The Game

Adding invasive, non-native species to an ecosystem is the second leading cause of extinction (a distant second to the leading cause, climate change). In Life Preservers, the player/learner tries to protect Earth from autopilot ships filled with alien species whose presence on Earth could change the entire evolution of life on the planet. This twist makes the story more engaging.

Life Preservers starts with a story:

"You are a member of Life Preservers , an ancient alien organization dedicated to protecting the natural ecosystem of planets where intelligent life might evolve. Earth is one of the planets the team you lead is assigned to protect.

We have an impending emergency that threatens the evolution of life Earth.

“Hunter” Aliens are sending two automated “seed ships” to Earth at the beginning of the Age of the Dinosaurs. Each ship is filled with one species of animal that the Hunter Aliens enjoy hunting. When the ships reach earth they are programmed to go into orbit and release escape pods sending the aliens to earth. Thousands or even millions of years later, the Hunters may come to Earth to hunt their favorite animals.

The immediate threat is that over many generations the alien animals contained on the “seed ships” will change the natural evolution of life on Earth. Each alien seed ship contains only one kind of alien animal. It would be best to stop both ships, but we only have enough resources to stop one. In order to decide which ship to stop (which species will cause the least harm) you need to learn about life on Earth. "

The primary display in the Life Preservers game is the Tree of Life, a timeline and family tree mapping the history of life on earth. Ancient critters are represented by dots on the tree. Here is the tree of life from the Age of Dinosaurs, with the six critters in round one showing and First Bird selected.

Clicking on a critter dot brings up details about the critter, including when and for how long that species existed on Earth, what they ate and what ate them, and the environment they lived in.

Here is an example "critter brochure"

A scientist-validated artist's drawing of the critter.

and graphic showing critter size compared to a six foot human are shown.

There are 10 rounds of play with 3 “adaptation challenges” per round. Here is an example adaptation challenge:
The player’s job is to figure out which critters match each adaptation. They do so by clicking on a critter dot and dragging it onto one of the answer circles beneath the adaptation. Some critters fit one adaptation, some more than one adaptation, while others do not fit any of the adaptations. A narrated, animated cut scene reinforces the key learning concepts follows each round and relates those concepts to the pending alien invasion.

In the first level, the player explores the Age of the Dinosaurs in three rounds of play. The Age of Dinosaurs includes information on 11 interesting earth critters including reptiles and birds. (Birds actually extend into the Age of Mammals but are included in Dinosaurs because their branch began in the Jurassic Period.)

The goal of this level is to learn as much as the player can about the critters of the Age of Dinosaurs to prepare for the first Alien Invasion. They should become familiar enough with specific creatures and causes of extinction to decide which alien species to divert. Along the way they learn about evolution and adaptation.

Unlike other rounds, alien invasion rounds do not have right or wrong answers. All of the critters encountered in the era appear on the game board. Players choose up to four critters most likely to be impacted by each alien, then choose which alien to block. Players think through possible consequences for each earth critter, and make their own choices.

The first alien invasion asks the player to choose which alien is most important to stop to preserve life on earth, Hoofed Fox or Dracosaurus. This round also asks the player to identify four animals from the Age of Dinosaurs that Hoofed Fox and the Dracosaurus would be very likely to eat.

After surviving the first alien invasion the player is notified that a planet-wide natural disaster has changed most of Earth’s physical environments at the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. A huge asteroid hit Earth, causing the skies to fill with dust and plants to die off. Animals who ate plants, and animals who ate animals who ate plants, died from lack of food, including the “Hunter” alien they had selected to stay on Earth. However, two new robotic seed ships from a different star system, carrying two new alien species are headed towards Earth. With only enough resources to divert one ship, the player must once again study up on Earth creatures in order to protect the evolution of life.