Over on Kickstarter, astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson has a crowdfunding campaign running with the goal of funding a special kind of computer game. "Space Odyssey" is the title, and the production team behind it aims to build a game that is fun to play and simultaneously educational about physics, biology and space.
Players will learn what goes into vehicle and robot design as they create their own unique machinery. In an open-world "sandbox" design, they'll explore alien worlds, some that may even have life on them. A player might spend a session piloting a ship through an asteroid belt or designing the next-generation robot capable of mining a comet for precious resources. The team plans to incorporate virtual reality experiences as well, putting players in the heart of the action.
All of the gameplay is to be grounded in science. Joining Neil deGrasse Tyson are such luminaries in science and science communication as rocket scientist Loretta Falcone, cosmologist Janna Levin, astrophysicist Charles Liu, planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, astronomer Amy Mainzer, former astronaut Mike Massimino and science communicator Bill Nye. He has also invited authors like Neil Gaiman, Larry Niven, Peter Beagle and George R. R. Martin to work on the creative world-building side. A host of other artists, writers, scientists, game designers and other notable people in the creative and scientific fields are contributing to the effort.
While this is a new project, it's not the first example of an educational computer game. From the old classics like "Oregon Trail" to modified builds of the popular game "Minecraft," game designers and educators have long recognized the power of of teaching through play. But Tyson's game — the full title is "Neil deGrasse Tyson Presents: Space Odyssey — The Video Game" — looks like it's a particularly ambitious creation.
The Kickstarter campaign, with its goal of raising $314,159 (a seemingly arbitrary amount, until you think of the digits of pi), ends on Saturday, July 29. The administrators admit that the funding will just be a small part of what the developers at Whatnot Entertainment will need to make "Space Odyssey" a reality. But if all goes well, you may soon be able to blast off and explore new worlds without leaving the comfort of your couch.