Fossil Forensics

Game review by
Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Media
Fossil Forensics Game Poster Image
Fossil-based game spurs evolution conversations, questions.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids can learn about the methods scientists use to draw connections in the fossil record, including discovering similarities, differences, adaptations, and evolution. But kids are likely to fall into trial-and-error-style guessing instead of thinking scientifically because of the lack of in-game context. The game experience would be more meaningful if real instead of fictional fossils were used. There's a solid concept behind Fossil Forensics, but it needs to be part of a larger lesson with the website's student and teacher guides for the science behind adaptation and evolution to really hit home.

Positive Messages

Kids' problem-solving skills are key to success.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kids play themselves; no specific role models included.

Ease of Play

Instructions are sparse -- kids will need to work things out themselves, but controls are simple. Game increases in difficulty, but connections made in previous levels will reappear if the same dinosaurs are selected, and hints are available. 

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fossil Forensics is a downloadable educational game that teaches kids about evolution and scientific thinking. Kids are presented with the skeletons of fictional dinosaurs and then draw evolutionary connections between skeletal structures that seem similar. They get scored based on how many connections they make correctly. Kids may be excited by the premise and connect-the-dots mechanics but can end up frustrated by the lack of direction and implicit rather than explicit connections to science. 

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What's it about?

In FOSSIL FORENSICS, kids are given a group of fictional dinosaur fossils to arrange on display at a museum. They study the fossils and make connections between skeletal structures that are similar or different. The curator then scores their matches, giving them points and the opportunity to try again if they choose. The game's difficulty increases as kids progress from Adaptation to Taxonomy to Evolution, identifying similar traits that indicate a shared line of descent. Each level adds fossils and game features.

Is it any good?

This has great style and a great potential for learning, though many kids can solve the levels by treating the game like a puzzle. Kids likely either will make a lot of guesses or reference the hints frequently, as some of the connections to be made among the fossils are tricky. As the level difficulty increases, more connection options are available, including limb structure, teeth type, number of skull holes, body type, ambulatory method, structural type, and more. Some of these connections are easy to spot, such as the difference between an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton, but some are more difficult, such as the ways bone and cartilage are visually represented. Kids likely will need to study the fossils closely to notice small differences, possibly comparing them to real animals they already know about, and to gain understanding.

This game is best played in the context of the learning materials also found on the designer's website, since the game itself doesn't instruct kids on how evolution works or exactly what to look for on the fossils. Plus, since the fossils are fictional, there are general concepts to be learned but not specific information about real prehistoric creatures, which kids often crave. This game is best played within the context of a larger learning experience, including visits to natural history museums, visits to paleontology sites, other instruction about evolution, and/or use of the educational materials on the website. After gaining some context and understanding, kids can dive into this game with an idea of what they're trying to accomplish: drawing evolutionary connections among fossil specimens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about identifying physical similarities between animals that might indicate common evolutionary ancestors. How might this way of drawing connections be more or less reliable?

  • Discuss how the creatures in this game compare to real fossil finds. Do you know how to find reliable comparisons on the Internet?

  • Playing this game can help generate questions and answers for talking about human evolution and the origins of many species on the planet. How, why, and where did humans evolve? How did animals develop the ability to live on land?

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