Role of interactive games and prospective gaming module for space education

  • Satyaki Goswami

Guidance of Tafheem Masudi and Sukant Khurana

1)“It has been said that Astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Carl Sagan

This brilliant statement by one of the boldest scientists of our time will forever be relevant, not just because of its elegance, but also for the gravitas it carries. One might not realize it in the cities but if you go to the countryside and stroll out on a moonless night, you’ll be awestruck, or maybe stupefied, by the glory and beauty the cosmos possess-The Milky Way, stretched across the heavens with its regality. In other instances, one can be bewitched by the ever changing phases of the moon which has been greatly adored and romanticized throughout the history. Through telescopes, galaxies, nebulae, planetary discs, stars, open clusters and many such cosmic bodies come into view, marinating in their majesty.

Not limited to Astronomy but also including the fields of Astrophysics, Cosmology, Astrobiology and Earth Sciences in a broad context, Space Science is a vast field and has always been enchanting. It has captivated our imagination as it has always presented us with clues to all our deeply-rooted questions about the origin and nature of the universe we live in. The early years of Space Science, with all the emphasis on Astronomy, saw notable development in the civilizations of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, India, and China. The vastness of the universe, the unorthodox forms other cosmic objects attain, their variety, and our place between all this, on a pale blue dot, inspires people of all ages.

Ancient Egyptian Star chart, a map of the night sky (Source: http://www.experience-ancient-egypt.com)

But of course, the beauty of the universe is not limited to what is immediately visible to the eyes. Apart from the aesthetics, the study of space science is one of the most valuable intellectual training. On one hand, it gifts us the vision to comprehend our real insignificance in this universe of space, time, matter, dark matter and dark energy while on the other hand, it teaches us about the dignity and audacity of human intellect. 2) It cultivates nearly every faculty of the mind; the memory, the reasoning power, and the imagination, all are triggered by this special exercise and development. Due to its mathematical nature, it enforces precision and exactness of thoughts and expressions, rectifying almost all the ambiguities and vagueness while at the same time, the grandeur this field possesses, stimulates the imagination and gratifies the poetic sense. Thus, once could conclude that it deserves a place in the earliest phases of education.

But, making science lessons lively has always been a major challenge for teachers. Most of the time, teachers use mechanical ways to “lecture” the students on a topic while science, at its most fundamental form, depends on interaction, discussion, and exchanging ideas. Due to the lack of this attitude, despite the introduction of modern ways, like digital learning, the challenge still remains to make the learner understand space science in context of real life. The teacher has to be creative as it makes the most vital difference from the usual classes. Although the term “creative” is mostly associated with artistic fields, creativity in a classroom isn’t limited to being artistic. It is the teacher’s responsibility to engage students and arouse their curiosity for the topic. Once the students are engaged, they’ll explore various ideas and possibilities, making the class seem alive.

Now, science is more than pen, paper, and books. One of the best ways is to learn while participating in a relevant activity! Various innovative experiments and activities conducted, inside or outside classes, can do wonders in term of collective learning. On the other hand, mediums like video games and virtual simulations, if based appropriately on the subject to be taught, can help the pupil learn on their own. Here I am trying to come up with two games, which have the potential to make the players think, analyze, and have fun while learning about the vast universe.

1) The Cosmic Sleuth

I have named this game ‘The Cosmic Sleuth’ because of the game’s fundamental nature. Let’s see the rules:

(a) The teacher acts as the conductor and has to divide the students into three groups with equal number of members.

(b) The game comprises of three rounds. Each round would be twenty minutes long, making the whole game play a matter of just an hour.

© The aim is to find three boxes of ‘Cosmic Juice’ (This is a made up name, it wouldn’t matter if one decides to name it ‘Cosmic Soda’ as long as it doesn’t take the fun away. Remember, no one likes ‘Cosmic Broccoli’) within the given time limit of a round. Thus, one box of Cosmic Juice for each team in three rounds makes the total number of Cosmic Juice boxes equal to twelve. These boxes (represented by cards) are to be hidden by the conductor in a cardboard cardholder with pockets in it. Each pocket would have a erasable label beneath it in order to name the place where the card is being hidden; the place has to be a heavenly body or object like stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies etc. The ‘cosmic juice box’ cards and the card holder are to be made in the following fashion:

Cardholder for the game (above); ‘Cosmic Juice Box’ card (below), 12 such are required, three for each round

This is the basic premise of the game. In order for the players to look for the cosmic juice boxes, the conductor will provide them with cue cards. Each team can have maximum seven cue cards in one round. The conductor must keep in mind that the cue cards are to be distributed equally. Thus, each team can use a total of twenty-one cue cards in the whole game. Each cue card will have some exclusive information or concept regarding the place where the cosmic juice box card is hidden. Thus, all the cue cards that are handed over to a team in a round must have relevant information in order to add up and describe the hiding place. The conductor has to prepare all the cue cards for the game before commencement. Let’s take a look at the steps involved in the game:

1) After distributing the players into three equal groups, the conductor will hand them the cue cards for the first round while making sure no one takes a peek until the timer starts. Each group can get maximum seven cue cards in each round while the number of cue cards received by the groups should always stay the same.

2) The conductor will now take three cosmic juice box cards for the first round and hide them in the pockets present in the first row of the cardholder while making sure that the back of the holder is facing the players.

3) The conductor will then write the name of a heavenly body under the pocket thus making the pocket represent the same. The cue cards will have clues regarding this cosmic object.

4) The timer has to be started now, and each team needs to read the clues and information written on the cue cards given to them carefully. They have to string these clues together by the help of textbooks and/or internet in order to find the place where the box is hidden.

5) Each round will end either after twenty minutes or if all the teams manage to find cosmic juice box before that.

6) The team which finds most number of cosmic juice boxes within the given time limit wins. In case two teams have same number of boxes, the winner will be decided by the time they took.

The main aim of the game lies in part where the players read and learn from the cue cards. For example, if the first cosmic juice box for Team 1 is kept in Venus, then one of their cue cards might read- “Atmospheric pressure on this place is 92 times that of Earth”. Another cue card of the same set might read “It is often called the Earth’s sister planet”. Thus, these two cards connect and show that the place where the box is kept is a planet. Hence, the cues will help you to win the game as well as learn new facts and information.

2) Space Company Simulator

There’s no need to convince anyone that video games and virtual simulations are really popular among kids and teens, the groups which forms a large faction of students. Through e-games, this demographic can learn a thing or two about how organizations and companies based on space exploration, work. ‘Space Company Simulator’, as the name suggests, would simulate an aerospace research company. The player will take the role of CEO and Chief Scientist. The aim is to expand and successfully conduct scientific research. As the chief, the player has to take all the decisions including:

(a) Accepting and Developing mission to the space

· Finishing the mission provides you with ‘Gold’, the in-game currency which helps you to buy stuff within the game and level up easily.

· Completing each mission will grant you with experience points which help you to level up.

· Leveling up helps you to accept more complex missions.

(b) After leveling up to a certain point, a side-story quest would start where you have to build a colony on a new planet. As the chief, your job would be to learn as much as possible about the assigned planet I order to make sure the colony survives.

· This will give the students an insight on how a space colony can be planned.

· Before setting up the colony, the player has to analyze the planet’s environment which will be helpful in understanding how scientists examine the planet’s environmental conditions.

· In order to build colonies and set machines, the players would need to build some and buy some machinery, from the in-game store, in-exchange for Gold.

· The students would be able to understand the phenomena that occur out there in space and they’d need to learn about them in order to tackle hurdles and move forward in the game.

© The game would also allow the players to train astronauts for the missions. They’ll need to take care and make sure that these virtual spacemen stay alive and healthy.

· The training progress would be displayed in a bar in the astronaut’s profile.

· This would allow the students to understand the way astronauts are trained in order to survive and work optimally in the outer space.

· Astronauts would be precious commodities in the game and the player has to take proper care of them as without a certain number of astronauts, they won’t be able to go for in-game missions.

(d) The players would learn about the space weather as in some instances, the space and colony missions mustn’t take place due to the risk of astronauts getting killed. This would lead the player to take in-game decisions based on scientific facts and data.

(e) A monthly event shall take place which would allow the players to mine on cosmic bodies like moon, asteroid etc. in order to get rare in-game elements.

The game has to be kept grounded in order to make it as scientific as possible. Thus, it will influence the players to take a realistic approach towards the game. An in-game assistant would provide all the scientific details, mission briefing, and information regarding the status. Everything would be relevant to the game in order to make the player progress as well to make them learn while playing.

Apart from the ones suggested above, there are many well-established games and apps through which, people are learning about the cosmos in more than one way. From sparking people’s imagination to unleashing their creativity and bringing them together, these games won’t disappoint anyone who wants to learn:

· Lupo Space Adventure

LUPO: The Space Adventure is a cooperative imagination game for nearly any number of players- including classrooms. Here you can see four players playing the game. (Source: http://unfilteredgamer.com)

3)An old fashioned board game, Lupo is one of a kind. The game can be played by 3 to 25 people. It takes off from a point where planet Earth has turned into a raisin, forcing humanity to find a new home. The players will be divided into crews and every crew will compete towards the same goal. The teacher can act as the ambassador and their mission would be to guide the crew successfully and provide them with proper information.

· Planetbase

You will get colonists to collect energy, extract water, mine metal, grow food, manufacture bots, and build a fully self-sufficient base. (Source: http://planetbase.madrugaworks.com/)

4)Planetbase is a virtual strategy game in which you guide a group of space settlers trying to establish an outpost on a remote planet. The player takes the roe of the base architect and manager, telling the subordinate colonists where to build structures and guiding them to survive altogether.

· Pocket Universe-3D

5)This space simulator is available on Google Store. In this, you get to play ‘God’. Being a sandbox game, it provides you with the power to explore infinite space, customize your own solar system, stars, galaxies, planets etc. You can play with the gravitational lensing phenomena and create black holes. You can bombard planets with steroids and see how affects the surroundings. All in all, with its realistic physics engine, the simulation doesn’t disappoint while you’re redesigning and rediscovering the universe.

The game allows you to be ‘God’ and play with gargantuan cosmic bodies as if they were puppets (Source: http://apkhere.mobi )

· No Man’s Sky

Probably one of the, if not “the”, most talked about game in the past few years, No Man’s Sky is a about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated galaxy. Heavily influenced by the field of Astrobiology, this game allows you to fly seamlessly from the surface of a planet to another, and every star in the sky is a sun that you can visit. 6)Where you’ll go and how fast you’ll make your way through this universe is up to you. It’s yours for the taking. Explore uncharted solar systems and catalogue unique new forms of life. Every planet’s landscape is different from the next, and populated by species never before encountered. Find ancient artifacts that could reveal the secrets behind the universe. Choose whether to share your discoveries with other players. They’re exploring the same vast universe in parallel; perhaps you’ll make your mark on their worlds as well as your own. Every solar system, planet, ocean and cave is filled with danger, and you are vulnerable. Your ship and suit are fragile, and every encounter can test your skills to the limit. From dog-fighting in space to first-person combat on a planet’s surface, you will face foes ready to overwhelm you. And one mistake could see you lose everything.

Inspired by the adventure and imagination that we love from classic science-fiction, No Man’s Sky presents you with a galaxy to explore, filled with unique planets and life forms, and constant danger and action. (Source: wccftech.com )

In No Man’s Sky, every victory and every defeat has lasting consequences. Whether you want to explore and see things never before discovered, or directly set course for the centre of the galaxy, how you play No Man’s Sky is up to you. But you cannot take your voyage lightly. You’ll need to prepare. Collect precious resources on the surfaces of planets and trade them for the ships, suits and equipment that will take you to your destiny in the stars.

Although space sciences have usually been part of university level curriculum, its relation to Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biological Sciences are ever-relevant. These subjects are rigorously studied at high school level so the inclusion of space science can be done through the aforementioned activities and games. Then again, science is not just for a certain group of people; science is for the enthusiast. Hence, institutions dedicated exclusively for the space science enthusiasts could be opened where the aforementioned techniques are used to teach. One thing is clear though- the curriculum for space science in any educational institution or any organization dedicated to the subject has to be participatory. It should give an opportunity to interact and discuss through the medium, rather than just mugging up cold data. In the end, I’d like to assure you that space science is a beautiful and awe-inspiring subject. One might need a little bit of mathematics to understand some of its intricacies, but at the same time, lack of mathematical background mustn’t demoralize you from studying and enjoying the beautiful recipe this universe is, while sipping on a box of cosmic juice or managing your virtual mass mission.

References

1) ‘Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in

Space’ by Carl Sagan

2) Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium; NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
 Washington, D.C.

3) LupoWorld

4) planetbase.madrugaworks.com

5) www.thepocketlab.com

6) https://www.nomanssky.com