A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lifeboat to Mars is a free online biology simulation game developed by PBS Kids Go with a grant from the National Science Foundation. The game has two kinds of simulations: one where you control microbes and another where you control an animal and plant ecosystem. In the latter, predators do eat prey but all that is seen is a whirlwind from which only the predator emerges. Animals do produce young but kids will not see any mating rituals.
What's it about?
In LIFEBOAT TO MARS, kids join a spaceship mission to Mars to deliver microbes and a variety of plants and animals needed to start an ecosystem. Unfortunately, an onboard explosion has wiped out part of your cargo. Your mission is to help rebuild the ecosystems by playing two kinds of simulations: one set in a microscopic world called Microbe Games and the other in an ecosystem with animals and plants called Ecoland Games. The Microbe Games are a series of mazes where you steer a microbe through an environment by helping it find food and avoiding predators. The Ecoland Games provide different scenarios where you are given goals and a limited amount of time and resources. Trial and error is the key to success. You can also create your own simulations called \"Mods\" to share with others.
Is it any good?
Lifeboat to Mars is a great biology game because it lets kids learn by trial and error. Each of the 48 simulation scenarios set forth clear learning objectives and goals, and then provides the means to accomplish the goals. The key to making a good simulation for kids is to find the balance between making the achievement too easy and making it too hard. For the most part, Lifeboat to Mars finds that sweet spot; however, several of the simulations will take several tries before success is achieved. This is particularly true with the Microbe games.
Another exciting aspect of this free online game is the ability to create your own simulations to share with others. After working through the starter games and playing a few of the other more sophisticated scenarios, a new area opens up called "Modding." In the Modding sections for both Microbes and Ecoland, you can design your own scenarios. You can establish the goal of the scenario, and how hard it is to win, and then upload it to the game's servers for others to play.
For teachers wanting to incorporate this game into their science curriculum, a teacher's guide will be available on the PBS Kids Go website.
Online interaction: This game supports "Modding" where you can design and upload your own ecosystem scenarios for others to try. You can also try others created by unknown players.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what they learned from playing this game. Why do you think the National Science Foundation funded this game?
Do you like games that provide you with the tools to create your own game levels or, in this case, scenarios? Can you think of another game that lets you to that?
- Platforms: Mac, Windows
- Subjects: Science: animals, biology, ecosystems
Language & Reading: following directions, reading comprehension
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: analyzing evidence, applying information, decision-making
Tech Skills: digital creation
Self-Direction: achieving goals, motivation
Creativity: making new creations, producing new content
- Pricing structure: Free
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: PBS Kids Go
- Release date: January 13, 2010
- Genre: Educational
- ESRB rating: NR
For kids who love simulations
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.