The end of oil is just a game

New combat videogame depicts a world at war over rapidly dwindling crude supplies. But what's the message players walk away with?

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By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- On a futuristic battlefield littered with broken oil wells, burnt-out electric cars and dilapidated wind turbines, you are leading crack military unit on a mission to secure the world's last remaining oil supplies.

Your enemies are the Russians and Chinese, who are of course after the same prize.

Suddenly machine guns rattle, men are hit, the helicopter goes down, and you're in the middle of an intense firefight in Central Asia.

Over the last two decades prior to 2030 oil production has peaked and is declining rapidly, renewables never panned out, plagues hit, and starvation ensued. In other words, things have been very bad, at least according to Kaos Studios, the maker of this video game you're playing.

"It's a mess, it's a real wreck in there," said Frank DeLise, Kaos' general manager.

While Frontlines: Fuel of War is one of the first video games to capitalize on the doom-and-gloom scenario of what might happen when the world runs out of oil, it's not the only video game focusing on energy as oil prices rise, developing nations use more and more crude, and the world grapples with global warming fears.

DeLise chose oil as a story line because "energy seems to be a hot topic, and it seems to be getting worse. When stuff is in the news, it gets people involved, and they want to know more about it."

The peak oil theory - that is, that oil production has already peaked or will do so in the next few years, followed by widespread social disruption - has been gaining ground in recent years.

Most oil industry analysts say peak oil production is many decades, if not hundreds of years away, and a transition to other sources will likely be more orderly than the scenario depicted in Frontline.

But a small and growing number of experts -- some well-respected -- say peak oil production is close or has happened and the transition will be much more painful than mainstream analysts predict.

Either way, DeLise said he hopes people will get more out of the game than just an adrenaline rush.

"If they play this game they will walk away thinking 'wow, energy is a problem," he said.

Experts say video games can be fun as well as educational, although the outcome largely depends on the content.

"They could in fact lead to changes in attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately, changes in behavior," said Craig Anderson, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University who studies the effects of video games on people.

The multi-player version of Fuel of War lets gamers connect and play along side or against each other from anywhere in the world.

They can choose to fight for the Western Alliance, made up of the U.S. and European countries, or the Eastern Alliance consisting of China and Russia.

And the choice of weapons is staggering - players can hop from ground combat with an array of hand-held munitions to flying helicopters, planes, or driving tanks - all futuristic designs DeLise and his team created using current weapons and intelligence gleamed from the Internet and other sources on next-generation military hardware.

Fuel of War, set for release in February, is a first-rate shoot 'em-up game with a well developed story line. It is one of a growing number of games that center around the theme of energy.

A previous game from Kaos centered on an oil war in the Caspian region, and Energyville, a SimCity-like Web-based game from Chevron and the Economist Group, lets players plan the energy needs of a future city.

But Anderson, the psychologist, is concerned about the message that violent games like Fuel of War may send to players.

"It may well change attitudes towards the use of these tactics as a political tool," he said. Players may think "of course we have to use military tactics to go take oil."

DeLise dismisses such concerns, saying nations go to war all the time over resources, and that the game is merely a reflection of reality.

"When it comes down to it, it's about what countries will do to survive," he said. "That's not going to change."  To top of page

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