“We just keep on trying till we run out of cake.” GLADOS
Game Name – Portal
ESRB Rating – T for Teen
Suggested Age – 13 and up
Genre – Physics Puzzle
Educational Values – Physics, Decision Making, Hand to Eye Coordination, Problem Solving
Applicable School Subjects: Physics
Price – $10 – $15 USD
Platform – PC, Xbox, Mac, PS3
Where to buy – Steam, Xbox Live Market Place, Amazon
Would we buy it? – Portal is such an amazing game that we actually have several copies and have pre-ordered the sequel.
About the Genre
Puzzle games is a very broad category. Everything from Tetris to Braid to Angry Birds could be considered a Puzzle game. Generally to describe a game as a “Puzzle Game” is to say that it requires critical thinking to solve a logical or conceptual problem. Some games have puzzles as one aspect of the them, but to be considered a “Puzzle Game” the focus of the game must be to actually solve the problem.
The initial puzzles are very simple and grow more complex over time. Introducing new game play mechanics as levels become more difficult.
About the Game
Portal is a single player game, in which the player must solve puzzles by using a portal gun to open portals and navigate through a series of rooms. The purpose of the game is to solve a series of puzzles in the form of “test chambers” created by the fictional Aperture Science Company to test their portal gun. Each puzzle is administered by the company’s artificial intelligence computer named “GLADOS.” Each test begins and ends in an elevator with GLADOS telling the player about the upcoming chamber and in some cases taunting the player. (Remember this is game is rated T for Teen.) The player uses the portal gun to navigate each chamber and solve the increasingly complex puzzles.
Once you have played through each level, you can then go back and run any of the tests again in the “challenge modes.” Each puzzle can be solved in multiple ways, and the challenges include solving the puzzle in the least amount of time, using the least number of portals or least number of steps. The creative ways to beat each task are virtually limitless. Portal is a game you can replay many times.
What the Game Teaches Us
Portal requires information processing in that the player must discover the information, formulate a strategy, and then execute their plan. In one map, the player must use the in game physics engine, their own momentum and clever use of portals to throw themselves over a chasm. This process takes time, guess and check, planning, and finally efficient execution.
While not directly tied to a class, Portal requires the player to utilize higher-order thinking in order to be successful. Many educational standards include Bloom’s Taxonomy. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a model, Portal requires the player to analyze and evaluate visual cues and then synthesize a strategy to complete the level. Portal uses many of the higher-order skills, including gaining knowledge and skills, applying those skills to new challenges, analysis of visual information, synthesizing a plan, and finally evaluation of success or failure. All of these skills are necessary in higher learning and practice makes perfect when it comes to the brain. One of the main reasons we decided on creating this site is that we strongly feel games have helped our intelligence and chose professions that challenge us mentally.
General Feelings on the Game
Portal is unlike any other game we have ever played. It may take a little bit of time for the average gamer to wrap their head around the concept. The developers at Valve understood this and built a very comprehensive tutorial into the first several levels of the game that explains the concepts and mechanics of the Portal gun.
Portal is rated T for Teen for some of its dark humor, and we think that rating and recommendation is entirely appropriate. There are also some aspects, like blood on the screen that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.
Many game reviewers describe Portal as the “perfect game.” As well as “one of the most influential games of the decade.” It is interesting, complex and thanks to the mechanics, very re-playable. Most important, though, Portal is just plain fun.
If you have children of the appropriate age, if you teach children of the appropriate age, or if you want a fun game, check out Portal! We have played through it several times and have already pre-ordered our copy of the sequel.