Last February our professional association, Meeting Professionals International (MPI), attached the title MeetDifferent to its annual North American Professional Education Conference.
The intent was to bring together ideas and strategies that would suggest smart new ways of organizing and supplying conferences. For me, one of the highlights was a long conversation with the “serious game” designers at Champlain College in upstate New York.
For a couple of decades, I was convinced that standard video games were mostly about shooting up imagined adversaries in ever-more sophisticated virtual worlds. But now, students at the game design lab are using video game technology to share knowledge and shed light on real-world problems.
Serious games have emerged as a going concern, with an annual conference and at least one major development initiative. One of those games, World Without Oil (WWO), simulated the impact of major energy shortages as they ricocheted through the North American and world economies.
While WWO ended just over a year ago, its daily blog continues…and it’s a fascinating read. The dispatches from this year’s oil crunch and the US sub-prime mortgage crisis seem to be peppered with a recurring phrase: “as foreseen in the WWO game.” I find myself thinking about the implications for conferences, and for the industries that make them happen, as we try to imagine a meetings world without oil.
In its response so far to high oil prices, the meetings industry has focused primarily on the immediate threat to air travel and the role of commodity speculators in driving up prices. Those are legitimate concerns, but WWO showed how quickly an initial oil shock can ripple through our economy and communities.
Reacting to crisis is an expected role for industry associations, and react they should. But none of that deals with the underlying problem: We are an industry built on a limited resource that is past its peak, whose continued use has already led to environmental and economic devastation in some of our destinations and communities. Our ability to cope with this wider issue will depend on our ability to anticipate it.