Publisher: Valve Corporation
Year Made: 2007
Platforms: PC, Mac OS, Linux, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Price: $9.99 (occasionally free via Steam)
Content Areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM)
Suggested Age Level: Middle School, High School
Play Length: ~10 hours/Infinite with the level editor
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Portal is more than just fun. It has the perfect mix of wit, challenging puzzles, crisp gameplay, and physics. The key to what makes Valve Corporation’s Portal one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time is how seamless it all blends together.
Portal takes this simple premise and slowly escalates the challenge over the forty chambers included in the game. As Portal writer Erik Wolpaw has stated, the game is almost 80% tutorial with a smooth learning curve that introduces players to the premise, the portal gun, and GLaDOS, the omnipresent, artificial intelligence controlling the life of silent protagonist Chell.
Portal challenges players’ ability to manipulate three dimensional spaces as players place portals on floors, walls, and ceilings to escape the increasingly complex chambers. Later levels introduce momentum into the equation. Players must use long falls to build momentum before entering a portal to launch themselves across vast distances. Objects scattered through the chambers must be used to escape and provide defence against plasma bursts that fly through later chambers. Even as the game increases in complexity, it keeps the simplicity of the portal gun being all that is needed to escape.
After teachers identified the educational potential of the game, Valve Corporation introduced Teach with Portals that provides teachers with lessons plans and activity ideas that utilize Portal to teach physics concepts. These lessons cover such material as geometry, terminal velocity, and harmonic motion. Students can experiment with concepts through the game or through activities using the game’s puzzle maker.
The Portal puzzle maker is a level editor where players can construct their own test chambers. Students can use the level editor to construct chambers that reflect their understanding of the physics and design concepts of Portal. Without an understanding of these concepts their own chambers will be unplayable. This provides the students with an opportunity to tweak their chamber and learn the concepts through an iterative design cycle of playing and testing.
Portal works best when individual students or small groups can play the game. However it can be challenging to provide enough copies of the game for classroom use. Before introducing the game into the classroom consider how it fits into your lesson plan so you can determine how many copies of the game you will need. The game has been offered for free via the Steam platform during the summer and winter sales so be sure to check there in July and December to get a free copy. Finally, although rare, some players - especially those unused to first-person games - have reported feelings of motion sickness when playing Portal so if students do report feeling queasy just give them a short break from the monitor and they should be fine.
Portal is classroom friendly for both middle and high school students. As the only human presence, Chell only encounters robots so violence is largely absent save the occasional small explosion. The artificial intelligence, GLaDOS, berates the player but the language stays clean and classroom friendly and the wit shown by GLaDOS is a joy in itself.
Just remember that cake is a lie.
Educational Rating: 7/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
Overall Rating: 7/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)