Pipes In Trouble - a game gets Gallant'd

Pipe Trouble is a new take on the pipe-laying genre that brushed up against volatile pipeline politics by daring to feature bombing as a consequence. It is yet another victim of press and politicians misunderstanding games.

This is Pipe Trouble. It's a take on that old pipe-laying game (or Bioshock 1's hacking minigame, if you're younger than me) that overlays an interesting balancing challenge. The businessman on the right has a limited budget for pipes, so you must try to build as few as possible. The farmer on the left gets angry if you build pipes over trees & animals, or if you let gasoline spill. Damaging the environment also spawns protestors: they can "protest" certain squares, forcing you to build elsewhere. Take things to extremes, however, and these protestors can resort to bombing your pipeline.

It is this rare, extreme consequence of poor performance that caught the attention of the Toronto Sun, a conservative-leaning national media outlet in Canada.

At this point, I should probably fill in some necessary context. Canada has had a volatile political history involving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Long story short: the issue has been a clash of both business and ecological interests, as well as provincial politics. Once a protestor did try to bomb sections of the pipeline.

Also, the game was made with the support of provincial funding through the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) and TV Ontario (TVO). Since these two sources originate essentially from taxes collected, it could be said that Pipe Trouble was created on taxpayer funds. This is pretty common in Canada, especially in Ontario, which offers quite a wealth of support for game development studios.

The Toronto Sun had a field day with the story; they have at least a half-dozen articles currently on what they call an "anti-pipeline" game. Every other major media outlet has picked up on the story as well. How can they not? The game has been discussed in Ontario's Legislature. The Minister of Education questions whether the game fits the educational guidelines of the TVO. Conservative ministers (currently an opposition party in Ontario), claim the game is "flagrant misuse of taxpayer funds". One Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton wants confirmation that the whole game has been shut down.

Let's review: a game designed to inspire discussion of business interests versus ecological interests, that depicts pipeline management in a balanced manner, and is fundamentally A GAME, is apparently a monster and a waste of taxpayer spending because it dared to incorporate a graphic of people so angry with ecological destruction that they resort to explosives.

I am livid. Nearly every word uttered about this game by the media or politicians come from a place of ignorance. The game does not take a political stance. It does not advocate environmental terrorism. If anything, it encourages a balanced overview of pipeline construction. This fact is lost on those currently in the Ontario Legislature, endangering programs like the OMDC and the billion-dollar industry in Canada that relies on these programs. The ESA in Canada has frustratingly silent; I am sure they are working behind closed doors as they always do, but a lack of public support in the face of all this public ignorance and damnation is frightening.

When the controversy started, I joked that Pipe Trouble had been "Gallant'd". I too had developed a game that was spun by mainstream media into something it was not, and I also had an elected official express offense at my game despite clear indications that said official had not actually played it. Thus, I feel a personal connection to the issues face by Pipe Trouble's creators. Our elected officials in Canada just do not understand games.

Pipe Trouble is a companion game to "Trouble in the Peace", a documentary about local opposition to pipelines and the bombing of pipelines in Peace River, B.C. Unlike the game, this documentary is still available on the TVO website. Unlike the game, the documentary has not had an independent review board appointed to address it. Unlike the game, the documentary has not be described as an abhorrent waste of taxpayer dollars. It may be worth noting that the documentary received far more in funding from TVO than Pipe Trouble received.

I write this from a place of frustration. The mainstream media is quick to jump on a game like Pipe Trouble because it is a game. They are quick to spin public perception into the negative. They are quick to deliver that perception to politicians hoping for a comment. And our politicians are not brave enough to simply play the game in question before voicing an opinion or calling for action. And yet, I write this in futility. My elected officials will not read these words. They will no take any of this to heart. They will not play Pipe Trouble. They will legislate, and barring any action from the ESA, there is not a damn thing I can do about it.

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