What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that SpaceChem is a puzzle game based on logical and scientific concepts. Players design circuits around which custom-designed molecules flow, frequently altered by property-changing "waldos." Its text narrative tells a simple sci-fi story with some mature themes, including descriptions of bloody deaths, but there is no graphic violence. However, the game is so complex that younger players will have a difficult time wrapping their minds around even its most basic concepts. It could prove a good aid for older kids learning about chemistry, programming, and engineering; but others may be turned off before moving beyond the training stages.
What kids can learn
Thinking & Reasoning
- analyzing evidence
- solving puzzles
- applying information
- producing new content
- developing novel solutions
- work to achieve goals
- developing resilience
Engagement, Approach, Support
Simple presentation and some very meaty logical concepts make this game a tricky one to get into. However, if kids can crack its foreboding shell they'll likely find the puzzles inside quite compelling.
The chemistry isn't completely authentic, but the logic is rock solid. It's a lot like programming, and players will be able to transfer what they learn here to their work in science, mathematics, and software design.
There's a lot to learn upfront, and even with the tutorial it can be hard going. Luckily, there's an active online community for the game, including an solution discussion forum on the official website.
What's it about?
SPACECHEM puts players in the shoes of a trainee reactor engineer who works to design circuits that act as paths for molecules and their constituent atoms. The player must develop chemical compounds and place commands that change the behavior of \"waldos\" as they move along the circuit grabbing, dropping off, and otherwise manipulating chemical compounds. Molecular cycles are tracked to mark players' efficiency as they work to create specific types of products and deliver them to output areas. As players progress, they eventually work with multiple reactors spread across a planet, where the work from one reactor impacts that of another, creating a complex production map. The current version of the game on computers also supports a sandbox mode in which players can experiment as well as create user-generated puzzles.
Is it any good?
SpaceChem is one of those niche games that only appeals to a select few, but if you're one of them you're likely to be passionate about it. In this case, those people are kids and adults with a natural aptitude for disciplines including chemistry, math, programming, and engineering. The chemistry at work here is fictional, but the logic is similar, as are most of the terms. Working on these "visual program" puzzles -- all of which have open-ended solutions that provide room for creative reasoning -- is like attacking logic problems the same way engineers do: there's no one right answer, but there are more efficient answers. Finding them is part of the fun.
Unfortunately, those who fall outside this group may find the bombardment of complicated rules and unfamiliar terms to be overwhelming and off-putting. This is nothing like Tetris or Bejeweled. SpaceChem offers up some extremely demanding puzzles that you're unlikely to solve -- or at least solve efficiently -- by fluke. Don't be dissuaded by the difficulty; just know you that you need to be up for a serious challenge.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about using logic to solve problems. What sorts of real-world problems have you solved simply by thinking about them and noodling out an answer? Do you think you're good at it? Is this the sort of thing you'd like to do for a living?
Families can also discuss science. Do you enjoy thinking about how things work at microscopic or macroscopic levels? Do you find you have a facility for clearly envisioning abstract ideas and seeing how they might connect? Which have you enjoyed more, your classes in chemistry or your schoolwork in physics?