Oiligarcy: Crude Oil Meets Crude Politics

By Kieron Gillen on December 8th, 2008 at 11:47 pm.

If my political party had the symbol of a donkey, I'd dissolve it, and then form another party with the symbol of an animal worth believing in.

Jim forwarded this to me at the weekend, in one of RPS’ usual “this is for Kieron”isms. Which normally means, it either involves ridiculous sex acts or student-level politics. This is one of the latter, and feeds in the current trend of agit-prop I’ve been playing. It’s called Oiligarcy and is about being an evil plutocrat oil baron trying to manipulate democracy and maximize profits. MANIPULATING DEMOCRACY AND MAXIMIZING PROFITS IS MY FAVOURITE THINGS. Some impressions beneath the cut.

The debate in recent political games has been between trying to decide what’s propaganda and what’s actually just exposing political issues. This is totally the former. While it’s easy to agree with the view of the world which its mechanics present, it’s also a deeply cartoony, exaggerated satire in the tradition of agitprop. It’s a strategy game. There’s various locales in the world you can first explore to see if there’s any oil there and then, if you find some, throw down some oil-wells. Like so…
I drink your milkshake, etc

The game starts at the beginning of the oil-boom, with you scraping cash together to put down some wells. The game’s based around the initial investments magnifying the amount of money you get, as it’s just pumping that black gold out of the soil. The richer you get, the more you can afford to put wells down in foreign countries, including bribing their own government. And then, since you have the money, you’re able to throw some down to help influence the US elections (As shown in the first screenshot). Sure, if the Republicans aren’t popular at all, you can’t swing it totally, but if it’s at all close, a little cash will edge things, leading to more pro-oil pro-profit legislation. Of course, all of this leads to you gaining more money, being able to spend it on more wells, leading to even MORE profit. And eventually you’re throwing enough money at the president, just because you can, you access the ability to effect foreign policy.

And then you arrange an invasion of Iraq.

Don't worry, kids. It's only a game.

And you throw more people in. It’s unpopular, but you try and mitigate that by insisting on demonisation-of-terrorist hoaxes and similar, so helping you stay in power. Occasionally, due to repeatedly sending troops over in a term, your – I’m sorry, I mean the Republican’s – candidate is going to be so unpopular they’re inevitably voted out, no matter how much cash you spend. But it doesn’t matter – in four year’s time the Republicans will be less unpopular and your ever-growing oil-money can swing it again.

That’s the general gist – there’s some extra fine corrupt detail and dark sense of humour throughout (especially in the names of the bills being passed). The two things which blunt its point. Firstly, it going into complete genuine hyperbole by allowing you to set up human-processing factories that turn homo sapiens into lovely barrels of oil. Secondly, the game stretches out indefinitely. Eventually, it comes to the point where you’re going to get sacked due to falling profits – due to falling oil supplies – and there’s nothing you can do about it. The game ends with people turning to a different way of life, more renewable and environmentally driven.

And that’s the leap which seems to be unsummountable – or actually arguing something that I’m sure the developers wouldn’t agree with. While growing environmental concerns are one of the main things that make you obsolete, those concerns never are actually justified. I hit 2100, still digging up dredges of oil with the rest supported by the Middle East, South America and Africa covered with people-processing planets (Premium Green! It’s People! It’s Made of People!). The planet? The planet’s fine (Or, at least, the people on the planet) There was no green threat at all.

So the game’s point is, it seems, there’s nothing to worry about. You can’t fight the Oiligarcy, because they have all this money and any victories will only be temporary. But don’t worry – in 100 years time, they’ll run out of cash and we’ll start acting a different way because of another illusionary threat.

In other words, as a piece of propaganda, what it’s really in favour of is just plain old apathy.

I don’t think that’s what they were aiming for, y’know?

EDIT: Note – this is just one ending of the game, however. See the comments thread for more discussion.

Still worth playing. Simple, often amusing strategy game. Also, seeing caribou being driven to extinction is funny in a way my girlfriend would definitely not approve of.

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32 Comments »

  1. Jonas says:

    Apathy is my default modus operandi.

    Also, would you call “And then you arrange an invasion of Iraq.” a good applause line?

  2. Alex says:

    I “beat” this game, its easy.
    First both parties bow down to your dollar, so even if the parties switch power in an election you can just buy the other side.
    Second you need to sack wells that are making less than a human extractor and replace them with said human extractor or (for the ocean) are bringing in less than what they cost to maintain.
    If you do that you will “win”

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    Oh, I totally didn’t realise you could take over the other side too. Fail!

    What happens when you “win”?

    KG

  4. rob says:

    My game ended with everyone dying in a nuclear holocaust which was gratifying.

  5. Nimic says:

    I love the way always ended up just sending more and more troops to Iraq, never actually ending the war or killing the insurgents.

  6. Lunaran says:

    How come oil production has to exceed demand? I can’t temporarily choke off the supply to drive prices up and hold it until juuust shy of the economic recession tipping point?

    Also, rofl at Kieron assuming he was supposed to bribe Republicans.

  7. RichP says:

    Certainly sounds more exciting than SimRefinery :p

  8. Brant says:

    By the time I’d tapped every well in three parts of the world, I had more money than I could ever spend. By 2150 or so, the number was too big to fit in the UI. I’d win elections by throwing as much money at both parties as my mouse button would let me–environmentalism doesn’t matter when you own the White House. Then the bombs started to fall.

    I think it’s an interesting touch that ending you get when you’re successful involves nuclear war, while the “you fail and get sacked” one leaves humanity with a new hope. Personally, I think the game would have been stronger if it was actually as Kieron described.

  9. Filipe says:

    I really liked his first game, The McDonald’s Game, but PedoPriest and Oiligarcy don’t have the same slippery slope. When you play the McDonald’s Game you make small moral concessions as you go because the game gently nudges you in that direction. Here I kept feeling like the game was just pushing me into cartoon villiany, like the killing factories. And the less said about PedoPriest, the better.

  10. Lunaran says:

    Okay, so you CAN drive prices up, and make the party in power much less popular, by letting demand outstrip production for ten years.

  11. sinister agent says:

    I kind of got bored by the time the human refineries were available. I’d already made more money than I could ever spend, and simply bought my way out of all trouble with no difficulty at all. Fun, but I couldn’t really be bothered with ending turns and replenishing mercenaries for another forty years to see what would happen. Still, can’t argue with the price, and it was entertaining enough for a while.

  12. Maximum Fish says:

    But don’t worry – in 100 years time, they’ll run out of cash and we’ll start acting a different way because of another illusionary threat.

    I don’t think that’s what they were aiming for, y’know?”

    That’s too bad, because if it were what they were aiming at, they would have had a genuinely challenging and non-generic point to make. As it is, it just sounds like the standard issue democrat party line, like something Bill Maher, Al Franken and a couple of Students for Social Justice would’ve cobbled together. Easily identifiable enough that we can make assumptions about what their points actually would be.

    I envision the opposite game; muslim terrorists are seizing the whitehouse with the help of leftist collaberators and freedom-hating academics, and only a Sam Elliot style backey-chewin patriot can sort the sons-a-bitches out. Sort of like a videogame version of 24? I envision no one but bill o’reilly taking it seriously.

    Anyways, it seems to me like both would be better off dismissed as the sort of partisan rhetoric that stifles reasoned debate -by painting in broad strokes the ‘other side’ as mustache twirling evil- rather than informing it.

  13. Calvin Ashmore says:

    The best way to look at Oiligarchy is as an Op-Ed piece made from game mechanics. The whole thing is an exaggerated simulation of the Hubbert peak oil theory. Molleindustria released a very interesting postmortem explaining a lot of the design decisions.

  14. Jason Moyer says:

    As it is, it just sounds like the standard issue democrat party line

    The Democrat party line is “throw lots of cash at us and we’ll support big oil too”? Because that’s how it works in the game.

  15. Down Rodeo says:

    It got to the point where I didn’t care who won because I was making no human factories (literally there was no space left on the planet – or maybe I forgot about Texas) so I skipped an election. Every single member of the house went green and every year a new bill was passed that made my profits drop. As someone above said though I had so much money by that stage that nothing mattered, I bought both parties at the next election and had 100% approval from the representatives. Then, just as I was thinking that the world had entered a new, stable age of processing humans for oil, the bombs started. The game tried to make me feel bad about what my oil CEO had done for the past 200 years but really I bet he’d be pissing himself. Making people into oil? Choosing who won, then buying them entirely? It’d have been a good life. Particularly for its span, maybe.

  16. malkav11 says:

    Yeah, by the time I filled Iraq with as many wells as I could, I was making so much money nothing really mattered anymore and the government was mine totally. Then I just had to twiddle my thumbs until I could finally build human processing plants, whereupon I bulldozed or allowed terrorists/guerrillas to destroy all my wells and covered every inch of ground in Alaska, Texas, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Iraq with human processing plants, merrily puffing away. Then I watched the world fall apart while I broke the profit counter.

  17. Anthony Damiani says:

    I had 6 billion dollars. I had clean, safe and sustainable human-oil plants (go people power!) on every non-well site on the planet, and only very minor trouble with local uprisings. And then, out of nowhere, BAM, the last war.

    Truly, the game makes a powerful case for nuclear disarmament.

  18. PleasingFungus says:

    That was tremendously fun. I can’t help but feel that I could’ve done better if I’d realized early on that I was supposed to fit supply to demand. (I hadn’t even figured out what the bars in the corner were for fifty years!)

    Oops.

  19. PleasingFungus says:

    (“Oops” owing to nuclear war.)

  20. Brad says:

    The nuclear ending just doesn’t work for me because it comes off as being completely arbitrary. It might have made more sense if the insurgents would attack the soilent oil plants or something. Otherwise, what’s wrong with 57% oil addiction and $300/barrel oil?

  21. CPY says:

    Try building human plants instead of oil and you can make it to end with a peace.

  22. Gap Gen says:

    Aren’t real oil companies diversifying into sustainable power anyway? So if renewables do take hold, then the oil giants are going to have at least a slice of the pie – probably a sizable slice too, given their already considerable assets.

  23. Xercies says:

    Yes oil companies are already preparing for renwables, but they want kill oil just yet.

  24. cliffski says:

    Some are, some aren’t. Shell and BP are*, Exxon Mobil is defiantly against any renewable energy.
    Why people would still buy shares in a company with that attitude is beyond me. Long term future == NIL.

    *esp solar.

  25. Hypocee says:

    Because short-term future == PROOOOOFIIIIT?

  26. Lukasz says:

    My first game ended around 2050 with great green future where oil is obsolete.
    You guys are evil.

  27. Senethro says:

    Haha, scrubs. I got the world nuked by 2056.

  28. Aldaris says:

    Gravatar Senethro says:

    Haha, scrubs. I got the world nuked by 2056.

    It took me until the 23rd century. D:

  29. Xercies says:

    I got to 2100, had an oil empire with so much money I didn’t know what to do with it. Had human plants, had the green movement running scared, had basically everyone under my finger. i quit since there was no challange anymore.

    This is quite a good stratadgy game, and it has got quite a good sense of dark humour in it. The things i did to other countries was evil really. And i didn’t care, i was actually willing Alaska to be under my spell and get rid of the animals so I could get more oil. Damn I’m evil.

  30. cyrenic says:

    Yeah, that got really ponderous by the end. Very funny early on though.

  31. A-Scale says:

    I also thought only the Republicans could be bought. How naive…

  32. Junior says:

    One thing I need to know though, these people burning plants.

    Am I burning alive people, or dead people?