The new Be A Martian website invites kids to join in on the rollicking good time that is tedious space cartography. I’m not sure what being a Martian has to do with exploring Mars. Common sense dictates that a Martian would probably already know a lot about the place. What with them being from there and all. I suppose they’re using a looser definition of the term that encompasses People Who Want to Spend Virtual Time on Mars. Whatever it takes to get the kids a-clickin’, I suppose.
And a-clickin’ kids will be. The “game” consists of two activities: matching non-descript Mars photos with a larger non-descript background and identifying craters in a slightly-more-descript Mars photo. It’s a lot of mouse clicks for a whole lot of not fun. There are two killjoys affecting this process: the tedium of the task (it can only serve to get kids less interested in space travel) and the alienation effect of not knowing what you’ve accomplished. I had a hell of a time matching up those stupid photos and when I told the game I was done, it gave me some meaningless points without any Right/Wrong feedback. What if I’m doing it incorrectly? If I’m working for NASA, shouldn’t I be fired by now?
To be honest, I had more fun just signing up for the website. It’s chock full of goofy, charming language and nonsensical options. You’re basically choosing a Character Class when you fill in the following “In our community culture, fellow Martians can count on me to be a(n)…” Your options include: All-around Good-natured Citizen, Intrepid Explorer, Knowledge Creator, and Pioneering Innovator among others. I like that last one because it’s so redundant. You’re then asked to choose a robot avatar for Martian exploration. Each is modeled after an Earth animal (you’re picking a character portrait, essentially). I chose a camel because it made the least sense. To help kids understand why we use robots, the site included the following adorable explanation:
“Robots are extensions of ourselves, venturing where we cannot (yet!) go. Robots in turn rely on us to interpret the discoveries they send back on our behalf. It's a partnership.”
I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I enjoyed signing up for this game more than the game itself. Maybe if I was six, my Wish I’d Been An Astronaut father could pull the wool over my eyes. And besides, this whole project suggests we’re only a few steps away from using kids to fight our space wars.