We’ve all heard our moms say, “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye,” but for one anti-pipeline activist, it’s all fun and games when somebody loses an eye … or their life.
“Thunderbird Strike,” a video game developed by a Michigan State University assistant professor, allows a player to fly over oil production facilities and earn points by “firing lightning at snakelike pipelines, trucks and other oil industry structures”… and presumably the employees working in or around them.
According to its website, the game is based on indigenous cultural figures called thunderbirds—“people who walked with lightning in their eyes”—who had the unfortunate habit of accidentally killing anyone they looked at. The game has retasked these rather anti-social legends with an explicitly anti-oil purpose, flying over Canada and Michigan to destroy critical infrastructure. As a Vice.com blogger eerily explained, “Players can control a thunderbird that destroys as much of the oil industry's machinery and pipelines as it possibly can. And it’s so satisfying.”
While the game’s creator, Elizabeth LaPensee, says “it’s optional whether or not you attack oil structures, or you focus on activating animals and people” (another feature of the game), she has made the game as a way to “educate” against pipelines in general and the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline in particular.
Despite her protests, this game gives pop culture succor to the increasingly destructive nature of anti-pipeline protesters by implicitly encouraging activists to harm property—and people—associated with oil and natural gas.