How can we best sustain healthy human communities in space?

We will learn strategies for effectively navigating dilemmas of shared resources, public good, and collective action in the context of high uncertainty and high risk.

Some of the thorniest challenges of human space exploration aren't technological. They're social. We're seeking solutions by engaging the public in the scientific process. And we're making it fun. Port of Mars is a game-based social science experiment designed to discover answers to the question: How can we best sustain healthy human communities in space? Players are citizens of an early Martian community charged with working together to provide for the sustained welfare of the settlement. All player behavior is tracked and recorded. We analyze this data to examine what behaviors and group dynamics tend to produce success, and what tends to produce failure. Each instance of gameplay is a simulation, a modeling exercise for future human space communities. Our goals: - To produce new knowledge useful to stakeholders in space exploration and other fields - To create a fun, engaging game - To engage the public in actively solving problems.

Port of Mars: Goals

  • Produce new knowledge useful to stakeholders in space exploration.
  • Create a fun, engaging game.
  • Engage the public in actively solving problems for the future of humans in space


Port of Mars: Images & Concept Art

Concept art by Derek Smoker

ED Red

Design by Brunella Provvidente

Space Open

Design by Brunella Provvidente

Space Open

Design by Brunella Provvidente

Concept game cards designed by Peter Slattery

PoM Key

Illustration by Titus Lunter

Key Accomplishments

We have completed an initial pilot study using an analog card game, and are now in the process writing up the results. We have begun the process of creating a digital version of Port of Mars to help us achieve larger sample sizes.


John Marty Anderies School of Sustainability - Social scientist 

Lance Gharavi - School of Film, Dance and Theatre - Project lead

Tanya Harrison - Mars specialist 

Marco Janssen - School of Sustainability - Lead social scientist 

Brian Nelson - Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College - Learning Science

Skaidra Smith-Heisters - School of Human Evolution and Social Change - Social scientist 

Liz Leo - Wizards of the Coast - Graphic designer 

Titus Lunter - Independent artist - Visual artist 

Brunella Provvidente - Independent artist Artist/designer 

Michael Yichao -  Riot Games - Game designer 

Patrick Young - School of Earth and Space Exploration - Astrophysics


Classroom Research

Research and public engagement are typically separate affairs. Port of Mars fuses these activities, involving the public directly in the act of scientific inquiry.