Future Oil Wars Made Fun

Sometime in the near future, gas will cost about $20 a gallon.

It gets worse: China and Russia will form a military alliance that threatens the security of the United States and Europe.

Amid hunger, water scarcity and power outages, the two sides will go to war. Soldiers will descend upon bombed-out cities and abandoned villages, where rusting appliances and old car engines litter the streets.

But don't let that get you down.

"What you're trying to deliver in the game is fun," said Luis Cataldi. "We don't want someone to come in and become depressed."

Cataldi, an art director at New York-based KAOS Studios, is one of dozens of minds behind the dystopian vision presented in Frontlines: Fuel of War, a new video game inspired in part by contemporary fears about oil, war and, yes, war over oil.

The game, which cost about $15 million to produce, is set in the year 2024. It is a time when, according to Frontlines' "speculative fiction," the Western Coalition (the U.S. and Europe) are at war with the Red Star Alliance (Russia and China) over the world's last oil reserves on the Caspian Basin in Turkmenistan. Taking on roles as American troops, gamers use futuristic weapons and vehicles to battle their way across Central Asian oil fields, ghost towns and crumbling cities. In the game's multi-player version, gamers can also assume the identities of Red Star troops.

While Cataldi and KAOS emphasize the game's graphics, fast pace and technical prowess — in the game's "open world" setting, just about any object, structure or person you see can be shot at, blown up or otherwise annihilated — they're also passionate about Frontlines' fraught premise.

Conflict over oil "is a very resonant story in the world. It's a global issue that everyone's very much aware of, but it's also fascinating," Cataldi said.

He spoke breathlessly of oil's role in World Wars I and II, of the Peak Oil theory – the idea that the world's oil production is on the brink of falling — and of reported military exercises between China and Russia aimed at protecting their oil interests.

"You don't have to dig very deep to realize that it isn't a new problem," he said. "There are some great pieces of research that suggest that the world is in a very sensitive place."

Envisioning War

To devise the game's geopolitical context, he said, developers "read everything we could get our hands on."

That included the books "The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies," by Richard Heinberg, and "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict," by Michael Klare.

Heinberg, a senior fellow at the California-based Post Carbon Institute, was surprised but pleased to learn that his book helped to inspire a video game.

"I think anything that helps people understand the situation that we're facing is, in general, good," he said. "My hope would be that people who play the game then take the time and trouble to actually research some of these issues and look both into the science of oil depletion and the implications for our economy and our future."

Klare, a professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, called the prospect of a world war over oil "very plausible" and said he saw potential for the game to raise awareness of the issue among young people.

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