GeekKid Gabe visits the Aperture Science Laboratories

Geek Culture

Image: Gabe's Portal World

I was completely taken by surprise at how quickly my son took to Portal. I once heard that a good game has simple rules, but can be endlessly variable. The rules for Portal are simple. The portal gun shoots one blue portal and one orange portal. Walk through one, and you appear at the other.

Gabe plays with a combination of trackpad, keyboard and mouse. Not yet having the dexterity to control a mouse with the WADS key combo, he uses the cursor keys to walk forward and back, gently guiding his character with a finger on the Mac trackpad. When he needs a secondary portal, he lines up the crosshairs and reaches for the right-mouse-button.

It can be painstaking to watch him navigate a test chamber. Watching a five-year-old do anything is painstaking. Fathers across the ages usually reach in and take over. Whether it’s an Airfix Spitfire model or soldering a 2 kilo-ohm resistor, fathers are taken by an “oh, here’s how it’s done” impulse. (Somewhere in Africa two and a half million years ago, a mature Homo habilis impatiently snatches a half-made flint knife from his offspring and begins to chip.)

I remind myself: there is no time limit. We don’t need to be anywhere. So I let him keep going at his speed. And he starts to amaze me.

Not only is Gabe quickly understanding that when he enters HERE he appears THERE, but also deftly navigates the disorienting 3D space. I leave the room for a few minutes and when I come back he his solved two more chambers by himself.

The world has so taken his imagination. In long car trips, we sing “Still Alive” together. We spend the journey from the local shops running, ducking bullets from imaginary turrets, Gabe providing the sing-song “Target acquired…target lost…”

When we get home he spends several delightful hours designing Portal 3.

He starts school next year, and I wonder how many teachers are going to be ready for this generation who have been raised in these digital spaces, learning problem solving skills in an engaging narrative.

It’s a narrative so engaging that he doesn’t yet see the difference between imagined and actual realities. Gabe has already asked for a real portal gun and long-fall boots for Christmas.

[This is a guest post by Sean M. Elliott.]

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