|Video games combine art, theatre, music, problem solving, and literary techniques in ways that engage, teach, and entertain.|
This week, we learned about a lot of things. We saw TED Talks on "boy culture" and, perhaps more memorably, one by a young boy about the stimulating educational benefits of World of Tanks, an online game. We also saw a video about an entire middle/high school in New York, the Institute of Play, where scholars learn in an environment that connects the curriculum to the designing and creation of video games. For instance, in order to make a video game with an engaging story about The Iliad or The Aeneid that was faithful to the material, students had to read and understand these stories on a deep level and then find a way to interpret the story through media/the creation of a game and present it. This made me think about Valve Software's Portal 2.
Portal and Portal 2 contain developer commentary, which you can access from the main menu for them and the rest of Valve's games since the release of The Orange Box onward. These games focus very, very heavily on challenging problem solving, deep and interesting characters, and an engaging narrative. The developer commentary contains a lot of insights into the work that went into the game and the testing phase for it. They employ a lot of educational techniques, including scaffolding, when teaching the skills needed to complete the game or giving details about the story behind the one that is told to you through character interaction. These games are so successful at this that I remember it was said (though I don't remember where) at its release that Portal had the most heart of any game that year, even though it contained one primary character besides you, the player. And you don't even speak.
Here is a great example from the commentary that shows how the developers adjusted the game's levels and employ scaffolding techniques in order to teach skills, create an engaging and heart-pounding experience, and surprise the player, defying their expectations. If I were to write a novel at some point in my life, I could definitely use a lot of the techniques for developing the story that Valve's developers did.
Be warned! This contains spoilers for the end of Portal 2.