Portal Becomes Required Reading At Wabash College

Illustration for article titled Portal Becomes Required Reading At Wabash College

Freshmen at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana this year will be required to read Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, the poetry of John Donne, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Valve's Portal.


Michael Abbott, the proprietor of video game blog The Brainy Gamer and a teacher at the small liberal arts college found himself part of a committee last year tasked with creating a new all-college course devoted to "engaging students with fundamental questions of humanity from multiple perspectives and fostering a sense of community." The course would gather together classic and contemporary works across multiple disciplines in order to have students "confront what it means to be human and how we understand ourselves, our relationships, and our world."

Being The Brainy Gamer, Abbott's mind immediately went to gaming, specifically Portal, and even more specifically to a recent essay by Daniel Johnson on Portal and its connections to Erving Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

Abbott merged the ideas together and decided to propose that students read Goffman's work and then play through Portal. Now he only had to get the idea through committee.

I pitched the idea to my colleagues on the committee (decidedly not a collection of gamers), and they agreed to try Portal and read selections from Goffman's book. After plowing through some installation issues ("What does this Steam do? Will it expose me to viruses?"), we enjoyed the first meaningful discussion about a video game I've ever had with a group of colleagues across disciplines. They got it. They made the connections, and they enjoyed the game. Most importantly, they saw how Portal could provoke thoughtful reflection and vigorous conversation on questions germane to the course.

So now Portal will be required "reading" at Wabash College, rolled out slowly as the teachers figure out how to deal with licensing, installation, making sure educators who had never touched a video game knew what they were doing.

Is it too late for me to go back to college?

Portal on the booklist [The Brainy Gamer]



I'm curious. What games, whether Portal itself or otherwise, do you all think could be studied in depth in this manner?

I would have loved to say Braid, as the early insights on love and forgiveness were truly beautiful — but that game's story became as unraveled by the end as I've ever seen a game resort to "make-your-own-interpretation" nonsense.

Basically, though I'm not sure Portal even bothered to have this problem, I find it odd when games or any other medium just slap a bunch of incoherent thoughts together and challenge the viewer to "make his/her own interpretation," thus essentially cobbling together a 'meaning' for his or her own self. What do you all think? Do you prefer the private-interpretation approach, or do you prefer it when a game is clear and direct regarding its insights?

("The path of the righteous is not always easy, yes? The reward will become clear in time. Be patient." ~ Bioshock)