Starting this year, students at Indiana’s Wabash College will be enrolling in a new, required course entitled “Enduring Questions,” which will feature “classic and contemporary works from multiple disciplines” including the Epic of Gilgamesh, Aristotle, Shakespeare, the Tao Te Ching, and… Portal. Michael Abbott, a professor in Wabash’s Theater Department who blogs as The Brainy Gamer, has a fascinating post about the upcoming course and his suggestion to include a video game in the curriculum, as well as his reasons for ultimately choosing Portal, which will be taught in conjunction with selections of Erving Goffman’s seminal sociology text The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
As much as I’m tempted to start cracking geeky jokes about cakes and lies and the unbelievable falseness of lying lie-cake, I’m just too excited about the prospect of incorporating video games into a conventional liberal arts curriculum as a way for students to engage with legitimate sociological and philosophical issues. As Abbott points out, Wabash was founded in 1832, and this is the very first time a video game has appeared on a syllabus for one of its courses; as he says, “this is a big deal.” Here’s hoping that Abbott and his fellow forward-thinking educators continue to push the academic envelope by integrating gaming with more traditional texts and tools, especially as video games continue to raise the bar in terms of design, scope and complexity. I suppose it might be too much to hope that one day, every college will have their own personal evil AI to thank for widening their students’ educational horizons, but for now we can all rest easy in the knowledge that GLaDOS will be helping to shape impressionable young minds at Wabash for years to come.
Bridget McGovern used to ponder all sorts of enduring questions during marathon sessions of Wolfenstein, Doom and Tekken 3 (mostly pertaining to the existence of a god mode).