What do teens think video games teach them? We'll be featuring articles by different youth on this topic. We kick off the series with Digital Youth Network teens in the Library of Games program at the YOUMedia space in the Chicago Public Library, who teamed up with Common Sense Media to review video games for learning potential. Here is their first review - of Portal 2 (take a look at our review for comparison). They think it's an engaging, motivating puzzler that encourages a creative approach to problem solving, concept-building in physics, cooperation, and persistence in the face of failure.
Library of Games Review of Portal 2
By Matthew Byrd, Kaillif Ammen, Aaron Eckart-Frank, and Stanley Ng.
Portal 2 takes place many years after the original Portal, as the player rejoins the reticent protagonist of the first game, Chell, on a journey through the decaying Aperture Science facilities. The player is joined by the helpful but incompetent personality core, Wheatley, and the malevolent A.I. (artificial intelligence) from the first game, GLaDOS. The player must solve several physics-based puzzles administered by GLaDOS in order to destroy this rancorous A.I. once and for all. Portal 2's intelligent gameplay helps players grasp physics and cooperative gameplay concepts in ways that people our parents' age could only have dreamed of when they were young and exposed to the "educational" games of their youth. Taken with the fact that it is well designed and fun, Portal 2 is the embodiment of great pop educational entertainment.
The player has limited tools in order to complete the puzzles and escape Aperture. The main tool used in the game is the portal gun, which shoots entrance and exit portals so Chell can create her own paths around obstacles. Over the course of the game, puzzles become more complex and new elements are added. Some of these elements include simple tasks, such as picking up a cube and putting it on a pressure pad to open up a door, or more complicated tasks like shooting fourteen portals in under one second to fling yourself across deadly brown water. All of these obstacles, including deadly water, spikes, lasers, walls that can't have portals on them, etc., force the player to be more creative and adaptive to his/her environment. You can’t solve puzzles without hypothesizing, experimenting, and usually failing first. While the puzzles can be incredibly hard at the end, they never become frustratingly difficult.
Puzzles are physics-based so the player develops an implicit understanding of ideas like force, velocity and momentum even if he/she doesn’t learn the terminology. Gameplay doesn't lend itself perfectly to how physics works in the real world (portal definitely does not exist yet), but the Source engine creates very realistic interactions with the environment. For instance, you use your momentum to propel you across gaps or up walls. The game's physics are also consistent: they follow the laws that have been set up in the game. For example, all matter interacts in the same way when it comes in contact with two types of gel players can use in the game and the portals have the same properties for objects as they do for Chell.
Portal 2 also pushes your creative limits by incorporating a cooperative game play mode, where two players use four portals and teamwork to solve puzzles. A mechanic such as quick wheel allows you to make alerts and suggestions for simple commands, such as placing a portal or getting people's attention. A countdown timer makes it easy for online players to communicate if they don't have voice chat. The game also allows players to see through their partner's screen since they can't physically point.
Most puzzles can only be solved if both players are cooperating and working together with precision. One of the best game features is the ability to high five or hug your teammate after completing a puzzle. This addition increases fun and camaraderie. No matter how much you may want to pull out each other's hair during the puzzle cooperative, players always share the wonderful taste of victory after.
After you've finished the single player and co-op modes, players can venture into the Portal 2 modding community and learn how to make their own levels using the Portal 2 Authoring Tools (for those who play on PC). Mods or modifications are a feature of several video games that allow users to create their own elements or even entirely new levels or sub-games, and require a direct application of learning gained by playing the original game. Creating mods is an even better way of getting into the physics of the game since you have to create solvable puzzles using principles of momentum that you've just learned in the game. Valve, the company that designed Portal 2, is also exploring the possibilities of using Portal 2 in classrooms to teach physics (www.learnwithportals.com).
Portal 2 is available for PC, Mac, XBox 360 and PS3 platforms.