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 (http://www.molleindustria.org/oiligarchy-postmortem/#8).
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)