Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game

App review by
Patricia Montic..., Common Sense Media
Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game App Poster Image
Kids think globally about water resources in empowering sim.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Different strategies that might help meet water supply need around the world, and how different regions of the world might have changing water needs due to climate conditions. How to think critically about short-term and long-term effects of the choices we make and how we might make the best use of scarce resources.

Ease of Play

The tutorial is key: It's not obvious what the on-screen numbers mean, and there's no in-game guidance to remind you. Once you get the hang of it, gameplay is straightforward. 

Violence

The "news" headlines occasionally refer to dangers like pickpockets or discord in regions where resources are scarce, but these events aren't depicted on screen. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game is a simulation game produced by the Smithsonian that challenges kids to balance water resources around the world. Kids win the game by making a series of choices (like sending humanitarian aid or building a pipeline) to help share and spread scarce resources to areas most in need. You win the game when every region in the world has a balanced supply of water to match its demand. Make sure you watch the tutorial before launching the game: There are some good tips that help explain what's possible within the game and how to win. Read the developer's privacy policy for details on how your (or your kids') information is collected, used, and shared and any choices you may have in the matter, and note that privacy policies and terms of service frequently change.

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What's it about?

In AQUATION: THE FRESHWATER ACCESS GAME, kids work to balance water resources around the world. A map of the world is divided into 20 regions, each of which is marked with icons and numbers (usually between 0 and 12) that indicate the region's water supply, its demand, and the region's current available "wealth." To play, kids select different regions of the world and make choices to ensure that every region in the world has enough water to meet its demand. Kids can transfer water from one region to another by building a pipeline (which requires both wealth and water); they can also use a region's wealth to build and run a desalination plant, conduct research, or send humanitarian aid (which transfers wealth from one region to another). Throughout the game, pop-up news flashes alert players to changes in resources, like an especially rainy season (which adds water supply), a drought (which depletes it), or a change in water usage (which could go either way). Wealth sometimes increases through a newly discovered cache of gold. Research sometimes results in new wealth or a change in the cost of using desalination plants, and, as with real research, sometimes there isn't a tangible or immediate benefit. About halfway through gameplay, users are prompted to reflect on the strategy they're using to play the game, like building pipelines or funding research. After making a few moves, a pop-up asks kids to identify the strategy they're using by selecting one from a list of possible choices, and they're also asked to consider whether they plan to stick with that strategy or adjust their choices to try something else. They're invited to reflect on their strategy again once they've met water demand in every region of the world and gameplay ends.

Is it any good?

Though it can take a little while to get going, this is a fascinating way to get kids to think globally: You win when different regions of the world use what they have to help each other. Gameplay in Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game is engrossing and rewarding as effective choices make regions change color from drought-stricken orange to green and blue. A little more guidance on making good choices might help: If you skip the initial tutorial, there's no way to get a quick guide to the game's icons and the choices you can make, which can be a little frustrating. Though most kids will likely get the hang of the game quickly, that limited guidance can make it tough for kids to make purposeful choices along the way. The pop-up that asks kids to identify the strategy they're using is helpful. Even if kids haven't used a specific strategy so far, the list of potential strategies serves as a good hint that they could focus on some choices more than others. Overall, this is a great game for encouraging kids to think globally. Even if you start out by focusing on just one area of the world, you soon find yourself looking more broadly at each region's resources and considering how you might share them to benefit the world. It's appealing that you can't win the game until the entire world has met its water needs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how to use what they've learned from Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game. What choices can your family make to conserve water and use it wisely?

  • Some of the news flashes in the game are pretty silly, like water shortages resulting from whole countries suddenly taking very long showers. What kinds of real events might cause water shortages? How might people take action to avoid water shortages?

  • During the game, alerts pop up that ask kids to identify their strategy from a list of choices. Talk about how different choices in the game (like building pipelines or building desalination plants) might make an impact. Which choices might be good quick fixes? Which might make the biggest long-term difference?

  • Talk about how realistic some of the choices in the game are. Would someone really build a water pipeline from Africa to South America? What might people do instead in real life? What other kinds of real-life choices could you imagine to address water shortages around the world?

App details

For kids who love global awareness and social studies

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