The gameplay at first may seem a bit complex, but it actually does a great job of taking a broad topic and simplifying it. You click on different spots around the world map (lower left) to move between Texas, Alaska, Washington DC and Iraq, and then you click on the actions tab on the top of the screen to select the things you want to buy.
You can choose to explore land and sea to find new oil, buy different levels of drilling equipment to get that oil, and you can also assign mercenaries to guard your wells. When elections roll around, make sure you bet a bit on both horses by moving your mouse over each and throwing some money their way, but of course give more to the more popular party to make sure pro-oil laws get passed. Pro-oil laws let you get more money by raising the oil addiction, cutting your taxes and leaving you with more royalties. Also, getting the president all oiled up lets you order covert operations, such as a coup in Venezuela or a disruption of Iraq's economy. All you have to do is get your flow in, keep the governments of the world either bought or subdued, and roll in the money as you click through each year. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Analysis: Oiligarchy is one of the most important games released this year, and certainly the most important Web game. The ability to take complex, inter-connected events and put them together into a model where your decisions reflect decisions made by real-world, powerful people is a testament to the power of this medium. For instance, right now oil companies are scaling back investment because short-term oil prices have been cut almost by 2/3rds; in the game I found myself passing over small undersea wells because I didn't think the upfront investment justified the return. For those of us who want cheaper gas, that decision can be hard to understand, but the math and poetry of it weave together: selfish short-term greed runs this game. While conservatives may roll their eyes at this, and Paolo certainly lays on editorial in the bits of text that lace the gameplay, the underlying model that our collective wealth is tied to oil supply matches the hard reality of it.
In addition to showing that games can render complex subjects accessible, Oiligarchy shows that there's no inherent gap between fun and education. Most importantly, this game is likely to be a massive hit, played by tens of millions, like its anti-Fast Food predecessor, and that means the simple yet persuasive argument that we need to get off our oil addiction sooner rather than later is going to ripple. I wouldn't be surprised to see Paolo get on the Colbert Report. The execution is polished over the top, the clanking drum circle of the oil derricks moving in rhythm is the icing on the Devil's Food Cake.
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