What is it:
orb.farm (I had no idea that ‘.farm’ was a legitimate domain suffix) is a free virtual aquarium app/game/toy. The interface is familiar to anyone who has played one of the many ‘sandbox’ games over the past thirty years or so, where you release particles of sand, water, fish, etc. into a virtual environment. The difference here is that orb.farm is a bit more like a virtual pet as well, not so different from a tamagotchi or Sea-Monkeys set (two things that modern kids probably don’t know about). Orb.farm has a CO2/O2 meter that changes depending on the ratio of CO2 producers (e.g. fish) and O2 producers (e.g. grass). So in addition to being a contemplative toy, there is a slight gaming aspect in trying to keep the meter balanced. The game also persists in your browser from one day to the next, so you can check in each day to keep an eye on things.
Who is it for:
The interface is simple enough that anyone of any age could play with it. The controls have text labels, so being able to read would help, but a young child could still have fun poking around since the game rewards experimentation. The appeal is to people who appreciate slow, ‘idle’ interfaces with no obvious objective. Anyone who enjoyed tamagotchis or other virtual pets would enjoy this.
What Kids Like:
The interface doesn’t require a download or have any ads, so you can jump right in. My kids are so used to being bombarded by advertising with almost every online experience, that they are surprised when they don’t have to click ‘skip ad’ or the little ‘x’ in the corner in order to do something.
The feedback is forgiving. There is no wrong way to do anything.
What Parents Like:
I like that it is free and ad-free. And I like a gaming experience that isn’t about shooting enemies.
Who Made it:
Orb.farm was created by Max Bittker as what looks to be more of an art/passion project than a commercial one. This paper [pdf] explains the theories and motivations behind orb.farm.