In "Fort McMoney," players can explore boomtown Fort McMurray, Alta., and the politics of resource development by talking to dozens of real-world characters that were interviewed for the documentary game.
To start, players can choose to talk to a francophone carpenter who moved west for work, a waitress and car saleswoman making $10,000 a month, or an unemployed local who gets by collecting empty bottles and cans for the deposit money.
The questions a player asks the characters affects how the rest of the story plays out.
Creator David Dufresne and his team spent two years researching the politics and culture of the town and produced almost nine hours of video that can be interacted with during the course of the game. It can be played in English, French or German.
"It's like 'Grand Theft Auto' for real, but you don't kill," jokes Dufresne, who says he wanted to experiment with interactive storytelling because he thought it would be more engaging.
"I think with a game you can learn a lot. It's a game but it's very serious. There's a lot of movies and books about the oil industry but almost nobody cares, so we tried to get people interested in the subject through a video game mechanism."
Dufresne's pitch to the NFB was intriguing given the organization's focus on reinventing documentaries in an increasingly digital world, says Monique Simard, director general of the NFB's French program.
"The explosion of different platforms and the possibility to have no constraints in time limits or formats makes it possible today to tell stories in much different ways," says Simard.
"I think we've completely changed the relationship between producers, creators and audiences. The younger the audiences are the more involved they want to be."
Users can navigate the game on their own but are encouraged to participate in some multi-player features including daily polls and a weekly referendum, such as the current question which asks should taxes on petroleum products be higher? The game is structured in four weekly parts, with a new referendum question and new content unlocked every seven days. The four-week cycle will begin again on Jan. 20 and Feb. 24.
Simard believes most people will find "Fort McMoney" to be balanced and not skewed in either direction for or against the oil industry.
"To do something against or for something was of no interest to us.... If you look back at our work we always address really major important issues but it's the way we address these issues that is different," she says.
"Our job is to raise questions and with this particular project ... we had to have a balance of characters."
Dufresne says it wasn't easy to get representatives from the big oil companies to participate — "They'd say, 'not this week, we won't be there,' or, 'Sorry, the spokesperson is sick today,' or 'Maybe can you come back in the summertime?'" — but in the end he got what he felt he needed.
"We met some people with speeches very (carefully prepared) but some people were very honest and said very serious things that don't hide the problems, because they understand we want a debate, we don't want to (judge them)," he says.
"You'll see there are some people from the industry that are very, very interesting."
On the web: http://www.fortmcmoney.com