Rolling the Dice: Remembering the Gas Crisis Board Game

2 May

Reading a recent op/ed in the New York Times comparing the current gasoline price hikes to the fuel crises of the 1970s, I came across mention of a dice-rolling board game from that time called “Gas Crisis.”  According to boardgamegeek.com (where I found the pic, by the way), players “drove” either gas guzzlers or smaller cars and needed $1000 to get around the board. Guzzlers threw three dice, smaller cars two (I think.) If you ran out of money before getting around the board, you lost. Game over.

In the midst of the current gas crisis (if it is in fact a “crisis”) it’s instructive to reflect back on the late 70s–a time when panic of a very real sort set in across the country. Several months ago I posted a blog piece about a McDonalds commercial exploiting the national mood to sell burgers. The Gas Crisis board game is another cultural artifact of that era and a small but striking example of just how deep of an impression that episode made on the national psyche. Just like Monopoly was a product of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Gas Crisis was a product of a time when things seemed to have changed permanently for the worse. (Of course, Monopoly has had way more staying power than Gas Crisis–probably a testament to the fact that no matter the state of the economy, it’s fun to pretend to be a real estate mogul and run your competitors out of business.)

(The gas misadventures of the late 70s proved to be short lived; by the mid 80s, a glut in world oil markets brought prices crashing down, ushering in an era of new gas guzzling cars and of making fun of former President Jimmy Carter for worry so pubicly about American’s energy future.)

Now, as we navigate our own latest fuel crisis, many Americans are wondering if this is just another temporary setback soon to be swept away by newly discovered oil fields in the Arctic and elsewhere. Or will prices not only not go down but continue to climb until, heaven forbid, they reach European-like levels of $7 – 9 dollars a gallon and we’re forced to seriously consider other transportation options like high speed rail and electric vehicles. So far, at least, climbing gas prices haven’t inspired the same sense of panic and pervasive doom that took hold during the 70s. Gas may be more expensive, but it’s still plentiful (at least where I live). I haven’t seen or heard about gas lines or about vagabonds stealing gas from parked cars. Maybe we’re better equipped now, financially and intellectually, to handle fuel price hikes rationally and calmly.

But if the 70s gas crisis taught us anything, it’s that we’re fully capable of losing our minds as prices go up. If in fact gas prices get anywhere near $7/gallon, who knows what will happen? All bets are off. We might even see new commercials, games, and maybe even a movie or two, like a Mad Max reboot set in a world where $8 gas prices have set city against city and neighbor against neighbor in an all-out war to control fuel. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that in the real world.

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