No, I’m not talking about playing The Secret of Monkey Island on your iPhone during another boring math lecture. I’m talking about games forming a part of a course curriculum…in this case, Valve‘s Portal being assigned as “required reading” (so to speak) for incoming freshmen at Wabash College:
Wabash’s incoming freshmen are now assigned the classic first-person puzzler ‘Portal’ as required “reading.” Professor Michael Abbot pushed to have the game added to the curriculum for “Enduring Questions,” a required seminar for all new students that acclimates them to critical readings and discussions in a college environment.
The game is being used specifically as a companion piece to Erving Goffman‘s ‘Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.’ After reading the landmark sociology tome, students will play through ‘Portal’ as an interactive illustration of the struggle over perception at the heart of ‘Presentation.’ Using a video game to augment the interpretation of a traditional text seems like an ideal way to ease both students and educators into the act of “reading” video games. In a blog post, Abbot says he considered including a game as a stand-alone assignment (as apparently ‘Bioshock‘ was on the short list of candidates, too), but, in the end, decided to go with ‘Portal’ and ‘Presentation’ because they make “a good first impression.”
Granted, computer games have had a bit of a niche in education already, as some colleges and universities have added game design courses to their computer science curricula…but this usage of Portal will reach a much wider audience, a significant portion of the student body at Wabash. Given how ubiquitous games have really become in society (consider: Halo: Reach brought in $200 million in its first day of sales; that is a bigger one-day gross than any one-day gross for any movie, ever (although the stats for movies are US domestic, whereas the Reach stats are global), and would be enough — were Reach a movie — to rank 20th overall for largest worldwide opening (besting out The Dark Knight, but being in turn bested by Iron Man), it was only a matter of time before games began popping up in non-technical course curricula.
And now that day is here.