Gamification Goes to Space: Play & Learn on Mars

If you’re planning a mini-break for the coming weekend, maybe you needn’t go to Lost Planet but can explore the Red Planet instead! We bring you a selection of Mars-themed serious games and activities for young and old, ranging from citizen science and crowdsourcing, math and programming, to the art of persuasive reasoning. And while you’re on Mars, don’t forget to send a postcard 🙂


Be A Martian

NASA developed its gamified portal in late 2009 in partnership with Microsoft and more recently, Be A Martian was also released as an iOS and Android application. The idea is to present and popularize NASA missions and discoveries, to share facts & information about Mars, to engage users in crowdsourcing projects, and ultimately, to promote better understanding of – and maybe even inspire a passion for – scientific space exploration.

Since the project also aims to celebrate the potential of “the human-robot partnership”, the theme is quite cleverly integrated from the very start. In the account setup process, users are asked to pick a robot-animal avatar from a selection of biomorphic robot explorers which are introduced as “extensions of ourselves”.

NASA Be A Martian Welcome

You can go on an exploratory trip with a tourist visa before you take a “citizen oath”, commit to being “part of a collaborative culture of discovery”, and become a real Martian citizen (registered user).

Once in the Citizenship Hall, you can visit the Town Hall polling place where Martian citizens are encouraged to ask questions in various categories and vote for those posted by others (all while earning reputation points). The questions found most interesting by the community are answered by NASA Mars experts.

NASA Be A Martian Home

For the citizen scientist in you, there is the Mars Map Room where you can help map the planet, tag photos, and count craters (and of course, you will again be rewarded with reputation points  for every task you complete).

And now showing at the Two Moons Theater: Imagine Mars. Find out more about this “national arts, science and technology initiative that challenges young people to imagine and design a livable Mars community of the future” (

Mars Rep Pts

As an essential element of the gamification framework, each “Martian citizen” has a reputation score displayed on their “passport” and increasing with each activity completed on the website. Every user has a personal “trophy room” where they can view their points and badges and see the available challenges and activities.


Mars Exploration and Fun Zone

NASA and Mars have much more to offer besides Be A Martian. The Mars Exploration website is full of resources and activities for kids (of all ages), like how to make your own 3D glasses in 10 minutes, Mars weight and age calculator, Mars weather report, downloadable coloring sheets, and much more:

And while you’re there, pay a visit to the unusual, interactive Mars FAQ section, Ask Dr. C Dr. C. is a computerized scientist (based on real scientist Phil Christensen) answering questions about Mars! The feature is still in beta and the database now includes about 3,000 questions from which the algorithm attempts to find the best match for a particular user’s question.

In other fun activities, visitors can send a personal message to the Curiosity team as well as an e-card to their ‘favorite Earthling’.

Happy Valentine s Day

All of these features and activities make for an engaging user experience and appeal to our inherent exploratory spirit, while also providing an opportunity to learn about and help solve real scientific challenges. And with the Juno spacecraft now in orbit around Jupiter, maybe in the near future NASA will treat space exploration fans to a similar, “Be a Jupiterian” platform!

Check back soon for our continued exploration of Mars-themed serious games. The next two projects use Mars as an immersive context for game-based learning in two very different skill areas – argumentation and programming.


Featured image: NASA.



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