World Without Oil was a six-week online multiplayer game that was launched by ITVS on April 30th 2007.

World without Oil is an alternate reality game. Unlike virtual reality games, alternate reality games “take the substance of everyday life and weave it into narratives that layer additional meaning, depth, and interaction upon the real world” (Martin, Thompson, and Chatfield 2006)

The game explores the question “what if an oil crisis started on April 30th 2007”, how will people change their daily life, and what solutions would they implement. Participants were provided with detailed information on the situation in their local area. In this alternate reality game users tried to solve this global challenge not in a virtual world, but in their real life, acting as if they were actually living in an oil crisis scenario. Participants were also encouraged to blog and share their experiences. Individual stories were collected on the WWO website, that acts as an archive of creative solutions for a world without oil.

One of the lead designers of World Without Oil was Jane McGonigal, who has ever since worked with the Institute For The Future to design other alternate reality games such as Superstruct and Maker Cities. The aim of these games is to recreate the conditions of cooperation and deep engagement of popular online games like World of Warcraft, to tackle real-world challenges of the next century.

In the fictional world of Superstruct, for example, by joining the community and participating in collaborative missions, players design new “superstructures” that can tackle one or more of the five global challenges that might lead to the extinction of humanity. Like the website of World without Oil,  Superstruct’s website is now an archive of stories and ideas (some of them constructive, most of them provocative) developed by players.

Despite the impressive number of contributions (more than 1500) and number of unique views (about 60,000), some may wonder whether or not the game has achieved its goal of using collective intelligence to solve complex contemporary challenges. A recent study by JafariNaimi and Meyer (2015) analysed the type and consistency of players participation in the game. What the analysis of quantitative data uncovered is that most players left the game after the first submissions, and the few consistent contributions were uploaded by the puppet masters.

However, regardless of the criticism that the game itself has received, World without Oil represents an interesting experiment in meeting online gaming with participative future scenario making and sharing.

World without Oil archive Website:

Analysis of patterns of participation: Nassim JafariNaimi, Eric M. Meyers, 2015.  “Collective Intelligence or Group Think? Engaging Participation Patterns in World without Oil”