Portal 2 and spatial problem solving skills.
Portal 2 is a science fiction puzzle game, on the PS3 and other platforms. Each level is a spatial puzzle, requiring the player to interact with the environment and change it or behave within it so as to achieve an unstated spatial aim. The puzzles are of varying difficulty, throughout, some of them very obscure indeed, requiring quite a bit of thought to solve. It is, I would say, aimed at engaged, smart, young adults, willing to put in the hours to solve the puzzles. It requires, therefore, a much more thoughtful approach than is typical of computer games. Thus, it most likely appeals to the more cerebral game player.
In June of this year, Fintan received Portal 2 for his birthday, from his grandmother (my mother). He couldn’t have been happier at his present and immediately dived into the game world, on the very first day. Ainan joined him on the adventure and Tiarnan watched, largely silently, from the sidelines. Together, they solved every puzzle in the game, and completed it in a few days. However, there was one day which was particularly surprising. Ainan and Fintan had encountered a particularly devious puzzle. They had wrestled with it, together for much of one afternoon, whilst Tiarnan had watched them. Then they decided to take a break. Whilst they did so, Tiarnan, five, picked up the controls and began to play. A few minutes later, his little voice could be heard crying: “I did it! I did it!” Ainan and Fintan rushed to see what had happened. To their shock, Tiarnan had solved the problem, on his own, that had stumped them for hours. Ainan came to me with the news and I came to see for myself what he had done.
Tiarnan’s solution struck me as complex and clever – yet he had seen it in a few minutes of being in charge of the controls. I understood, then, that Tiarnan was showing considerable skill in spatial thinking. This was not the only time I had been led to understand so – but this example was particularly striking since I know that both of his elder brothers are also strong spatial thinkers. Tiarnan’s grasp of spatial problems is rather uncanny. How could he have solved, so quickly, that which had stumped his two elder brothers for a few hours? Part of the reason, might have been the obscurity of the solution...and somehow Tiarnan’s thinking leads him to consider obscure solutions, or less likely approaches.
That Tiarnan should have solved a difficult problem so quickly, with such apparent ease, reminds me of Ainan’s early years, when he, too, did things that were totally surprising and quite beyond belief. There seems to be much in common between the eldest and youngest brothers, which is not surprising, I suppose, given their common origin.
It was funny to watch Ainan and Fintan’s reaction to Tiarnan’s solution to the problem. They were very excited for him. There was no jealousy, at all. In fact, they were really impressed that he had done so. They, more than myself, knew how hard the problem was – and how surprising it was, therefore, that Tiarnan should have solved it. It is good to see them accepting each other, without rancour and being positive towards the abilities and achievements of each other. I have never seen any achievement inspired envy in any of them. I am glad that this is the prevailing “culture” in the family – long may it be so.
It should be noted that the problem that Tiarnan solved was the only one that Ainan and Fintan could not solve, in good time, themselves. There was something unexpected about it, which had thwarted them.
I can recommend Portal 2 as a challenge to any child and adult. I warn you though – that, to solve the game, many an hour, will have to be invested. It seems to me that a bright child is more likely to invest that time than a time harried adult. Nevertheless, both will find the challenge interesting. It is a game that actually requires an intellect to play – and there are too few of them around. I hope, one day, that there is a Portal 3 for my children to enjoy.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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