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Thinking With Portals: Gabe Newell Puts Portal 2 in Schools

News; Jun. 23, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Tyrone M. Cato
Subtypes: News
Video games as curriculum? Yes, says Gabe Newell

While it hasn't been determined whether the class will fall into science or humanities, Gabe Newell revealed he is working with various schools to create a curriculum focused on Portal 2

Portal 2

Newell, managing director of Valve Corporation (Half-Life series, Team Fortress 2, Portal series), spoke on June 22nd at the Games for Learning Institute's keynote, a part of the eighth annual Games for Change (G4C) festival, which started Monday at New York University's law school. G4C, a movement consisting of individuals from various fields, pledges itself to using games for education and for promoting social change. 

During the keynote, Newell showed a video of a group of 7th graders he took on a field trip to Valve headquarters. There, the students were able to build a test room in Portal. Using the Hammer level editing software, the kids caught on quickly, said Phil Co, level designer at Valve Software.

Newell said Portal 2 involves physics and problem solving, which in turn, makes it educational. He cites the game's $3 million sales as proof that a game can be both commercially successful and educational, which is something he says a lot of the industry doesn't believe.

In addition to Portal, Newell mentioned the 30 million gamers who use Steam (Valve Software's digital distribution platform), saying that the large audience allows Valve to get a good sense of what kind of game design works best and what techniques help people to learn.

Valve often allows and encourages its players to create within level editors for the company's games, and Newell says this lets the audience become auteurs, changing the whole concept of a creator making a product that is then used by a consumer. A game is not an isolated piece of content and instead should be a worldwide market for people, he said.

Newell discussed how video games (and their communities) have been used to raise funds for those in need, citing how selling in-game hats to players in Team Fortress 2 allowed Valve to raise $500,000 in two weeks for the Japan tsunami fund. The social environment centered on video games can be harnessed in positive ways that benefit many, he said. 

Games have much potential beyond entertainment. If the things Newell addressed in his keynote presentation come to fruition, not only will education become more engaging, but our kids will be help us figure out how to beat those Portal challenge maps.

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