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