Mission US: Up from the Dust

Ages: 9 - 13Developer: Thirteen/WNET

Mission US: Up from the Dust introduces late elementary kids and middle schoolers to the reality of life in the Dust Bowl during the Depression. By placing the player into the first-person roles of a pair of adolescent twins growing up on a farm in Texas, the app gives the player a taste of the stresses of life during one of the most strenuous times in American history. Players have to decide how much of the farm to plant and how many cattle to keep, choosing based on possible projections of future weather and economic interests — yet none of the projections, no matter how cautious, begin to equal the reality of the disasters ahead. We see the twins reach adulthood, learning to navigate through the “alphabet soup” of government programs and help not only their families but their friends and neighbors as well, eventually leaving home to take some big risks as they travel across the country and witness the changes to the nation first-hand.

Game play is compelling; we couldn’t put it down the first time through. The entire interactive story can be completed in an hour or two, but there are so many roads not taken that players will want to revisit the game a few times to see whether bigger risks or more caution will work out best. The game awards badges to players based on the choices they make (“Good Farmer,” “King of the Road,” “New Deal Detective,” “Big Heart,” etc.); it is surprisingly difficult to achieve five-star status on most badges, but this encourages players to replay. Players can also collect vocabulary words (and there are many that will be new to kids — and possibly even their parents!). This is a free app, but it is worth more than many full-price games on the market.

Emily Crawford ©2018 Parents’ Choice

Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master’s in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.