Week 2 Assignment: John Spiers

The media is not monolithic- to describe it as such is to erase the many and varied perspectives that have gone into its creation. It is tempting to dismiss the entirety of mass culture as vulgar, obscene, and otherwise toxic- but this is simply not the case. It is true that the bulk of media are over-ridden with the same prejudices and hate that characterize all other aspects of society. It is true that nine times out of ten, an experience at the theater or with a television show will simply inundate the mind with another smorgasbord of advertising and status quo reinforcing ideals. I am here today to advocate on behalf of that tenth occasion. That rare instance in which media makes a difference for the better. Today, I will describe how Kerbal Space Program impacted my life and can continue to impact the world for the better.

Kerbal Space Program is a simulation video game being developed for the PC platform. The premise of the game is that the player is in control of an organization that seeks to undertake scientific missions in space for a race of green tadpole looking creatures known as Kerbals. While the game has yet to be fully completed, its ambitions are great. It contains an entire solar system of explorable planets and moons, a realistic physics simulation, and mastering its mechanics means learning a lot about how space travel is conducted in the real world. Terms like delta-V and Hohmann transfer were unknown to me before I began to play, but since I began, they have entered into my vocabulary. I can picture how orbits are formed with greater precision than I was ever capable of in the past. When I read news stories about satellite launches and probes landing on comets, I have not only more depth of knowledge to understand what they are speaking about, but also a great deal more respect for the engineers who work under more complicated real life constraints to accomplish their scientific aims.

NASA has even partnered with the game’s creators- a “NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission” was added to Kerbal Space Program in order to draw attention to NASA’s future aims to bring an asteroid into Earth orbit in order to study it rigorously. The ability to capture asteroids and move them in physical space was added to the simulation, and millions of players were educated about a real world scientific challenge. We live in a time when it is increasingly difficult to motivate people to tackle complicated issues and to care about institutions like NASA. With a game like this though, something as complicated as literal rocket science can be brought to the masses and their interests can be rekindled. Their educations can begin.

It’s a small thing, but Kerbal Space Program stands out in the typically bloody and sexist medium of video gaming as an example of what the form can be at its best. Society is benefited greatly by the game, just as it can be benefited by many others and by the media in general. To constrain media further is to put a chokehold on the free environment that allowed for Kerbal Space Program to come into being. We might lose out on countless further projects that could make learning and scientific progress accessible to more people. It would be a loss of untold numbers of scientists, teachers, students, and enthusiasts to put restrictions on media. If the goal of the American government is to build a brighter future, then this issue must absolutely be considered before any changes are firmly put into place.