All three books for the nordic live action role-playing (larp) conference Knudepunkt i now online as PDF. Each book has different approach, one of them being academic, another one documentary and a third one with more of a conversational style. I’ve contributed to the latter of them, with a short essay trying to read post-apocalyptic role-playing through the glasses one gets from peak oil studies. Since the editor cut out the references I might as well add them here.
Enjoy it while it lasts
«In all our projections, future oil production by 2030 will have decreased from present levels. The world appears most likely to have passed the peak of global oil production and to have entered the descent phase.»
(Aleklett, et al. 2009)
In 2007 food prices doubled in many parts of the world. In 2008 a financial crisis hit the western economies. At that time the price of a barrel of oil had raised to a price of 147$, six times more than what was predicted by the international energy organs a few years earlier. The American industry and economy could not handle such high energy prices and we went into recession, which is still going. United States is completely dependent on cheap oil due to their way of life in suburbia and the extensive interstate highway system. Europe is not as bad off, we can tap the veins of mother Russia’s «natural» gas for some time – but still, oil is absolutely necessary to our transportation, industrial production and food system.
According to recent research from Uppsala University’s Global Energy Systems it is quite probable that those days in the summer of 2008 was historical. We reached peak oil, which means that more or less half of the world’s oil supplies has been depleted. The heydays of cheap, easily accessible energy are over. During 150 years of oil usage we have multiplied the world population by six, using energy condensed from thousands of years of sun energy input.
Oil is the blood of the modern society, it made globalisation and everything else we take for granted possible. In live role-playing there is a tradition of dismissing modernity. I have written extensively on this in «We Lost Our World», trying to outline the anti-modern aesthetics of (pre-modern) fantasy and (post-modern) sci-fi scenarios. Fantasy larps effectively makes us go back to basics, putting handcraft, shelters and making food centre stage. Post-apocalypse is of course just another take on how to escape the dull and repressive features of our modern societies. Post-apocalypse means post-modernity, post a collapse of our petroleum based industry, transportation system, agriculture and housing. It resembles a fear for a situation where we can no longer sustain our present living conditions. That kind of fear is not unmotivated.
Peak oil does not necessarily mean Apocalypse. There is plenty of more to burn off and although disastrous global warming is at the threshold chances are good that we burn all accessible fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) before we stop. It just has to be done (in the name or profit). But the question is for how long it’s profitable to extract it. Peak oil means that we have reached a point where growth is not ensured the way it has been since mid-19th century. It’s sad when you think about the 20th century from that point of view. Humanity had access to almost free energy, that enabled almost any fantasy to come true, but still spoiled the situation in every possible way.
So I’m not saying that Apocalypse is coming, but everything will turn more expensive, all travels will be harder, social stability (whatever we had) is over. So if we had trouble to create a nice community pre-9/11 it will be a lot harder from this point. Some practise could do.
People are very unprepared for this gradual decline of the material conditions for life. Our christian culture has two modes of thinking: progress or apocalypse. Slow but certain destabilisation and decay for the rest of our lives does not seem probable at all to us. (see Kunstler, 2005) But the long term consequences of peak oil might not turn out very different from the results of space invaders, meteor impacts, nuclear war, zombie famines or what have you roaming around in the cultural production.
Thinking and practicing a post-industrial, post-sustainable life in the safe and playful context of live role-playing might give us an idea of how social life can evolve without the welfare state and the consumerist bonanza of global capitalism. The ship is losing altitude; let’s take it down in a smooth way.
Aleklett, Kjell et al. (2009): «The Peak of the Oil Age – analyzing the world oil production Reference Scenario in World Energy Outlook 2008» in Energy Policy, 2009-11-09
James Howard Kunstler: The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century (Grove/Atlantic, 2005)
Widing, Gabriel: «We Lost Our World and Made New Ones: Live Role-Playing in Modern Times» in Playground Worlds
Published in Talk Larp – Provocative Writings from KP2011. Claus Raasted (ed.), Rollespilsakademiet, Copenhagen, Denmark