How one Canadian indie game aims to educate gamers about energy extraction
What happens when a protester spray-paints a big, red “X” on the gas pipeline you just laid down?http://business.financialpost.com/2013/ ... um=twitter
Sure, the pipe you just built cuts a vast swath through an animal habitat as a cost-saving measure. But hey, sacrifices need to be made in the name of profit, right?
As you might expect, local residents aren’t too impressed. They seem to be getting angrier and angrier as more land is covered by a natural gas-carrying pipeline.
Before you know it, a protester clad in black sneaks his way over to the pipeline’s latest leak and leaves something behind: a bomb. A fireball engulfs the pipeline. Your eyes close in frustration.
Luckily, this is just a video game and the explosions are a mass of pixels on the screen, but within every failure in Pipe Trouble is a lesson to be learned.
Developed by Pop Sandbox, Pipe Trouble is a re-imagining of an old arcade classic that challenges players to ferry gas and oil across a variety of challenging environments.
In addition to its challenging gameplay, Pipe Trouble – now available for iOS and Android — is designed to explore both sides of the debate around energy extraction by putting the player on the spot when hard choices need to be made.
“It’s not like tricking someone to eat their vegetables,” Alex Jansen, founder of Pop Sandbox Productions and Publishing said in an interview.
“You are engaging an audience in a language that they are familiar with and in a way that will get them interested.”
Pipe Trouble works on two different levels. Using an addictive and familiar mechanic, the game challenges players to build a gas or oil pipeline from a source to a destination. When the gas is turned on in each level, the player has to keep ahead of it or there will be a deadly leak. Players also must be conscious of where they are building their pipeline, avoiding towns and wildlife, in an effort to keep local residents happy.
“A lot of the time when we were developing we found that people aren’t even aware of the differences between gas and oil, or the differences between fracking and the actual gas line,” Mr. Jansen said. “There’s a whole set of different things to think about.”
As players confront these issues, they are challenged to think about the cause and effect relationship between the pipeline and natural environment. The game educates them on the environmental impact pipelines have and the economic demands those constructing them face.
“What you’re doing in the early levels is playing over forests, then you’re moving over farmland, and by the end it’s rural communities,” explains Mr. Jansen. “You get your firsts leak and you get protesters who will block your path. You starts building around them and you start seeing fines and injunctions coming your way.”
Pipe Trouble also gives players a dose of educational information at the end of each level. Each small lesson provides context within the energy extraction debate, but they are even handed taking facts from both sides of the conflict.
“The whole idea is to use over-the-top satire to start drawing awareness and engaging a new audience in the energy debate,” Mr. Jansen said.
“As you start to play you start seeing these situations that at surface value are quite funny, but when you start to engage and see what’s going actually going on in the media, it triggers people to start thinking more about what’s going on.”
Pop Sandbox is also reaching out to gamers by building arcade cabinets for their new game. The polished finish of the cabinets evoke that traditional feeling the game recreates. As well, the arcade cabinets — designed as two pieces — are meant to be portable.
The cabinets will be making their rounds across Toronto with stops at Yonge and Dundas Square, the Gladstone Hotel and Bloor Cinema. The miniature version of the cabinets will also be traveling with Pop Sandbox when they present at this year’s Games Developer Conference in San Francisco.
Through the game, Mr. Jansen hopes he will be reaching a wide audience who will become actively engaged in the energy debate, but he’s adamant the game isn’t designed to push players to pick one side. This is a game about learning the context of the debate before making up your mind about the people involved in this real world issue.
“The idea here is that we are not telling people what to think, we are getting people to think about these things,” Mr. Jansen said.
“You are really stuck in the middle between these kinds of economic concerns and environmental concerns, and it’s really up to how the player chooses to play. Doing it that way doesn’t vilify the industry and it does not intend to do that.”
“That’s the beauty of a video game,” Mr. Jansen said.
Pipe Trouble is available only for tablets on the iOS and Android platforms, and a free trial of the game is also available on TVO’s website. The game retails for $1.99 on the app store and a percentage of all proceeds go to the David Suzuki Foundation.