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

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.

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

Game Review: BioHarmonious – A Tale of Two Planets

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Manufactured Planet is inhabited by humans that have overexploited their natural resources. It is a dystopia for environmentalists, filled with industry and choked with smog. The scientists living on this dismal planet discover their mistakes and realize that they are also bringing sickness to their beautiful neighbor, the Natural Planet. Both planets are in grave danger until scientists create the process of “bioharmony” to integrate nature with technology. If you strategically implement this technology, you will become “BioHarmonious” with the Natural Planet.

BioHarmonious was the first electronic game released by Art Works For Change and was also funded by the AT&T Foundation. It was released in 2013 at “Nature’s Toolbox”, an exhibition on biodiversity, art, and invention. While scientific or factual evidence tends to dominate educational games, art provides a unique opportunity to appeal to players’ empathy. In this way, artistic games like BioHarmonious can be a much more compelling way to teach about human impacts on the natural world.  

By focusing on a balance between the manufactured and natural worlds, this game can be a great introduction to the challenges posed by environmental stress.  The mechanics of the game are also quite simple and accessible to young children, only consisting of clicking and dragging objects between the planets in order to balance their health. The goal is to upgrade every manufactured building with a natural item in order to reduce environmental stress. BioHarmonious demonstrates a clear dichotomy between humans and the environment, but shows that the two are not necessarily diametrically opposed. In fact, taking inspiration from nature can provide benefits for both humans and the environment.

This game has good story, themes, music, and art design for an educational game. Moreover, BioHarmonious is ridiculously easy and only delivers 6 minutes of gameplay. We would recommend it as a great way to engage younger children in environmental problems, but not for older students. One major problem with the game is its lack of concern for damage to the Natural Planet; removing specimens has no effect on its health. BioHarmonious’ themes and strategic depth would be bolstered by more thoroughly implemented tradeoffs in gameplay.

BioHarmonious is a simple strategy game that excels as an artistic tool representing the need for balance with nature. The game focuses on the positive aspects of sustainable design and innovation. As a point of caution, it is dangerous to assume that technology can solve every environmental problem. Sometimes only by reducing human impact can we create change. In any case, the game provides players with hope for Earth; that we might learn from nature and innovate ourselves out of disaster while creating a healthy and sustainable world.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 6-13
Platform: Web browser (not Google Chrome)

Game Review: Now Entering ElectroCity

Congratulations, you have just been elected the mayor of ElectroCity! The fate of this city’s development is up to you, but “don’t let the power get to your head.”

In this flash-based game, you are tasked with creating a bustling metropolis from a small town in the countryside. You begin the game with few resources and endless possibilities. You can log every forest to make room for coal power plants that create abundant electricity, create campgrounds and amusement parks that attract new citizens, or focus on creating national parks and planting forests to decrease your environmental impact. Continue reading