Mom, do you want to learn about the game Portal? Co-creating Conceptual Frameworks

H: Mom – do you want to learn about the game Portal?
Me: Sure!
(considered pause)
Me: Wait a second – what does that mean? Will you tell me about it for five minutes or will I have to commit to playing for 20 years?
H: (laughing) I am going to show you the physics of Portal. The physics of Portal don’t make sense.
Me: Okay – I’m in…

Ummm… if I don’t return – please know I am in good company…

And so begins another laid-back Sunday afternoon at our house:

H is patiently schooling me in Portal: explaining the premise and navigating the game with fluid and deft confidence.

As it turns out – the physics do make sense, H explains, once you understand the function of the portal gun. It is a little like breaking the time/space continuum…

Using the portal gun to create doorways, he leaps from place to place and anticipates ways to move himself and other items through dimensions and space.

Image from: www.funnyjunk.comTruth be known – it makes me a little dizzy…

He even demonstrates infinity… as a never-ending portal loop.

I can easily recognize that I am out of my league, but I sit back and enjoy the tour, happy (and somewhat relieved) to be an enthusiastic apprentice or co-pilot.

I am in awe of H’s ability to navigate this world and deal with the complexities of multiple spacial perspectives and to orient himself in space and dimension… and then rather eloquently explain it all to me.

I am impressed with the planning and understanding required and at how easily he navigates this.

This is executive function at its best!

I commented, “Wow, I am blown away with your skill and ability to understand and anticipate what your actions will do and how spaces are connected with the portal gun. Hmmmmm…” (wheels turning) “This seems similar to the kind of thinking I use in navigating the social world!”

H seemed surprised and curious, “Really???”

At this point we paused the game for a few minutes and we had an interesting discussion about the ways that social interactions are like playing Portal, and how some of his gaming skills might be of use when he is feeling overwhelmed.

Some of his strengths in this game are exactly the skills we often assume he is lacking… (ya… I know!)

I shared my observation, “I can see how you have to think about what you will do ahead of time and plan ahead in the game”

We explored what not planning would do in the game – and how he is not just randomly or impulsively pressing buttons to get a reaction or because he is uncertain what else to do.

H elaborated, “Our movements fling us forward or can drop us into toxic waste…”

“Wow. Yes!”

And then I could see the wheels turning as he made the rather powerful connection that the planning and understanding of action and response in Portal is similar to the thinking that is helpful to use in social situations. H seemed quite taken aback at the similarities, and I was too.

“Mom… I think Portal is kinda like relationships…”

“Ummmhmmm… interesting…”

H is a metaphorical thinker, like me, so he really understood this. There was more to our conversation – but the thing is I have a new understanding of my son and I think he may have a few new understandings as well – and we had fun together!

We now have a framework for connecting ideas and concepts and talking about the social world, and a metaphorical construct to assist and support our discussion in unwinding and demystifying social complexities.

Today I had a chance to see my son’s abilities from a different angle, and we were able to collaborate to frame these skills in a way that might help him have a greater understanding of his movements and planning in social interactions.  It may even be that this supports him to generalize his skill in a new way and make his thinking about challenging environments a bit easier.

Portal gun image from Think GeekHowever, there is more to consider here…

If the tables were turned… I would clearly be lost in the Portal world.

Now that is an interesting shift of perspective; I am fortunate that my lack of these skills is not generally considered a deficit in my functioning.

But what if it were…


Note: Portal Loop Image Credit: /Portal Gun Image Credit: thinkgeek


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

©Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2013)   

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in Autism, executive function, Flexible thinking, mentor/apprentice, other-ability, perspective of others, Social cognition and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Mom, do you want to learn about the game Portal? Co-creating Conceptual Frameworks

  1. ischemgeek says:

    Portal is fun! I need to go buy it on Steam and play it again, when I’m done with Dragon Age 2. I love spatial reasoning puzzles.

    If your son likes Portal that much, he might like this short video, if he hasn’t seen it already. Basically, an amateur filmmaker decided to explore what would happen if he was able to get a real life portal gun. It’s kid safe, but rather noisy so maybe not work appropriate (no naked people or cursing, just some shouting, though).


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thank you! H will think that is fabulous and I suspect, with his interest in film making, we might just see a new life breathed into his somewhat dusty arsenal of Nerf guns!


      • ischemgeek says:

        Oh, if he likes film-making, definitely show him more of Freddie Wong’s stuff – the guy has how-to videos and commentary on all of the videos he makes to show people how to do their own special effects. It’s amazing the stuff he does. If you’re worried about age-appropriateness, at its worst his stuff PG-13 ish for violence and mild cursing, but much of it would be PG or even G rated, so it’s something mostly teenager safe for exploring as a Youtube channel.


  2. Liz says:

    I love this metaphor! Thanks H 🙂


  3. This is brilliant. Thank you x


  4. colinb897 says:

    I’m with you all the way in this. Co-creating frames of reference is key. Not leaving our children bereft of frames of reference on their experiencing and aspiring, is key. Having these frames of reference co-accessed and co-used and co-serving, is key. You tell the truth of all this in a way which allows others to get in on the process of co-creation. Thank you H and LK.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.