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Syncrude pushes ‘high-octane fun,’ oil sands facts in iPhone game

Syncrude’s new Trail Blazer app.


When it comes to the oil sands, it's been a battle for hearts and minds for years. Now Syncrude Canada Ltd. is taking the battle to the pocket – specifically whichever pocket holds your smartphone.

Yup, one of Canada's biggest oil sands miners is wrapping a missionary appeal to young grey matter in an iPhone app.

It's a 2D-adventure game called Syncrude Trail Blazer. It features a bison on various types of transportation – a bicycle, a snowboard, a hang glider – to navigate side-scrolling levels, grabbing coins along the way and dodging obstacles. Tap the screen to jump for coins, and the bison makes a satisfying grunt. Smack into one of the obstacles – trees, logs, devious evil enemy bison with black hang gliders, although there's not a single duck or tailings pond in sight – and you expire, only to find yourself at a screen where the good-guy bison gets to tell you all about Syncrude.

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"Have you heard?" he asks, that:

* Wood Buffalo Region air quality is better than many major cities in North America.

* Syncrude is recognized as one of the top 55 employers in Alberta.

* Over 85 per cent of the water Syncrude uses is recycled.

* Syncrude has the only Research facility in the oil sands industry.

The last point, by the way, is questionable. Imperial Oil Ltd. and Royal Dutch Shell plc, among others, also fund research centres that do a lot of oil sands work.

Syncrude calls Trail Blazer "high-octane" fun, but to a casual user, the game-play feels a bit lethargic. It's not especially entertaining – although the first reviewer on the Apple store begs to disagree, saying it's "pretty fun," and "my 6 year old really likes it."

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But, of course, fun is only part of the point: "While taking the journey, participants learn simple facts about Syncrude's operation and reclamation efforts as well as programs that are assisting the community," the company says in a release. It's free, of course.

The oil patch has been slow to embrace new media, and people in Calgary will tell you that its approach to social media, in particular, has at times been difficult – picture communications people hovering over those typing a Twitter update to ensure it's on message.

So it's probably no surprise that there isn't much oil sands stuff on iPhone, although the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers does have "The Facts on Oil Sands" – which, oddly enough, asks for a user's geographic location before presenting what amounts to an interactive PowerPoint slide show. To its credit, it's a slick presentation of facts. But by comparison, Trail Blazer really is high-octane.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More


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