In 2030, Games Won’t Fight Over Oil, They Will Fight Over Bread

Don’t say that America’s spy agencies never did anything for you. They have thoughtfully provided a ready-made template for designers searching for themes for their next action or strategy game.

I’m speaking of Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, published by the National Intelligence Council, a part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the CIA and other spy agencies.

Global Trends 2030 is the US intelligence community’s forecast of where the world will be 17 years from now.

Whether American policymakers will bother to heed these forecasts is another matter, but why shouldn’t game designers (and taxpayers) take advantage of it?

Because a trend that is significant enough to interest the CIA is probably big enough to warrant a plot point in a game. For example, in strategy games as in real life, stronger nations tend to crush weaker nations. But the report predicts the spread of “disruptive technologies,” such as cyberwarfare, biological weapons and guided weapons (as Israel discovered in 2006 when terrorist group Hezbollah nearly sank one of its warships with a Chinese-made missile). While we aren’t likely to see a Red Dawn scenario where North Korean troops invade San Francisco, new technologies will enable smaller powers such as Iran or North Korea to inflict disproportionate damage. This is bad news for the United States, but good news for game designers who want to create an interesting David vs Goliath game.

For nearly a century, we have become accustomed to thinking of oil as the natural resource that nations fought, schemed and subverted to gain.

This is why oil is often the biggest prize in strategy games.

Yet the DNI study also notes that demand for food and water is expected to soar by about 40 per cent by 2030, with nearly half the world’s population living in areas short of water. Thus global population growth may make rivers and lakes as valuable as oil (sort of like Ice Pirates).

So perhaps arable land or water resources should be the key resource in strategy games. Or, maybe the plot of a shooter game has the hero fighting to save a nation that exports water instead of oil. And speaking of oil, fracking will turn the US into an energy exporter instead of importer. Red Dawn is as paranoid as a voice in the head, but instead of America fighting for foreign oil, foreign nations may be fighting for ours.

Then there are broader societal changes coming, such as the ageing of many European and Asian populations. What about a Supreme Ruler-type game where a wealthy nation with an elderly population can’t find enough young men for the army? Do they rely on drones? What happens when they fight a poorer nation with a young population and a plentiful supply of military manpower? Meanwhile, the DNI study posits several potential “black swans” that could create immense disruption, such as a global pandemic, political or economic collapse in China and the European Union, or a massive solar storm that cripples satellites and the global electrical grid. These potential disruptions provide ample space for a game designer’s imagination to conceive a radically different world.

Smart as the CIA is, they have been known to make a mistake now and again, such as botched Cuban invasions or not detecting Soviet moles in their ranks. Not to mention the futility of precisely forecasting the state of the world 17 years out. Back in 1996, who would have believed that Americans would be fighting in Afghanistan in 2013? Nonetheless, while Global Trends 2030 may not prove to be accurate, its forecasts are plausible enough to form a solid bedrock for a game.

What a chaotic world 2030 will likely be. But then, a boring world makes for boring games. It will be a blessing and a curse that we will live in interesting times.

Michael Peck is Games Editor at Foreign Policy Magazine and a writer for Training & Simulation Journal at Defense News. He tweets at @Mipeck1.

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