The “Broken Rooms” Portal 2 Lesson: An Exploration of Erroneous Examples in a Classroom Setting

The commercial game, Portal 2, is a puzzle-based game in which the user solves puzzles presented in a series of “test chambers.” Upon the successful completion of a puzzle the user is allowed to exit that particular chamber and thus makes progress within the game. The associated level design tool, The Puzzle Maker, enables users to create additional rooms (test chambers) for the game.

The Broken Rooms lesson was designed by Geoff Moore and Lisa Castaneda so students would manipulate pre-built rooms, however, the rooms had inherent design errors and were therefore unplayable as presented. Essentially, the rooms were erroneous examples of how a real room would work. Students would need to identify and then fix the rooms at the design level so they would become playable. The task of fixing the rooms would be too simple for students if they were allowed to use any tool available in their solutions. Therefore, additional constraints were imposed upon each broken room that limited the options students had for fixing the room. It was expected that students would find it much more difficult to fix a room if there were constraints involved and thus the cognitive demand of the lesson would be higher. The link for the lesson is included in the reference section.

This paper is an exploration of a few general questions the author had about using The Broken Rooms with middle school students. Would the use of erroneous examples challenge the students in a different way than simple level-design problems? Would student knowledge from fixing the broken rooms enable them to effectively create their own broken rooms? Does differential skill-level within the game affect the problem-solving skills required in the lesson? Research on erroneous example use in math classrooms, particularly through the use of video games, is still limited. It is hoped that the observations from this exploratory teacher research will be beneficial to future work in this area.