An alternative way to play with real-world problems

It's the near future and the planet is in crisis. Unheeded warnings of an impending oil shortage have become reality. This was the premise of World Without Oil, an alternate reality game (ARG), which asked players to react to a plausible vision of the future and find ways in which to solve it. The aim, says the game's California-based creator Ken Eklund, was to help people get ready, "if not for this crisis, then for something similar. We wanted to launch a cooperative discourse on the web, focused on a serious social issue," he says.

ARGs have frequently been used to promote TV programmes, games, films and other products, or else have had their costs absorbed by the sale of supporting merchandise. When World Without Oil launched in April 2007, it broke new ground by using the genre to simulate a real-world problem rather than spreading marketing buzz. Funded by America's Corporation for Public Broadcasting and presented by Independent Television Service (ITVS), it highlighted the genre's potential for use as an educational or change-making tool.

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