World Without Oil: An Alternate Reality Game

A great resource for anyone teaching courses in environmental or energy politics, World Without Oil is an alternate reality game that took place in 2007, where participants imagined how their lives would change as a result of a steep increase in the price of oil, followed by a sharp decrease in supply over the course of 32 weeks.

The designers created ten lesson plans that use the material created during the game, all of them available at the game’s website.  There are some great tools here–videos, blogs, comics, news articles–to create the alternate reality of the game world, along with group activities, individual projects, discussion questions, and action items.  You can use as much or as little of the lesson plans as you like.

In lesson one, for example, students are introduced to the simulation by being told that gas has jumped to $4.12/gallon and that there are rumors of a shortage coming.  A video and comic entry accompany this news.  After reviewing some important concepts, students discuss how they will respond in groups and are then given some blog entries written by others to which they can compare their responses. In the ensuing group discussion, you can review and then quiz the students on the extent of petroleum use in the world economy.  Finally, students are asked to reflect by blogging their own intended reaction to the news about gas prices.

I’m using the game in my upper level seminar on Environmental and Energy Security as an extra credit project.  On Thursdays we learn how the oil shortage has progressed this week, do some of the related activities, and students earn extra points by writing blog entries documenting their own experiences on the course website.  I used it once before without the extra credit component and the students gave the exercises high marks. I’ve found that its a good way to get students talking about a global issue from a very local and individual perspective and that it therefore helps them see such connections in other topics in the course.

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