario feels unique and exciting. I also appreciate that the game is available in 5 languages as this helps it reach a wider audience.

Unfortunately, the game is now a bit outdated and could use more attention to detail. The controls are simple yet frustratingly slow and awkward, there are miscellaneous bugs, and the natural disaster at the end lacks in calamity. One major drawback to the game is its lack of feedback for your choices. The brief overview of results omits specific details for your game so it is impossible to know which of your decisions were most effective; this limits the educational potential of the game.

Despite its flaws, ‘Stop Disasters!’ is a game worth playing and sharing with children due to its potential to save lives. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of many types of natural disasters around the world, so it is important for people to be aware and prepared for these dangers now more than ever. Overall, this game makes for one of the best ways to teach children about the risks of natural hazards, and what they can do to stay safe.  

Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 9-16
Platform: Web browser (Flash)

Game Review: Drill Baby, Drill! A Review of Oiligarchy

By Lars Olsen

Oiligarchy is a flash game from 2008 delivering a satirical commentary on the influence of the oil industry in the United States. Although it may feel uncomfortable for an environmentalist to role play as the fossil fuel industry, the developers justify this choice by saying, “power structures can be understood more clearly if represented from a privileged position.” By playing as the bad guy, you must alter your morality to be successful. In doing so, the player acquires a better understanding of the flaws in imperialism and capitalism.  

The game begins in 1946 and follows a somewhat historically accurate timeline of oil production and environmentalism in the U.S. as documented by The Petroleum Times. Your goal is to maximize oil production and profitability while navigating through politics, war, and environmental issues. There are five regions, each with a distinct scenario: holding off indigenous peoples’ environmental revolts in Venezuela, dealing with peak oil in Texas, developing on a wildlife refuge in Alaska, corrupting the Nigerian government, and fighting the inevitable war on terror in Iraq. By throwing money at the winning party during election years, you can convince your friends in Washington D.C. to enact policies and perform secret operations that benefit Big Oil. Some of these are borderline conspiracy theories. For example, funding terrorist operations in Iraq to reinvigorate patriotic unity and distract citizens from the oil crisis.

The gameplay is point & click and turn-based – you decide where to place your oil wells and when to move on to the next year. One of the main mechanics of the game is based on M. King Hubbert’s Peak Oil Theory, the idea that oil production in a region slows down exponentially once half of the stores have been depleted. As your domestic reservoirs diminish, production slows and you must depend on foreign oil. This will have dire environmental and humanitarian repercussions, which the oil industry ignores.

Oiligarchy oversimplifies many aspects of government and environmentalism, but it IS just a flash game. Taken with a grain of salt, the dark humor of Oiligarchy presents a brutal critique of money’s influence in politics, our addiction to oil, and the history behind it all. The game has some violence and should certainly not be used as primary political or environmental education, but it could spark intellectual discussions among an older audience (ages 16+). With bright graphics and creative sound along with its commentary, Oiligarchy makes for an enjoyable 2-hour session.

The game does a good job of simplifying supply & demand, oil economy, political lobbying, and imperialism. The topic of environmental harm is touched on lightly, but it is not integral to the gameplay because it is not the focus of the oil industry. The underlying science behind the game mechanics is more complex than it appears. The developers thoroughly explain their decisions in a Postmortem, found here (

You will likely raise your eyebrows frequently while playing Oiligarchy, but don’t dismiss the game altogether for its skepticism. Its over-the-top criticism of the oil industry and U.S. politicians may seem harsh to some, but others may find it well-placed. All controversy aside, perhaps the best aspect of Oiligarchy is its moral disorientation which presents the player with difficult decisions.

Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Educational: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 16+
Platform: Web browser (Flash)