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Climate Change and Martian Bones

In a virtual world called Arcadia, sifting through yards of Martian bones is all in a day’s work.

Chasing through leaves, over rivers and between red mountains, the goal is to find bone specimens, analyze them and figure out what tragedy happened in fictional Arcadia to leave so many scattered remains and no signs of life.

Launched in 2010, this game called Martian Boneyards is the brainchild of Cambridge-based Educational Gaming Environments group (EdGE). The gaming group is just one division at TERC, a larger non-profit organization that focuses on math and science education.

So how do Martian bones relate to science and math education? The game designers believe that some of the skills you need to succeed in Martian Boneyards—collecting evidence, analyzing data and drawing conclusions—are the same tools someone uses to succeed in science. The game is part of a larger massively-multiplayer online environment (MMO) called Blue Mars, and is built upon the types of investigations central to sciences like forensics and genetic engineering.

If you were at last year’s Cambridge Science Festival, you might remember a preview of Martian Boneyards that was showcased. You can also check out what the game looks like here. This year, EdGE will introduce a new game called Canaries. This web-based science game starts out with the premise that planet Earth is in grave danger. A message from the future advises players that their best attempts at a rescue mission to save the planet involves birds. The rest of the game focuses on gathering evidence, drawing conclusions and making decisions to save the birds—and therefore, to save the planet and the people.

Both Martian Boneyards and Canaries are virtual reality games, but the worlds they depict might as well be our real lives. The problems at their cores deal with environmental sustainability and climate change, topics of high relevance and debate today. Many misconceptions on climate change still exist. TERC believes it’s important to get students and teachers on board with the facts, which is why they’re hosting a session called Climate Literacy 101. It runs from 5:30 to 7:00pm on May 4 at TERC’s headquarters in Cambridge.

In the Martian Boneyards video preview, one line of text appears on the screen repeatedly: “We are not alone.” This message rings true not only in the virtual reality game, but also when it comes to our own real planet. As part of a living, growing, functioning, warming whole, we are not alone on Earth. Isn’t it time, then, to start thinking about leaving enough resources for future generations?

There’s also the fact that a little consideration and restraint when it comes to natural resources is probably a whole lot easier to achieve than a full-scale search for Martian bones.

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