Run an Oil Field With This Documentary Game

The oil industry has never been without its critics. Celebrities speaking out against it include the likes of Neil Young and Daryl Hannah, who have singled out Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, because of the oil sands extraction going on there. The effort there has been described by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the world’s largest energy project. Now there’s a Web documentary game coming in November: Fort McMoney by David Dufresne, is all about Fort McMurray.

Fort McMoneyDufresne is known for his award winning Web documentary Prison Valley about the 13 prisons in Cañon City, Colo. Fort McMoney is his attempt to highlight the complexity of the issues affecting Alberta, its people and the local environment in a documentary game. As the game site says, “Take control of Fort McMurray, Canada and make your worldview triumph.” The game is set to launch on November 25.

MediaCaster’s Daily News provides a few insights into the game. “By meeting citizens and key players in Fort McMurray’s development, users can, among other things, participate in major debates leading to referendums whose outcome — determined collectively by the players — influences the direction of the game for everyone”.

This is not a new approach to game play — I’m guessing that at the heart of the game it’s not unlike the old Fighting Fantasy game books where on your choice you go to page X, Y or Z. In this case, instead of pages in a book you’ll be watching video clips of the people involved and using a control panel to indicate your preferences in an effort to gain the votes needed to push your policies through.

Fort McMoney Game Screen

The game is most likely set up as a Spreadsheet Game- – not a game you play on a spreadsheet but a game that’s modeled on one. The spreadsheet is set up with interested parties down the side and policies along the top. Each party is going to bring a number of positive or negative votes for policy. You, as the player, aren’t aware of these values until you perform game actions and see how the voting goes. Once you play it a few times, you pick up what works and what doesn’t.

The intro video shows sound bites from a PR man for the Oil Companies, the Fort McMurray Mayor, a club owner, a First Nations (Canada’s indigenous peopole) spokesman, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Minister of the Environment. All have different attitudes toward the oil sands extraction, the impacts on the environment, the money from the oil companies going into the local economy, etc.

According to the National Film Board of Canada, Fort McMoney took two years of research, 50 interviews and 60 days of shooting. All of which are indicative of high production values.

Bias in Documentaries?

There’s a school of thought that documentaries should be used to convince the viewer of the creator’s worldview; that they’re not meant to be balanced or objective but rather biased to win the audience’s hearts and minds. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth serves as an example.

With a game, although the designer can instill his views, the pros and cons tend to be a little more obvious and easier to quantify. If Fort McMoney was funded by Big Oil then you might expect a positive attitude toward the industry. But funding seems to be from the Canada Media Fund, along with partnerships with the interactive producer TOXA and the National Film Board of Canada. Until it comes out, we won’t know if it’s balanced but so far it’s looking pretty good.

The term “documentary game” is new, though games that let the player make economic or political decisions have been around for years, ranging from Balance of Power in the ’80s through the more recent Sim City. Fort McMoney is multi-player, so the outcome will be collectively determined by players that influence its direction for everyone playing.

You can sign up for Fort McMoney on Nov 25.

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