Remember in 2010 when 500 ducks died because they landed near a Syncrude tailings pond? (“Tailings pond” is a poetic-sounding term for “where we dump our poison.”) And, then, remember in 2008 when 1,600 ducks died for the same reason? Well, ducks are pretty cute, and it’s not exactly good for a company’s image to have killed so many of them. So the people at Syncrude — one of Canada’s largest producers of oil from the Alberta oil sands — have done what any corporation with an image problem would do. They’ve made a silly, useless little video game to make it look like they are really nice people, rather than in fact people who extract oil out of sand at great profit to them and great detriment to not only ducks, but the environment in general.
The game is called Trail Blazer. Not a bad name, as it suggests everything from wholesome camping to unwholesome Native American killing. It is a side-scrolling video game app for the iPhone. The game’s main character is a buffalo wearing a Syncrude hat, who bikes, hang-glides, and snowboards past Northern Alberta landmarks. The action involves grabbing floating coins — because there are so many floating coins in Northern Alberta! — and avoiding obstacles on the road.
But the buffalo’s main job is to tell the player about what a great company Syncrude is. Syncrude “is donating $6 million to community projects each year,” Syncrude “has planted more than 5.8 million shrubs and trees,” Syncrude “monitors air quality 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” That last one is particularly funny. So they monitor air quality. Big deal. And then they say what? “Yep, the air is bad. Sorry!” (Syncrude is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada.)
Anyway, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the sky is blue and clear in this video game, and this cool buffalo with a hat is having a killer day!
A company press release says, “The game is a fun and challenging way for children of all ages to learn about the community in which Syncrude operates.” It remains to be seen whether people will download the game and then, beyond that, be affected by its message. After all, who are you going to believe? A cartoon buffalo? Or a bunch of real dead ducks?