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Best homework ever: Portal recognised as a legitimate academic text

Don't you just hate it when you're getting ready to leave class and your college lecturer drops the bomb that you'll have to spend the weekend playing one of the best games ever made? It's just unfair. But that's the foul fate that's soon to befall some students at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The insidious academic slave-driver responsible is one Michael Abbott, a cruel and relentless workmaster who not only lectures at the arts college, but also writes The Brainy Gamer Blog, a site dedicated to thoughtful and analytical discussion of games. What a bastard.

He's decided that Portal is to be a text on a new required course at the college, called 'Enduring Questions'. It's a reflective, existential unit based around understanding the nature of humanity from different perspectives. Other texts up for study on the course include Hamlet, Aristotle's Politics and Gilgamesh. But how does Portal fit into all of this?

Valve's mini-masterpiece is being used as a study of how people try to maintain an outward persona while struggling internally to maintain that impression. The key subject is of course GLaDOS, whose increasingly deranged attempts to maintain an intimidating, authoritative front to protagonist Chell progressively fall apart with every one of the test subject's victories over Aperture Science's trials, culminating in Chell's discovery and dominance of the facility's hidden 'backstage' area. It's a great reading of a great and multi-layered game (if you want further evidence of Portal's depth, check out our own Mr. McNeilly's excellent critical analysis from a few years back), and one I applaud  Mr. Abbott for formalising in an official academic arena.

You'll probably know that I'm constantly banging on about games' glorious evolution into a proper, nuanced, expressive artistic medium. The notion has been building for a while, but now the inertia is unstoppable. And while it's going to take a little longer yet, if academic professionals like Michael Abbott are now bringing game studies into otherwise non-game-related courses, it's now a matter of 'when', not 'if', for games being recognised as important works of art alongside the likes of movies and literature.

Good work sir, good work indeed. More of this sort of thing.

But what do you reckon? Would you be interested in studying games academically? Do you think this sort of thing really matters? Or would you be happier just having fun and not thinking of the deeper implications of what you're doing? Let me know in the comments, or start a seminar on our social hotspots on Facebook and Twitter.

Source: MSNBC Technolog 

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20 comments

  • waffledragon33 - September 17, 2010 11:11 p.m.

    cool
  • ZackAttackf - September 12, 2010 3:42 a.m.

    this is grea! I read this literary analysis on "Still Alive" about how GLaDOS is pissed that she's still alive. hehehe
  • abasewithnosenseofbelonging - August 26, 2010 5:22 p.m.

    Art - noun "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance." Where's the argument exactly???? Gaming has been educating, entertaining, amusing, enthralling and exciting me since i was 3 years old, avidly waggling away on the 2600. It is a developed, and complex, form of art which, like all good art should, provokes discussion and debate on a wide variety of subjects It consumes some and leaves others cold as stone, it is divisive but capable of reaching into most corners of our civilization with its appeal in some form or another. All of this could be said of theatre or sculpture, or painting or poetry and yet it is still not acceptable to describe it in the same way. Given enough good people like the above pushing the notion forward, this will change though and the sooner the better (why should going to a game store be more embarrassing then going to a bookstore?). Hope that rambling rant makes sense, its the first time i have posted on the site.. :-/
  • toastile - August 26, 2010 6:31 a.m.

    +10 points for 'games are art' debate.
  • Zeb364 - August 26, 2010 6:30 a.m.

    As long as they continue to use proper, intellectual games then definately it's a great idea.
  • axelgarcia1 - August 26, 2010 1:21 a.m.

    id rather keep it simple... life is complicated enough as it is... videogames for some people are an escape from reality, i dont wanna have to worry about putting such deep thoughts into something i love simple
  • Hobojedi - August 25, 2010 10:23 p.m.

    That would be quite fun to write about.
  • CandiedJester - August 25, 2010 5:34 p.m.

    I think it's great! I wish I could take that class. There are plenty of games that are worth thinking about. I would most definitely be interested in studying certain games and their themes in the academic sphere. Most certainly. :D
  • IamNOTatalkingpony - August 25, 2010 5:20 p.m.

    In a few years time I want it common place to be hearing things like "I want that essay about the characters in Bioshock on my desk by Monday Perkins!"
  • oufour - August 25, 2010 5:10 p.m.

    "one of the best games ever made" now that's a bit much. it's good but it's not incredibly brilliant.
  • NanoElite666 - August 25, 2010 4:57 p.m.

    I see the name Michael Abbott, and my brain instantly turns it into Michael AMOTT, of Carcass and Arch Enemy fame. :P
  • WickedSid - August 25, 2010 4:39 p.m.

    Never thought that Portal was an edutainment game. The More you Know!
  • IsaacFenix - August 25, 2010 3:52 p.m.

    Professor: "Where's your paper?" Student: "Oh! Sorry, I was up all night studying for my 'Enduring Questions' course. That Professor Abbott is a real hard-ass when it comes to Portal."
  • BlindMarksman - August 25, 2010 3:52 p.m.

    Ah yes, Portal! I have fond memories of it. I remember the time when i was trying to assemble Neutrinos in a pattern which could be exploited as a functional energy source. I was stuck at a particularly difficult equation. But then i found Portal. By the time i completed it, i realized the missing part of the equation suddenly "clicked". And therefore i thank Portal for helping me self sustain my house (In energy terms)and i hope everyone can take profit of it. So there you go kids! Portal makes you smarter!
  • lionheart1986 - August 25, 2010 3:16 p.m.

    Not only is it great reading, but it's super cheap on Steam so that lessens the burden of paying a lot of money for textbooks and other reading material. Plus it's one of the best games ever. Fun and educational!!!
  • Felixthecat - August 25, 2010 3:03 p.m.

    I'd of thought that playing Portal anyway makes you use your brain a lot. I mean, it's been proven that Tetris puts your brain into a mathematical mode of thinking, and I don't see that being played in schools and whatnot.
  • ThatGuyFromTV - August 25, 2010 2:48 p.m.

    keep us updated on how this works out, I'm really interested to see what happens with this
  • n00b - August 25, 2010 2:40 p.m.

    if only my teachers thought like this. its good to see people realize games for their artistic merit. other good ones for literary study are bioshock, braid, shadow of the colossus and silent hill 2. in fact i think silent hill 2 is just as good or better than any book i had to read for a literary analysis
  • TomMishkin - August 25, 2010 2:33 p.m.

    This is really interesting indeed: I'm starting to delve deeper and deeper into the subject of game studies 'cause I'm writing a master's degree thesis on "Images of science in videogames", and I'm finding the subject to be far more interesting than I thought. Usually I'm fairly suspicious about pop culture going academics, not because I find it to be uninteresting or useless or whatever, but just because I find them to be needlessly complicated, verbose and sometimes just plain obscure. Game studies, though, are a relatively new field as far as I know, and maybe that's why they seem so interesting: they're still fresh and have things to say. I'm going offtopic, though, 'cause this article is yet another step towards a whole different goal, one that every advocate of the "games are art" opinion is eagerly looking forward to: a world where a game like Portal can sit alongside with Hamlet is a better and more complete world, as far as I'm concerned. My two cents on the matter are simple: authoriality in videogames must be recognized and given its proper weight. As soon as we'll accept that a game designer is an author trying to tell us something about, well, "life, the universe and everything" (or maybe just one aspect of) in the same way that a writer or a director or a painter is, we'll have definitely bridged the remaining gap between our medium and all the others. I'm not going to re-read what I wrote so forgive me for any mistakes and stuff. BTW, my reCaptcha said "hankim Dostoevsky's", is it trying to tell me something?
  • CAPST3R - August 25, 2010 2:27 p.m.

    As long as they don't give us MW2, then it'll be great.

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