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Portal 2 Getting Level Creation Tools For Schools

Portal-2-Romance-Safety.jpgAsk anyone who's grown up with Oregon Trail or Carmen Sandiego, and you'll hear: they don't make educational games like they used to. Whether it's in a classroom filled with laptops or huddled around the school's only Apple ][, games have been trying to gain a foothold in classrooms for decades, usally with limited success. Seeing the bullish mix of fun + facts coming from trivia games these days, it's easy to imagine a board of the best professors pondering the question, 'how do we get kids' attention?', and answering brilliantly with a sketch of a GameBoy.

Sadly, just involving a controller isn't enough to get an increase in brain activity from the student sector--instead, the more proper question is turning out to be, 'how can games as simulations teach these lessons?' Educators have been hooked on the idea of word problems to offer context to abstract math problems, but taking it one step further to involve students in a virtual representation of their vector choices makes even more sense. Wednesday, Gabe Newell of Valve was discussing this very thing at the Games for Change conference. Here he talks about adding a tutor-centric layer to the Portal authoring tools:

The number of times I solved problems about how fast will this be going at this time -- how about if it's on the moon? It's a lot easier to get people excited about it [education] if they're on the moon and they get to throw the rock at the piece of glass that breaks the glass that lets all the robots fly out.

That does sound easy! It also sounds like an episode of Magic School Bus, so I expect GLaDOS to be rocking some frizzy red hair the next time I see her.

Joystiq heard more details about what Gabe meant after the conference: rather than playing Portal and analysing its physics, the new program layer will actually allow players to tweak only certain objects in the world--say, the trajectory of an Aperture Science Aerial Faith Plate--in order to solve problems and, perhaps, eventually create their own level using smaller, isolated challenges.

This isn't the first time Portal's appeared in the classroom, either - erudite gamers will remember a course at Wabash College in Indiana wherein the first game was required reading. The course presented human interaction as a thespian endeavor, and profesor Michael Abbott believed the breakdown of the Aperture Science myth was ideal for the metaphor.

While today's adult gamers might be distraught over not having these applied-gaming solutions available in their own youth, it is promising to know that the opportunities for games to transform into teaching tools are being leveraged for the next generation. Now to find out of all those hours in the 'character creation' screen can transfer over to design credits...!

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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