World Without Oil

The alternate reality event is creating a rich, sobering, tangible answer to a timely question: what happens when our thirst for oil exceeds supply

People around the world challenged to contribute viewpoints, demonstrate new behaviorsThe serious game for the public good began April 30, ends June 1

“Play it – before you live it” 

(San Francisco—May 16, 2007)—In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, community cooperatives are being formed. In Philadelphia, workers share downtown apartments. In San Francisco and Chicago, abandoned cars block the streets. In Bristol, England, rationing has begun. In WORLD WITHOUT OIL, the first alternate reality game to enlist the Internet’s collective intelligence and imagination to confront a real-world problem, the world is entering its 17th week of an oil shock, with petroleum supply running five percent under demand, and the volunteers at the grassroots website struggle to keep track of what’s going on. 

Produced by the design team at Writerguy, WORLD WITHOUT OIL was created to leverage the power of people connected by the Internet to imagine the actual events of an oil shortage, and then to find innovative solutions. Midway through its run, WORLD WITHOUT OIL has created a vivid and visceral picture of an oil shock by inviting anyone to contribute their views and adding them to the 1000-plus blog pages, images, phone calls and videos already linked to by

Almost 30,000 regular visitors follow the emerging story, with more voices being added every day. A full-on “Web 2.0” effort, WORLD WITHOUT OIL exists as a growing network of thousands of interconnected sites and content caches across the Internet, as bloggers on LiveJournal or WordPress link to channels on YouTube or podcasts on iTunes. The game has participants representing every major metro area and every region of the U.S., plus players in Canada, France, Germany, Iraq, the Netherlands, Holland, Brazil, Poland, Norway and Venezuela. One index of its reach: a Google search for the phrase “world without oil” will return over a quarter of a million pertinent results. 

Besides creating a rich, diverse and collaborative documentary of an oil shock, WORLD WITHOUT OIL is a forum for citizens to share life-changing ideas applicable to real life. “Our game structure gives people ‘permission’ to think seriously about an eventuality they might otherwise avoid thinking about at all,” says Creative Director Ken Eklund. As a result of the game, people are thinking about their neighbors and communities in new ways, and planting gardens, going to farmer’s markets, using bicycles and transit, and otherwise questioning their dependence on cheap, plentiful oil. 

WORLD WITHOUT OIL is being followed closely by many leaders in digital and gaming culture, who see the game as a groundbreaking foray into engaging “collective intelligence” to address a real world problem. The game’s serious outcome will be a realistic story, collaboratively written by thousands of authors, that tightly weaves real experience with imagined experience. This approach can create the sort of immersive engagement that makes learning more effective. People of any age or Web ability can participate. In addition to visiting, participants can call 1-866-996-8762 to leave a message “in game,” or send an in-game email to To help middle and high school teachers incorporate the game into class activities, the designers have created a web page: The game will be archived as a resource for students, academics, and the public at large. 

WORLD WITHOUT OIL is produced by the Writerguy team, and is a joint project of PBS' Independent Lens and its Electric Shadows Web-original programming. 

About the Game Creators 

The Writerguy team includes some of alternate reality gaming’s most experienced “puppetmasters” in addition to a Web producer, designer and outreach manager. Ken Eklund, Writerguy and creative director, has been working as a game writer and designer for 20 years. He is credited on over two dozen games as well as many Internet-based educational projects. Jane McGonigal, participation architect, is currently the resident game designer at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. Previously she was a lead designer at 42 Entertainment, most notably for I Love Bees, an award-winning alternate reality game. In Fall 2006 MIT Technology Review named McGonigal one of the top 35 innovators changing the world through technology. 

Electric Shadows and Independent Lens Web-Exclusives Independent Lens on PBS presents interactive features throughout the series website at and is proud to be a portal to Electric Shadows projects which feature the unflinching visions of independent media makers via the Web. These award-winning Web-originals invite visitors to interact through non-linear storytelling and social issue games created by independent media makers. Presented by Independent Lens and ITVS Interactive and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Electric Shadows sites explore the arts, culture and society through innovative forms and meet the ITVS mission of taking creative risks and advancing civic participation. Since its inception in 2002, the Electric Shadows initiative has funded six online projects which have garnered a People’s Choice Webby Award, two SXSW Web Awards, selection as one of’s “50 Coolest Websites,” Yahoo! Picks, Cool Site of the Day and numerous other accolades. Explore the projects and learn more about Electric Shadows at 

About The Independent Television Service (ITVS) 

ITVS funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy® Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. 

CONTACT: Voleine Amilcar, ITVS 415-356-8383 ex 244

Posted on May 18, 2007