Archive: November 20th, 2008


[Games,General] (11.20.08, 11:40 am)

Normally I don’t spend much time with political games. I like the idea of political games in principle, but it is frequently difficult for me to really get into them. A few days ago, I stumbled on Ian Bogost’s post about Molleindustria‘s new game Oiligarchy.

The idea behind Oiligarchy is that the player is in control of the oil industry. Not just one part of it, but all of it, the whole thing. Early on, the player is responsible for exploring and building: looking for reservoirs and whatnot. However, over time, domestic reservoirs begin to reduce in output, and demand increases, so the player must look elsewhere for oil. The player can drill for oil in Venezuela, Nigeria, Alaska, and Iraq, and each of these have reaching political implications. The game keeps track of many ongoing variables, such as domestic stability, environmentalism, as well as other events and factors. It is oddly fun to play, and each play through can lead to one of four potential endings.

The most fascinating thing about the game is the postmortem written by the developers. It explains in very explicit terms the model at the core of the simulation, which is the Hubbert peak theory, and the political implications of the model. All of the events in the game are based on either real events or theories, and most of them come with citations. I find the explict focus on the model, specifically the way that it manifests and is ever present within gameplay to be very impressive. This careful exploration and critical approach to models is precisely what I want to encourage in my work about adaptation.

While the model is transparent and visible, it is also integral, so it would not, for instance, be easy for someone to try out their own model within the context of the game. Molleindustria did release their source code, though, so someone could presumably try. This is an aesthetic of openness which is becoming more prevalent in games, and that is a very good thing. Sid Meier’s Civilization is a game that I usually criticize for its colonialist  and expansionist approach to history, but even the fourth installment of the series comes with extensive modding capabilities, including the ability to swap out the core of the game code.