Life is supposed to slow down, leaving more time for relaxation, recreation, travel and fun and games. Some of that is true for retired petroleum geologist Marc Bond.
Instead of relaxing, though, Bond is busier than ever using his newfound free time to spread knowledge and passion for geology, and more impressively, he’s doing it by playing games.
As designer, developer and implementer of the “Oil Exploration Game,” Bond has created an educational tool disguised as play and designed for non-geoscientists working in the industry, as well as students at secondary and university levels.
A Brewing Idea
After years of working as an exploration geoscientist with the idea of an exploration game as an educational tool brewing in his mind, Bond created it in 1992.
“I knew several major companies had sophisticated games they used as a training tool for geoscientists, but I wanted to design something to provide an understanding of the exploration business to the non-geoscientist professionals and support staff within an oil and gas company,” he said.
Bond said it was his belief that “people do their jobs better when they understand their environment. The understanding of the why behind the job is what makes it more enjoyable and easy to do.”
Bond first put the game to use after being asked to present to the new CEO of his corporation, British Gas, who had no previous experience in the oil and gas business. Using the game, Bond was able to explain everything he wanted to convey. After seeing how effective the game is as an educational tool, Bond was asked to share the game with the corporation’s new hires. The game was incredibly successful communicating with geoscientists and non-geoscientists (e.g., economists, lawyers, support staff, etc.) within the company. It was much later when he realized the game’s potential for expansion into an academic and educational setting.
How the Game is Played
Natasha Dowey, member of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB), describes it as a geological version of Battleship, but “with more understanding of what you’re aiming at and why.”
“It makes the idea of the exploration industry fun and different, and develops some very strong messages in a short period of time,” she said.
As she described it, the game is a simulation that begins with players acquiring licenses to explore hydrocarbons. The license blocks are displayed on a map, then four bid rounds begin. Each team is given a budget to spend on buying licenses and exploring, and a balance must be found in order to achieve success. The game also involves interpreting geological data and incorporating the team’s developing knowledge and intuition to make the right decisions throughout the game. After each round, well results are released and trends in discoveries are displayed on the map for all teams to see. Teams can then buy additional data for further insight. Dry blocks lose money and discoveries earn sizeable assets. After the fourth and final bid round, team balances are tallied and the richest team is declared the winner.
Players have described it as fast, fun and a tool that conveys more than just science awareness. For example, it develops important skills related to problem-solving, decision-making, team work, creative thinking and coping with uncertainties and change. Requiring minimal resources and lasting approximately two hours, the game is ideal for classrooms and corporate settings.
The post-analysis or de-briefing following the simulation is the most crucial component, allowing the facilitator to interact with participants and discuss in further detail the aspects of the exploration business that were introduced during the game. This includes prospecting, the interpretation of geological data, value of data, bidding strategy and financial considerations. According to Bond, the concluding discussion is the most rewarding part of the game because it allows experienced professionals the opportunity to share with an already engaged audience, “inspiring interest and appreciation of exploration and the oil and gas business, and helping to train future geoscientists.”
Playing at Another Level
Hamish Wilson, CEO at Minus7 and former president of PESGB, is helping to raise awareness of the game, helping Bond and sponsors PESGB, Rose & Associates LLP and AAPG promote and advance the game as a learning tool. Wilson believes the success of the game is important for the larger community because “this sort of thing has an important role in explaining oil and gas to the general public. We have an awful reputation in the public and we need to do something about it.”
According to Wilson, he prefers this concept over more traditional methods, as it enables geoscientists to transcend traditional outreach models and start a conversation by “engaging with people rather than just presenting something.”
During his time with PESGB, Wilson looked for tools to explain the oil and gas industry to the general public. After chatting with Bond about his game, Wilson thought it was an excellent idea and invited Bond to run the game with his PESGB staff.
It was a hit. The group of players agreed that the game would be perfect for more experienced professionals to “give back” to the industry that had been so great to them. The group felt it was easy to facilitate, grabbed audiences’ attention, conveyed a complicated subject in a simple way and would nurture passion in the geosciences.
As a next step, Bond and PESGB placed an advertisement in PESGB’s magazine to invite other geoscience professionals to become trained game facilitators. The turnout was great and they are currently producing copies of the game for 25 potential Great Britain facilitators.
With the game’s proven success in the U.K. (receiving the United Kingdom Suggestion Scheme Gold Award and British Gas Suggestion Scheme Star Award), enthusiasm from fellow colleagues and support from sponsors, Bond knew it was destined for expansion. At that time, he was the sole facilitator and simulations had been limited to oil and gas corporations within Great Britain, however after attending an AAPG convention, Bond saw the potential to spread the game to the United States through AAPG’s vast network of professionals. Recognizing that the opportunity was ripe, Bond seized the moment by gaining sponsorship and support from AAPG.
“If it is going to grow, it’s got to grow beyond me,” commented Bond.
Although traditionally meant for professionals working within the petroleum industry or in related activities, discussions with his wife, a teacher, inspired Bond to take the game’s expansion even further. Collaborating with Maria Iredale, PESGB’s executive director, Bond was able to connect with the Earth Science Teachers Association to develop the game as a curriculum for secondary schools and universities in the U.K.
“Here in the U.K. we have had a workshop where we have trained several geoscience professionals to run the game in secondary schools and universities,” said Bond.
Bond and other game enthusiasts have high expectations for the game’s future. Specifically, Wilson hopes that in the coming years the game will become a “part of a tool box set of material that PESGB and AAPG members can use to take to their schools and communities to explain what we do.”
They all believe this game allows geo-professionals to overcome the common quandaries of “what to discuss or present” at an event and “how to communicate the subject to the general public,” and that it will give the facilitators and geo-professionals wanting to promote their industry the confidence and opportunity for discussion and interaction, so they can share their passion and knowledge.
Bond hopes the game will expand to North America with the help of AAPG and continue to be successful, serving as a training tool for both professionals and students for many years to come.
“We are also now working with AAPG to bring this to the States, and have planned a pilot program in Tulsa with several workshops to train geoscience professionals to run the game and are also going into secondary schools and universities, scheduled for early February,” he said.
Any geoscientists looking to get involved with the Oil Exploration Game as a facilitator or an ambassador can contact Bond.