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 writesThe 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-masterpieceis 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'sexcellent critical analysisfrom 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 onFacebookandTwitter.