A pain in the game…

Stuck at Level 15 in “Portal: The Flash Version”…. reminds me of the song in “Grease,” which includes, “Stranded at the drive-in. Branded a fool.”
My version: “Stranded at Level 15. Clearly, a fool.”

I would rather blog than game. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Period. Exclamation point. Done. But I have no choice. It is an assignment for my second to last class in my master’s in education program. Taking “Gaming and Simulations in Education” is required if I am to achieve my goal of graduating in Educational Technology. In just the first week of this  intense, eight-week challenge, I am playing and reviewing a game, in addition to reading (lots!) and writing that gaming is a great way to educate…

Oh, the irony! Throughout my nearly 15 years of teaching English, I have often had a student who has dared to write his persuasive research paper on the topic “why video games are beneficial.” Dared, I say, because I have made my opposition to gaming clear to all.  Yet year after a year, a student attempts to persuade me otherwise in his supposed research—and fails.

But here I am, playing games and force-feeding myself literature on the benefits of digital games and simulations as a tool for learning—and finding some credence for what is written. If my students only knew!

As you likely have guessed, I am not an avid gamer. Not even close. As a child, my family rarely had a television set, and only rich friends had game systems. That’s where I played “Pong” (loved it!). Occasionally, I played the digital games of the time at arcades (such as “Frogger,” a concept I understood much better than “PacMan”), but I never felt I was missing much by not having regular access to digital games. (And as I got older, I got to know some addicts whose lives have convinced me I wasn’t missing much.)

But here I am playing games while my work piles up around me. My students and son are jealous; my Facebook friends are laughing (but offering advice). And I am longing to clean floors and do laundry, complete lesson plans, and grade papers–which must look as tantalizing to me as Christmas does to a child compared to trying to beat Level 15, where I am currently stuck playing Portal: The Flash Version (free online).

I’ve managed the infinite loop but cannot for the life of me figure out how to create a new portal in time to allow a jump high enough to then sail into another portal created on the fly (literally), which would then propel me through the electrocuting plates, all while avoiding the abysses, and launch me (appearing as an orange-suited, portal-pistol carrying, manly-looking mama) into the next passageway.

See? Gaming is resulting in nonsensical, nearly run-on sentences. My husband said this may be the only course I fail in my master’s program–which he said while laughing (this after scolding me for not jumping up immediately to make his oatmeal because I was engrossed in the game). Hello? This is a course required in my program; gaming is required; failing is not an option.

Play I must. (However, make breakfast I must, too, it seems.)

The assignment so difficult for me may seem simple to you: “Select one of your favorite games or simulations to complete this assignment. Play your selected game or simulation while thinking about the criteria listed below. After having thought about all of the characteristics, provide responses to each of the questions…. I am expecting complete answers in good English grammar. However, the document should not exceed 5-pages.”

I can manage “good English grammar,” or at least I could have before I started playing said game. And my document will not exceed five pages–unless I include whining, which is why I am pouring it all out to you when I should be answering the twenty-six essay questions assigned. (!) The hardest part for me was the first part, selecting a favorite game or simulation.

A friend in need (me) is a friend on Facebook.

So I turned to the experts–my friends on Facebook: They made several suggestions, two of which I seriously considered, “Words with Friends” and “Portal.” Since I like words, I tried “Words with Friends” first. I got as far as “Start a game with one of these friends” and stopped. I thought, “What if that person isn’t online right now?” and “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone” and “Who would be up at 5 a.m. to play with me?” I was paralyzed.

I had downloaded “Word Slinger” earlier in the week and rather enjoyed it, but it didn’t have avatars and sprites and other requirements within the questions I would need to answer. Then I tried Facebook’s “Blackwood and Bell” mystery game and the “Candy Crush Saga.” The only mystery I found in “Blackwood and Bell” was my wonder that anyone bothered to play it, but I rather enjoyed the “Candy Crush Saga,” because I found success in lining up three matching candies. And then “someone” (my husband) walked by and said it looked like a child’s game. (But Facebook is for those 13 and older, so we’re at least talking teen’s game, Rated T for tricky, right?)

Thus humiliated, I decided to bite the bullet and attempt “Portal,” a more complex game. Unwilling to purchase the game without trying it, I found the free version online, which is a two-dimensional, non-realistic version of the 3D game but garnered good reviews. I found it tricky enough (clearly, since I am still stuck at Level 15 out of 40) that I didn’t feel the need to purchase the real game (plus, I like to spend my money on something that will be used, and I’d rather not get into any more oatmeal vs. gaming battles).

I made it all the way to Level 5 before I needed some help–and the Internet came to my aid, with fellow gamers (real ones) offering their advice and even photos showing the location of portals to beat the system and get to safety. Even with their help, however, my efforts were somewhat trial and error, and I was thankful for the countless lives my avatar had–since I seemed to lack the agility and speed and, yes, know-how required to get him through without practice. Lots of practice.

Which is how I made it all the way to Level 15 (just 25 more levels to go!) before I became stuck. (Please see paragraph 6–which is one sentence–for more details on my challenges in Level 15.) I remain in the infinite loop.

On Monday, during our Big Blue Button class session, our professor asked us why we played games. My classmates, via the chat section, typed reasons such as entertainment, relaxation, procrastination, boredom, challenge, etc. I typed nothing. (I didn’t think typing “class requirement” would win me any points.) I’ve done my duty–at least for this week–and played a game.  I didn’t find it entertaining or relaxing. (I did procrastinate–by writing this blog post and avoiding gaming.) I wasn’t bored before (or during). But I was challenged to think in new ways. It was the puzzle the genre indicated.

With five hours of gaming under my belt, I was enlightened, and so I said to my husband, “I think I know why people play games.”

“They need the challenges, complexities, and puzzles the games provide. I don’t. My daily life is challenging enough.”

Seven weeks to go… 🙂

3 thoughts on “A pain in the game…

  1. I must say that I completed my assignment and had to trim it in order to get it down to just five pages single spaced–even without whining! It is submitted and I now turn to lesson planning and paper grading. (I snuck in some floor cleaning and laundry yesterday.) Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like Christmas to be able to do so… 🙂


  2. This reminds me of my English Lit classes I was taking during the brief period that I was working towards an English degree. (Spoilers: I learned that an English degree doesn’t doo much good in this crazy world.) One the first assignments we had to was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. More specifically, the opening letter written by Shelley after her book took off like an over-electrified corpse.

    In her writings she stated she didn’t wasn’t working to create a best seller, she just wanted to write a scary story. When the professor asked us would-be-lit-critics why she wrote what she did, was it for feminism, a way to criticize men and their arrogance? Why?

    “Well, it was because she wanted to write a scary story,” I said. “She says so in her opening letter.”

    “That’s not good enough,” the professor countered. “There’s always something deeper.”

    That’s when I realized English Lit critiques–and all subsequent critiques–were a waste of time. Sometimes a book is just a book. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a video game is just a video game.

    I think the best reason for video games (and you know I have a history with video games) is that they’re fun. There doesn’t need to be complicated reason. There’s a reason they’re called ‘games’.

    Some people like Sci-fi/fantasy novels, others like Chuck Norris movies, still others dare to bother with Twilight (ugh), others still prefer the company of cars. Because in the end, it’s all just plain simple fun.



    1. Thanks, Tal! I tend to be one of those English teachers who digs and sees but doesn’t stretch the literature to make it into something it isn’t… I think! I know you like video games–hey! maybe you could help me create one, if I am so called on this semester… I am of the school of thought in which “fun is where you make it,” and since most of my life is work-related, I try to make it all fun… even when it involves video games! Love you, Tal!


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