Terraforming Mars and Games
Terraforming Mars and Games

This presentation was delivered during the Mars Society Convention 2021.

You can watch the slideshow below, read the text I delivered, or you can watch the video uploaded to YouTube.


Terraforming Mars?

Games & Their Positive Impact
on the Perception of Space Exploration

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Welcome and thank you for coming to this presentation on the positive impact of games on the perception of space exploration. 


Watch this presentation as a video on YouTube
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This year I am 44, but in the 1980s I was a kid who watched anything that Disney could send behind the Iron Curtain. I grew up in Poland watching the stories that Walt Disney and Wilhelm von Braun were spinning since the 1950s. What an amazing ride it must have been to listen to them  more than 70 years ago.


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Probably like many of you, I grew up on SF literature. For me it was Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers, but of course there were so many more authors who took us on voyages among the stars.


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With passing years, the cinema was catching up with splendid visions of what’s possible, what’s troubling, and what’s a pure space opera. And the wish for space travel kept on growing.


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If you check what we can watch today, it’s difficult to stay afloat. There are so many films and TV series not to mention anime that have been peoduced over the last 50 years.


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Everyone has their favourites. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The invention of the cinema made sure that we all went to space with vigour.


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So whether you are an avid reader, or moviegoer, or you follow everything that science channels and publications could deliver, we all come to the same palce – we want to explore the solar system and we believe we know how.


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Well, it so happens that we not only know how. Some of us have already done it. Numerous times.


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While playing games we suspend our disbelief and we become fully engrosed in the presented worlds. While playing games, the feeling is real – we are colonizing Mars. Everything is in the brain and the suspended disbelief. Games are the new theatrical spectacle of the 3rd millenium. They bring the katharsis the real explorers may go through.


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And to count the games we already played while traveling to and around Mars... There are dozens. Whether you are into space-sims, strategy games, serious games, RPG or simple shooters, we’ve been to the Red Planet. 


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However, in the last 10 years reaching out to other worlds has become even easier than before. Moblie phones are powerful calculating machines and gaming consoles. Whether for entertainment or work, they can and do wonders.


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And again, this is just a glimpse at what technology can do. With VR games for portable devices and gaming consoles, you can spend hundreds of hours experiencing Mars as if you were really there.


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So what would you like to do on Mars? Repair machinery? Build stations? Conduct experiments? Fend of intruders or aliens? It’s your pick as those games are already waiting for you – just add them to your cart.


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And again, we didn’t even start talking about proper simulations of rocket buidling, space travel, psychological tensions in long-howl voyages, or building whole settlements and civilisations on other planets.


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One of the games I played last month is Mars Horizon. I heartily recommend it both as a game and as an introduction to solar system exploration.


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You are going to be exposed to all kinds of missions from preparing simple satelites to Mars landers. You will experience firsthand the feeling of losing a probe after 6 or so years of travel. The game brings a tremendous understanding of planning and of time it requires to do anything on the solar system scale.


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One more lesson you will learn on higher levels of difficulty is that going solo is not the way. Cooperate, exchange and spread research, and make humanity thrive.


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It’s team effort that will allow you to succeed in reaching Mars or Neptune. But remember, it’s just a game. It so happens it’s a good one.


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One more element of Mars Horizon I like is the understanding of public support. Your numbers, income, thrust, and weight can be correct, but without recognition and support it’s difficult to progress and reach your full potential.


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However, my main concern are not video games, but board games and card games. Why? Because you play most of them with others, as a team or as competitors. Because players enrich them with their own intentions and imagination.


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And if we don’t want to concentrate on Mars alone but more generally speaking on space travel and exploration, the amount of those table-top games grows exponentially.


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To show just a few examples of how much detail, research, and thought has been given to those games, have a look at those examples. This is the map from „High Frontier 4 All.” It’s a game designed by a real rocket scientist and it may boast one of the most accurate representations of solar system with various trajectories, sling shot possibilities, planets, moons, asteroids. You name it.


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„First Martians” is probably one of my personal favourites because I played it with my friend Dusan. We were left on Mars in a broken habitat and we fought for survival. Moxie was working, but food was scarce, and when generators failed... You want to know what it will feel like to be on Mars in those early stages? Try going through a few mission in „First Martians.”


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Or maybe you are more interested in the interplay between the production of food, oxygen, and water, while mining for resources and trading with Earth? „Martians: A Story of Civilisation” is awaiting. Just work with the manual and guidelines prepared by fans – the original instruction is as buffling as decelerating your probe during the atmospheric entry.


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Probably the best known of them all is „Terraforming Mars.” And there is a good reason. It’s a game of calculated risks and chances, of economy, and of interaction with others. And all that with a fair amount of real examples of technologies we will need while settling on the Red Planet.


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The game can play for a few hours, especially if you add expansions and other celestial bodies, but that’s exactly where such games shine. For a few hours you are developing settlements and you are terraforming Mars with other players. The experience is uncanny.


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However, if you don’t have up to 5 hours to spare, try the card game version of Terraforming Mars. The technologies mentioned and presented are probably even more aligned with what we know about sustaining life on Mars. Just have a look at the 200 cards. Each of them presents a specific solution or technology.


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Those games do not exist somewhere in vacuum or on store shelves. They have massive communities of supporters and followers. There are hundreds of thousands of people who explore solar system and colonize Mars on daily basis.


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Well, is it really hundreds of thousands of players? Is there really any substantial group of people ? Are there any tangible effects to discuss?


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Let me make a simple comparison between the size of music industry, film idustry, and video games. Well, video games could eat the other contenders for breakfast and still feel wanting.


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It seems that online games alone collect more income than all songs, all films, and all sports events you can think of. Even board games are of similar size to the music industry.


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The development of technologies, computers, gaming consoles, software, the Internet, and so on made the gaming industry one of the most progressive in the last 20 years.


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But even if we limit ourselves to board games, there are around 5 thousand new titles and expansions produced every year! Even if only 1% of them deals with space exploration, you would get a new decent game every week!


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Despite the pandemic, the game industry continued to grow. Well, people didn’t have much to do, so what was there? Music? Films? And games! Some branches grew by 200% in the last two years!


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But what is of greater importance for us is the quality and character of games we are discussing here. Mars related games are not competitive, winner-takes-all Monopoly. They offer various levels of difficulty with multiple modes of play from solo, through cooperative to semi-competitive. They are getting more in tune with the way we work on large projects – we need supportive teams.


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OK, so there are some cool games out there? So what? Well, I’m happy that you asked.


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We are not in a void. There are hundreds of games that relate to Mars and space exploration. They have avid followers, there are means of production and distribution in play. There are information channels and world-wide conventions. There is a whole world out there that is simply waiting for more contact. There are nerds. There are geeks. There are people who are into space exploration.


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So that’s what I can see could be happening for mutual benefit. Discussions about games should become part of the Mars Society mission. We should take active part in the promotion of games because this means the promotion of space exploration. We’re incorporating fun, simulations, serious games, and science here.


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Just like MENSA awards games that have positive impact on learning and on developing cognitive skills, so should major players in space exploration do. That’s one of reasons why parents and players buy games – positive feedback from people who know the stuff.


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Remember that there are new games produced every day! Just today, while finishing this presentation, I found out that there is a new card game that puts you in a seat of a CEO who is recruting enginieers as you attempt to succeed in building rockets worthy of interplanetary travel.


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There are hundreds of such games waiting for recognition and inclusion in our march towards Mars. To be honest, they are reaching and colonising Mars on a daily basis. Let’s do it together.


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Thank you very much for your time and attention. I hope I managed to convince you that games can and do have a positive impact on the perception of space exploration. If you have any questions, please write them in the chat – I promise to answer. Or write to me. Thank you one more time and I hope to see you around when we reach and colonize Mars whether in one of those games or for real, in time.


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