Today’s post is part of a series of posts profiling sciency video games. These are educational games, most available for free online, that can really help you gain a deeper understanding of science. Click here to find out more about this series.
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If I ever get the opportunity to go to space, I’m pretty sure I’ll be this guy:
The best way to learn how to do something is to actually do it, and preferably to do it repeatedly. In Kerbal Space Program, you are in charge of your own space program with an infinite number of squishy, green volunteers who are so eager to get to space they don’t care what crazy, new spaceship design you’ve come up with. This game will teach you about space travel by making you do it over and over again.
That might sound tedious and dull, but it’s not. When you sit down to build your first spaceship, I recommend reading the descriptions of the various spaceship parts. We’re told that some pieces of highly advanced equipment came from the local junkyard. Others were found lying by the side of the road. Still others are described as “dishwasher safe” or “unsuitable for children under the age of 4.” If you’re still not convinced this is an educational video game with a sense of humor… watch the video again. Or watch this one:
The only downside to Kerbal Space Program is that you don’t receive much guidance. You basically have to figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it through trial and error. My first launch ended in spectacular failure because, among other things, I didn’t know to include a parachute on my space capsule. But I learned, and now I’m better at this game, and none of my Kerbals have died since!
As a science fiction writer, I doubt I’ll ever write a highly technical description of how to launch a spacecraft into orbit—I wouldn’t want to bore my readers—but even though I may never include such information in a story, I still need to know it. What differentiates great science fiction from the mediocre variety are authors who can write about science with confidence, as opposed to authors who can only make timid guesses about futuristic technology. With the help of my Kerbal friends, I hope to become more confident about the science part of my storytelling.
Sadly, Kerbal Space Program is the only game on my list of sciency video games that isn’t free, but if you’re interested, please click here to find out how you can get the free demo version, or click here to buy the game.