Games are a great way to prepare for something. They trigger some of the same parts of the brain as actual practice. They help you hone your mental skills and to think of potential problems and solve them.
Board games might be of some help but they are very limited due to the lack of complexity the medium enforces. It is hard to justify an inch thick rule book for a board game let alone get a box big enough to hold all the pieces you’d need to even approach anything based on reality.
Computer games remove many of the restrictions that hold board games back because they can hide a great deal of complexity from the player. However, they are limited in that they can only incorporate what the game designer(s) has the imagination and time to write.
Role Playing Games are much more flexible. Note that I refer to them as Role Playing Games and not by their acronym: RPGs. That’s because the term RPG has shifted and now seems to refer to any computer game with combat. The Game Master (GM: the one who creates and referees the current adventure in the game) sets the scenario and then runs the adventure for the other players. One person sets the scenario (an air leak on a luxury ship) plans out distractions and assistants (one of the passengers is a high profile artist who works in metal, another passenger is a critic who is out to make that artist look bad) among the other people on the ship as well as planned complications and available resources (the normal patching kits are missing so someone could use that space for smuggling, the artist has supplies and tools on hand). The players each play a character in that situation with their own skills and personal resources. Part of the fun of being the Game Master is figuring out what to do when one of the players comes up with a solution or method that you had never considered. As a player, it is fun solving the problem; especially when your solution leaves the Game Master speechless.
Role Playing Games have another advantage for preparing for space travel. Cooperation and working with the team is much more fun (for me) and effective. If you think that teamwork isn’t needed in space, you haven’t been paying attention. As Clarke often said: there isn’t any need for humans to fight each other in space since space does such a good job of trying to kill you by itself. That’s a nice thought and I agree: there isn’t any need. However, humans are humans. We might as well prepare for conflict as well.
Any Role Playing Game can be used to set up realistic space scenarios but some are better suited to that task than others. The Star Wars and Star Trek games, for example, are very cinematic. For them, science is just something that happens in the background and is only as real as it needs to be for the character plots. Other games don’t abstract the science out as much. For playing science based games, I like GURPS: Space the best. It lends itself very well to science scenarios and tries to be consistent with science. GURPS is made to be very customizable and can be as realistic or cinematic as you wish. Traveller can also be good for this though it tends toward the cinematic.
If you have three to five friends, find a Role Playing Game that works for you and create a space adventure with them. You can have fun, learn, and prepare all at the same time.
* For GM: ability to create an environment for the characters to live in, other characters for the players to interact with and scenarios that lead to those interactions. For a Player: the ability to place yourself in the place of your character and think the way your character would act.
* Interest in Role Playing Games usually starts in Jr. High School though kids as young as 6 years old have been known to play
* $30+ depending on how much gaming material you have on hand and how deeply you get into it.
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