A video game has got an energy industry group riled up and accusing the game’s creators of eco-terrorism.
“Thunderbird Strike” is a Windows PC game that allows players to take the form of a thunderbird. The mythological creature, rooted in indigenous culture, flies from the Alberta’s tar sands to the Great Lakes, where environmentalists are currently challenging Enbridge’s Line 5, a 645-mile-long crude oil pipeline. Players use lightning strikes to gain points by destroying pipeline equipment, but they can also revive animal skeletons.
The game sends an obvious message in support of political activism, offering advice on its website for users who want to take action against fossil fuel extraction. That’s not pipeline-advocate Energy Builders’ apparent problem, though. Its issue it has is with users blowing up pipelines, according to a press release. Energy Builders considers this signature move “an act of domestic terrorism.”
Again, this is a video game. A free one, too. Just FYI.
“It’s bad enough that privately-funded eco-terrorists encourage this kind of behavior, but it’s way over the line when a public university getting our tax dollars joins in the effort,” said Energy Builders President Toby Mack, in the press release.
However, the games funds didn’t come from Michigan State University, which the game extends gratitude towards. The game was created through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.
While confusing at first, the game offers some lovely artwork at the very least. Elizabeth LaPensée, the designer and artist behind the artwork, lives near the Great Lakes and celebrates her First Nation roots as an Anishinaabe and Métis woman. The game isn’t encouraging any eco-terrorism, she told The Associated Press.
“It’s optional whether or not you attack oil structures or you focus on activating animals and people,” she said. “The game never tells you what your choice should be.”
And the action portion of the game’s site is pretty innocent, too. It doesn’t mention any direct action against pipelines. It does tell users to learn more about different pipeline battles like the Dakota Access or Keystone XL. It also encourages divestment from banks that fund such projects. Nowhere do the words “blow up” or “destroy” even show up. Not even “direct action,” which is a popular tactic in anti-pipeline movements.
Linking environmentalists with terrorism is becoming a popular way of attacking activists. In Congress, 84 members (including four Texas Democrats) sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter Monday asking him to label environmental activists as terrorists.
They don’t use the term explicitly, but mention 18 U.S. Code 2331, which is all about defining international and domestic terrorism.
The Congress members wrote:
Recent incidents of individuals attempting to shut down lines by turning valves at pump stations illustrate the danger. Operation of pipeline facilities by unqualified personnel could result in a rupture—the consequences of which would be devastating. Even though some activists commit these acts of sabotage to raise awareness about climate change, they only create the serious risk of harm to the environment they claim to care about.
And remember opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline that set up protest camps in North Dakota last year? The pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners hired a private mercenary firm that surveilled the project’s opponents, labeling them as jihadists, as The Intercept and Grist exposed earlier this year.
This new video game might allow players to virtually destroy pipelines, but, in real life, pipelines are the ones causing damage. For example, the Line 5 pipeline at the center of the video game’s message has leaked at least 29 times in the 64 years it’s been around—spilling more than 1 million gallons of oil and gas liquids.
Energy Builders might not appreciate the message the game sends, but the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival did. It awarded the game the Best Digital Media Work award Oct. 22.