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Portal On the Booklist At Wabash College

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the take-that-ebert dept.

Education 203

jamie passes along this quote from a post by Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer: "This year, for the first time, a video game will appear on the syllabus of a course required for all students at Wabash College, where I teach. For me — and for a traditional liberal arts college founded in 1832 — this is a big deal. Alongside Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Tao Te Ching, freshmen at Wabash will also encounter a video game called Portal. "

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Hooray (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320190)

First post bitches!

Re:Hooray (1)

xMilkmanDanx (866344) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320360)

And like the overused first post meme, so too will the professors leave this by the wayside after 30 papers entitled "The Cake is a Lie!" come across their desks.

Re:Hooray (1)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320718)

Now you're thinking with Wabash!

No Wonder (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320202)

No wonder americans are dumb

Coordination? (3, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320208)

Some people have never been exposed to WASD, but everyone knows how to read a book. Will people be expected to game to be culturally literate these days?

I'm not sure if that would be a bad thing, but it would be different.

Re:Coordination? (2, Insightful)

dingen (958134) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320260)

I think there would be more freshmen unfamiliar with reading a play or a novel than playing a mouse & keyboard controlled first person game.

Re:Coordination? (1)

OnePumpChump (1560417) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321314)

I doubt that. I'm pretty sure most of them would be more used to playing with a game pad.

Re:Coordination? (3, Interesting)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320278)

Yeah requiring manual dexterity introduces some new and interesting challenges. I wonder how they'll ensure every student is able to finish the games, or if that is even important enough to consider. The stats suggest that most of the upcoming generations have access to gaming systems, and play games of one kind or another, so they shouldn't be too out of their element.

As for cultural literacy...perhaps. You're expected to be able to engage with literature, academic text, cinema, the visual; performance; and oral arts, and so on at college - video games are just going to get added to the list. Entertainment has always been political and fundamentally positioned to reflect social and cultural attitudes, the more tools we develop to analyse what play means, the better.

Re:Coordination? (2, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320298)

Portal, at least for the PC has cheats to make it really, really easy to finish.

Re:Coordination? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320392)

Portal, at least for the PC, is really, really easy to finish.

Honestly, I played it through a couple months back on my laptop, with the touchpad. Nobody's going to have trouble because it's technically demanding; if there's any issues, it'll be because they're too dumb to figure out what's next, and also too lazy to look up a walkthrough online.

Re:Coordination? (2, Funny)

SleepyHappyDoc (813919) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320876)

I always thought cheats were frowned upon in the academic world.

Re:Coordination? (3, Insightful)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320992)

The class isn't testing your ability to play Portal. This would be a valid concern if grades depended on the time, step, or portal trials, but they clearly aren't. It would cheapen the experience, but there are already other ways of doing that for other sources.

Re:Coordination? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320378)

I'm assuming that, just as people with really worthless eyesight(and a doctor's note to that effect) aren't generally expected to read without accommodation, the gaming-challenged, er "gaming-differently-abled" will be able to use god-mode, or write essays based on videos of runs through, or something of that sort.

Re:Coordination? (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321180)

I'm tempted to enroll just so I can win a nice comfy settlement over their failure to accommodate my lack of post-Missile-Command gaming skillz, a result of reaching puberty in the late 1970s, and never looking back. And if that fails, my friend with cerebral palsy is sure to clean up... in court.

A little more seriously... surely they can't be assuming (as I'm sure most of the nerds here are) that anyone under the age of 25 has grown up with a controller in their hand. In my tech-support work, I've met a lot of people (mostly women, but not all) who, despite having been born after the Carter administration, who are about as familiar with gaming as most readers of this site are with cooking (without a microwave). Some people, regardless of their generation hate computers, and that includes game consoles. Expecting them to know how to navigate a video game that's put on their {ahem} "reading" list is going to be problematic.

Re:Coordination? (2, Insightful)

morari (1080535) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320778)

Portal was a pretty easy game by any standards. You don't really fight anything and most of the puzzles are pretty straight forward. Some of the portals require a quick turn of jump, but nothing a little practice couldn't quickly solve. The plot was humorous, but the gameplay was exceedingly simple considering the possibilities. There was a challenge mode to help balance that, I suppose.

Re:Coordination? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321144)

There's a part where you need to shoot a portal while falling in mid-air. That's easy for us. That's not easy for a complete non-gamer. My mother can't even play mario kart without constantly hitting the walls, never mind an FPS.

Re:Coordination? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321388)

Can she drive? 'Cos if so, then it's just a matter of her not trying very hard.

Re:Coordination? (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320390)

There are baseline courses that require watching movies, listening to music live, playing games, or other forms of consuming culture.

And If you want to be broadly culturally literate, you do have to do everything. Having people play Portal seems akin to having them read good recent books. I don't know how many titles I'd put on that list, but Portal is definitely one of them. Portal seems like a good choice as it is A: short, B: more puzzle than twitch, C: incredibly rich, D: not a resource hog.

Re:Coordination? (3, Insightful)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320532)

FTA:

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.

If non-gamer professors liked it, I am sure the students will be fine.

Re:Coordination? (1)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320854)

"Everyone knows how to read a book" isn't quite accurate. Everyone knows how to read, maybe (I'll go ahead and assume literacy for college courses), but that's not the same as marathon reading, especially for a book that doesn't interest you.

Personally, I've had a longstanding difficulty reading academic texts, to the point where I could say "I don't know how to read academic texts;" specifically, I don't know how to memorize from texts, I don't know how to get through long tedious overly-verbose sections and paraphrase them succinctly, hell, sometimes I don't know how to get through a particularly bad paragraph and still know what the hell the author was talking about or, if it's really bad, I don't know how to get through a page without falling asleep. Even saying that that's because textbooks are badly written, some people are going to have similar problems reading literature; it doesn't mesh with the way they presently think, and it's going to be a challenge to get through it, even if they know how to get through it word by word and sentence by sentence.

Similarly, while people are going to be able to pick up WASD controls at the surface level, they may not be attracted to it deeply enough to keep them motivated through difficult or annoying parts of the game. Not because Portal isn't a good game, but because it doesn't mesh with them. And unfortunately, they can't just turn to the next chapter and hope the prof doesn't ask questions about the part they skipped.

Re:Coordination? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33321112)

tl;dr

Re:Coordination? (2, Funny)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321318)

too lazy; downed ritalin?

ESDF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321302)

you insensitive clod

Portal :ADR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320220)

Portal: A Dataspace Retrieval [everything2.com] for the Commodore Amiga, right?

Not quite (2, Informative)

cappp (1822388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320228)

The most obvious problem is addressed near the end of the article

Deploying a game for an entire cohort to play at the same time requires more problem-solving than you might expect. We ultimately decided that hardware, installation, and licensing issues were complex enough to dissuade us from teaching Portal in all sections of the course this year; so I and a group of eager colleagues will play the game in our sections to work out the kinks. I don't want our first college-wide experience with a game to be plagued with problems.

So not quite as advertised, but certainly pretty cool nonetheless.

Steampowered.edu??? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320308)

if they thought a bit they could have had Steam set them up with a local server and a bunch of free keys for Portal

Re:Not quite (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320458)

I wonder what those issues were? it's not like portal is expensive. I would assume they already have computers.
You can assign a 100 dollar text book but not a 10 dollar game?

I wouldn't be surprised if valve gave them licenses. Portal 2 is coming, so getting more people interested in the series could only be good.

Re:Not quite (1)

networkz (27842) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320500)

Portal was free earlier this year, as a build up to Portal 2.

If the accounts were all Steam accounts were activated then, and the game added - it would cost nothing.

Re:Not quite (1)

jpapon (1877296) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320642)

I doubt the issue was cost, but rather access to hardware.

Seems to me like they're erring on the side of caution though, since I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a student attending a private (or public for that matter) university who didn't have a computer capable of running Portal at minimal settings.

Re:Not quite (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321222)

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a student attending a private (or public for that matter) university who didn't have a computer capable of running Portal at minimal settings.

Which Linux distros does it run on?

Re:Not quite (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321332)

These are college freshmen. They only know iPod and Facebook.

Re:Not quite (1, Insightful)

emkyooess (1551693) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320622)

Definitely licensing issues. Anyone cannot in good conscience force someone into a pretty negative licensing scheme as Steam. (Yes, I know, people are all the time at schools forced into things just as bad and even worse than that [turnitin.com, for example]. But still, it's pretty vile for a class to require a game that is forbidden from having a secondary market through exploitative licensing and DRM.

Re:Not quite (1)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320706)

Meh, modern textbooks almost always come with an online component (study guide, quizzes, multimedia resources, etc) that's provided via a one-time activation key. So it's really no different than a lot of modern games where the buy-new owner gets everything and the buy-used guy has to shell out for "extra" DLC content to get the complete experience.

Also, I really don't think many profs lose sleep at night worrying about licensing issues and students not being able to resell their crap.

Re:Not quite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320862)

are you serious? lets count the classes that require windows. visual studio. etc etc etc. you really missed the boat on this one. steam is no worse than any of the aforementioned products in regards to "licensing schemes".

the other 2 games are windows only now what if ste (0)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320692)

the other 2 games are windows only now what if steam get port blocked?

Don't think that that will not happen.

There was this one college that blocked gameing web site and they had a game coding courses at the same college.

Re:the other 2 games are windows only now what if (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320886)

This one time at band camp....

now i miss college even more (5, Funny)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320246)

Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record, followed by death.

Cliff's Notes (4, Funny)

lyinhart (1352173) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320250)

Buying into how absurd this is since Portal isn't a book, I guess Cliff's Notes should publish a Youtube runthrough of the game with annotations.

Re:Cliff's Notes (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320352)

I'm assuming reading the article is too much to ask of you, correct? He mentions that they're trying to take a multi-disciplinary approach to a certain course, and as such had faculty brainstorm to suggest non-text works that could be used (i.e., movies, music, paintings, etc).

Re:Cliff's Notes (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320410)

shhhhh! You're ruining the part where playing a game *is* doing your homework. It also requires some problem solving skills which are quite useful in the language arts.

Re:Cliff's Notes (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320544)

Not only that, but Portal isn't culturally relevant and it's not public domain. This will only cheapen the works of the books and the memory of their authors.

"Wabash College" will also become a laughingstock, if it isn't already. It already can't be very prestigious since it's just some tiny, mickey mouse school.

Re:Cliff's Notes (2, Funny)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320840)

I can't tell if this is a somewhat subtle troll, or someone with a VERY large stick in their posterior.

Re:Cliff's Notes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33321130)

isn't culturally relevant and it's not public domain

So you think the only material which should be covered is that which is culturally relevant and published long enough ago that it's part of the public domain? That's a short list and it's only going to become shorter as times goes on, barring some revolutionary change in copyright law.

Re:Cliff's Notes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320764)

This site does Cliff's Notes for games. Here's Portal's 30 minute entry:

http://warningspoilers.com/index.php?option=com_jmovies&Itemid=5&task=detail&id=1

This is a triumph (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320282)

I'm making a note here.

HUGE SUCCESS!

Wabash College? (1)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320300)

Everything went dark and a chill wind went up Rob Malda's back. A deep rumble rattled his brain in his skull. He let loose a mighty fart and glanced behind him to see Noel looming over him. "Simon, can you ping the Exchange server?"

When the trained bear that doubles as your IT manager asks that question, it's a bad thing. Simon tried to ping Exchange and failed. He then tried to ping an app server. And a database. And the outside world. All dead. About a thousand users were about to discover that the only IT asset they could access were their desktop computers. Shortly thereafter, the phone next to them was going to ring. The person at the other end would likely scream. And then it would ring again. The ringing and screaming would continue until the network was back up.

They hustled to the server room, with Malda's bulk clearing a path through the corridor. He was wearing a leather vest, chaps, boots and large-gauge steel rings through both nipples. It was hectic, and he may have trampled an intern. In one corner of the server room, a jump-suited man with a tool-belt bobbed his head to the music in his earphones. The server room was so quiet that the two could actually hear his music from across the room. "What have you done?" Rob rumbled. The ominous wave of fury failed to penetrate the shield of Lady Gaga songs the electrician had surrounded himself with. Rob closed on him and repeated the question, with more volume and a heavy hand on the shoulder...and the slick manly scent of his now engorged man-rod beneath his chaps.

Once he had the electrician's attention, he didn't wait for an answer. "I will tell you what you have done," Rob said, "since you obviously do not understand. You are drilling away into a little metal box that is labeled 'Uninterruptible Power Supply', rendering it quite interruptible and cutting power to the room."

"I I'll fix it" the electrician managed to croak out.

He set to work as well by providing a profanity laden commentary on the level of failure the electrician had just wreaked, how many tens of thousands of dollars of equipment the electrician had probably damaged, how many users were useless at the moment. The electrician worked through the tirade, which says good things about his saving throw versus intimidation, even if his saving throw against stupidity left something to be desired. With a sigh of relief, he ejaculated man juice and flipped the circuit breaker. Green blinking lights and the sounds of whirring disks filled the room. Then the breaker clunked back into position. The servers rattled back to silence. An expensive sounding clunk came from a hard drive somewhere in the room.

"I'll fix it!" the electrician squeaked. After a frantic adjustment, he flipped the breaker again. The show repeated itself, although the encore added some sparks in the UPS. The third time the electrician reached for the breaker, Noel nearly broke his hand off.

"I think that's enough of that for the day," Rob warned.

"The the breaker can't handle the load?"

Malda ignored the electrician and turned to Simon. "Do you think I can heave him up to the ceiling?" Simon looked up, and fifteen feet away, he saw the spare pin-and-sleeve-plugs that had been installed to power future expansion. Since the electrician didn't have a ladder -- and since Rob's throwing arm wasn't up to the task -- Simon clambered on his back. One egregious violation of the health-and-safety policy later, the server room was on a different circuit. A round of cajoling, screaming and cursing brought the servers back online, although a few HDDs were trashed. Rob's cock blood-pressure receded to something slightly less than the water pressure in the Challenger Deep, glistening beads of fresh cum sticking to his shaft, and Simon drafted a thoroughly plausible explanation as to why there were shoe prints above head level.

The root-cause for the debacle was traced back to Building Facilities. The server room, normally accessible only to sever admins and the facilities manager, contained an emergency power-off switch. Despite the fact that all of those people were quite clear about the purpose of the switch, and that it was clearly marked, someone with pointy-hair had deemed it an "unacceptable" risk, and decided to do an end-run past change-control to "fix" it. After all, if left unfixed, someone might cut off power to the server room and damage the equipment.

Sounds Easy (5, Funny)

sokoban (142301) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320366)

I bet that course is a total piece of cake

Re:Sounds Easy (5, Funny)

xMilkmanDanx (866344) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320404)

I bet that course is a total piece of cake

That's a lie

Re:Sounds Easy (4, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320464)

And you've killed your companion cube for it.

Re:Sounds Easy (0, Redundant)

stms (1132653) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320440)

The cake is a lie!!!

Re:Sounds Easy (1)

tool462 (677306) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320548)

It's a cross-disciplinary course required regardless of major. If it wasn't easy, there would be riots.

From the article:

Enduring Questions is a required freshman seminar offered during the spring semester. It is devoted to engaging students with fundamental questions of humanity from multiple perspectives and fostering a sense of community. Each section of the course includes a small group (approximately 15) of students who consider together classic and contemporary works from multiple disciplines. In so doing, students confront what it means to be human and how we understand ourselves, our relationships, and our world.

        The daily activity of the course most often involves discussion, and students complete multiple writing assignments for the course. As such, assessment of student performance emphasizes written and oral expression of ideas.

        Students may not withdraw from the course. All students must pass the course to graduate from Wabash.

It's essentially a light-weight philosophy course, likely aimed at incoming freshmen. Everybody passes a course like this, if they participate at least a little bit.

Re:Sounds Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33321042)

woosh

Re:Sounds Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320796)

Easy course or not, just getting Portal on the list is a triumph.

[aside]I'm making a note here: "Huge success."[/aside]

Proprietary (1, Insightful)

delirium of disorder (701392) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320380)

Portal is not only proprietary, but requires a proprietary OS. I know schools also often require proprietary academic software, but it strikes me as even more wrong to mandate non-free software for a mere game.

Re:Proprietary (1)

xMilkmanDanx (866344) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320414)

Given the costs of most college books, this might be cheaper than any other book required for their coursework. Wait, no, make that definitely cheaper than any other required book as Portal is down to the 10 - 20 buck range.

Re:Proprietary (3, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320454)

Windows, OS X, Linux/wine, BSD/wine, XBox 360, or PS3.

Re:Proprietary (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320486)

books are proprietary as well. SO is the technology in the microwave and the school cafeteryia, and in the monitiors, and everywhere. quick, go hide under a rock before big proprietary gets you.

It's a game that had a cultural impact and runs on OSX and Windows.

Re:Proprietary (2, Informative)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320540)

TFA implies (though admittedly doesn't seem to outright state) that it's being deployed on the school's hardware, not students'.

Re:Proprietary (2, Insightful)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320770)

Besides, even if it didn't, you're going to encounter one of two situations:

a) The student's computer is either Windows or Mac, and Portal runs on both.

b) The student's computer is Linux, BSD, etc.. Any student sufficiently knowledgeable about a more complex (to install), niche operating system can easily get Windows/Mac running, or WINE in Linux, etc. etc.

It's a moot point either way.

Welcome to real life (4, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320728)

If you go with the "You can't require any non-proprietary software," attitude you'll find you don't go very far. In the business world this is particularly true, they'll tell you precisely what you are going to use and you'll do so or get out. However university is the same way. I work at an engineering college they teach students on what is used in industry. Students use Cadence, Matlab, Solidworks, Office, and so on. We have labs, of course, since much of that software isn't licensed for use on non-university equipment. However you WILL use it to do your homework or you WILL fail. That is life. We aren't interested in philosophical debates about if information wants to be free, we are interested in teaching the tools companies want to help students get jobs.

Now I understand Portal is rather stupid as part of a curriculum, the whole thing sounds like what happens when you get a bunch of English majors together and they start overanalyzing everything. However it being proprietary is not a problem, not unusual.

If you go to university they will tell you what you have to get, and it often requires spending hundreds of dollars on particular books, using certain software packages and OSes and so on. That is life. You do what you like at home on your own time, but you don't get to tell your professor how to teach class, or your boss how to run a business.

Re:Welcome to real life (1)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320884)

If you go with the "You can't require any non-proprietary software," attitude you'll find you don't go very far. In the business world this is particularly true, they'll tell you precisely what you are going to use and you'll do so or get out. However university is the same way. I work at an engineering college they teach students on what is used in industry. Students use Cadence, Matlab, Solidworks, Office, and so on. We have labs, of course, since much of that software isn't licensed for use on non-university equipment. However you WILL use it to do your homework or you WILL fail. That is life. We aren't interested in philosophical debates about if information wants to be free, we are interested in teaching the tools companies want to help students get jobs.

I'm fairly sure GP was opposed to requiring students to buy proprietary software, not use proprietary software supplied on the college's dime. You don't honestly expect your students to shell out for matlab, do you?

Re:Welcome to real life (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321252)

'm fairly sure GP was opposed to requiring students to buy proprietary software [...] You don't honestly expect your students to shell out for matlab, do you?

I'm sure every school requires students to buy Windows or OS/X, and a bunch of books. It's in the noise, compared to the overall cost of education. If some students are not OK with that, they can study elsewhere (or nowhere, as it is more likely.)

Re:Welcome to real life (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321344)

I got through college just fine using Linux. I know plenty of other people who did as well.

That said, I don't see the difference between requiring the purchase of non-free software and requiring the purchase of non-free textbooks, especially as Portal runs just fine on Linux and no one is basing scientific research on its runtime results (the latter is done all the time, but seems a bit sketchy in terms of rigor and openness to peer review to me).

ITT Technical Institute or University of Phoenix? (5, Insightful)

jeko (179919) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321158)

We aren't interested in philosophical debates about if information wants to be free, we are interested in teaching the tools companies want to help students get jobs.

Yeah, Education for the Future!

Actually, real colleges are EXACTLY the place where you want to have philosophical debates about EVERYTHING so you don't become one of those idiots who think the University system exists to service Industry instead of building developed minds capable of critical thinking...

Re:Proprietary (1)

CautionaryX (1061226) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320776)

To be honest, I don't think it matters what kind of software people use in day-to-day computing operations. It seems to me that the Stallman followers argue for freedom to do what one wishes with one's computer and software; however if that choice includes 'non-free' or proprietary software it's wrong for one to use it. I wish Stallman and his followers would just stop being so hypocritical.

Re:Proprietary (1)

MrLint (519792) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320816)

Like those proprietary non free text books that they mandate for courses? Portal is cheap compared to those.

OH BTW, you need a proprietary printing press to print a book too...

Perhaps you want to suggest something else? Presumably you would have already...

convenient but useless (3, Interesting)

Dr. Hellno (1159307) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320384)

I like the idea of having a game on the syllabus, definitely very forward thinking. My problem is with the choice of game.
Portal was short, and as the author states it's multi-platform and fairly cheap, which goes a long way toward making this kind of project feasible. But reading portal as a game of ideas is a real stretch. The comparison to Goffman's Presentation of Self is baffling when the game allows no genuine self-expression (it's completely linear) or self-portrayal (no dialogue options), the subjects of Goffman's book. It's a fun game with a single intriguing character, but it's as deep as a kiddie pool.
It would have made a lot more sense to start with interactive fiction- essentially, text-adventure games. IFArchive.org is a great place to start, and in no time you can find lots of innovative contest winners and other pieces expanding the genre. These are easy to play on any computer, they are of variable length and complexity, and they allow for an easier transition for students- the tools they use to analyze literature will be largely applicable.
All in all, this is a cool effort. But look into interactive fiction! It might surprise you how well the genre is suited to your project.

Re:convenient but useless (1)

DeadboltX (751907) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320660)

I think portal is an excellent choice for a video game (if one had to be chosen for a report requirement). A puzzle game is a "no brainer" of a choice, of course, and portal has impressive sale ratings for any genre of game. Portal also has no human people in it other than the protagonist whom you play, and no violence against living creatures. Portal features complex puzzles that require problem solving skills and spacial mapping ability that could be beneficial in the real world. The teacher could have the students write a report about how the anthropomorphic Companion Cube and the Turrets in the game made them feel. Did they feel sorry for the virtual inanimate cube when you virtually euthanized it by dropping into a fiery death? How about the turrets, were they human enough to warrant emotion? Did killing the cube effect how you dealt with the turrets, were you more violent in solving how to get around them?

I think that completion of the game shouldn't be part of the grade as long as you can watch another classmate complete the game.

Hey ladies, having trouble beating that level? Want to come over to my place and see how it's done?

Re:convenient but useless (2, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320880)

Well that's what you get from English majors over analyzing everything. They want to find meaning where there isn't.

Portal, of course, was never created to be some deep statement. It was a puzzle game using a neat game mechanic. The story was put in to be funny, and to help guide the player through the puzzles. You can hear the developers themselves comment on it, in game, if you wish. There isn't much to analyze because there isn't intended to be. It isn't some commentary on society, it is just a fun and goofy puzzle game. Many of the choices made were just for entertainment value. Others, like the companion cube, were to help the player. That was created because testers had trouble understanding they needed to carry the box through the whole level. So they made it a special "companion cube" which did the trick nicely, and ended up being amusing.

However, something I discovered taking English classes in university, is that English majors can shoehorn new meaning in to anything. They read in to everything, even when there's nothing there.

Re:convenient but useless (1)

bistromath007 (1253428) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320962)

My understanding was that the companion cube was actually to make fun of the tendency of certain types of players to drag boxes around with them long after they weren't necessary.

Re:convenient but useless (3, Insightful)

wickerprints (1094741) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321254)

There's no shame in reading into something and finding meaning where none was intended. That is how humans discover new ideas and relationships. Granted, sometimes the whole critical analysis thing can go really overboard and get tiresome to listen to, but if every creative effort had to explicitly include every possible interpretation of its meaning, and if its creator had to intentionally express it, we wouldn't have art or literature.

Sure, the design decisions that went into making Portal may have been superficial, or subconscious--but the result is a game that can be understood and enjoyed within a much larger context than what it was intended for. If it helps to serve as a vehicle for introspection and stimulate interest in philosophy and the humanities, then all the better.

Re:convenient but useless (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321384)

You can hear the developers themselves comment on it, in game, if you wish.

In fact, I suspect this is why the game was chosen. Once you beat it, you can play it again in commentary mode. It's very informative.

It might be useful to ask people to write down what they thought everything meant as it went along, and then to go back and play it in commentary mode. ;)

And, of course, the other reason it was chosen was that it is a) short, and b) easy.

There is no secrets, there is no obscure logic, the only trick is conservation of momentum, and there's only half a dozen places where you have to do anything quickly, usually shooting a single portal straight ahead so you come out of where you just left faster. The room where you have to keep 'falling up' and shooting portals on the platforms higher and higher is mildly annoying, but compared to any other action game it's easy. And there's no penalty for failing.

Re:convenient but useless (1)

Gaffod (939100) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320956)

As much as I adore Portal, you are correct. It is only a novelty when you have been exposed to countless cookie-cutter shooters to the point of utter desperation. To the game-naive bystander, it's just a game where you follow arbitrary abstract rules to achieve certain goals; essentially a glorified puzzle.

In fact, this [gamesradar.com] is what happens when you treat Portal as anything beyond that.

Re:convenient but useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33321096)

Using Portal to teach narrative structure or character development makes perfect sense. The professor could assign playing through the game and then have a discussion on the story in class or require a report, the puzzles are just there to keep the students engaged. You don't get to decide what the characters in novels are going to say. Having the user choose from prompts is like reading one of those choose your own adventure books that little kids read.

Other "smart" games? (2, Interesting)

Phayder (1019938) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320406)

Any other candidates for a course like this? I thought Braid had some pretty deep storytelling.

Re:Other "smart" games? (2, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320502)

Any other candidates for a course like this? I thought Braid had some pretty deep storytelling.

And I thought Braid's storytelling wasn't up to the par seen in my age 13 creative writing class.

Ooh, change... (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320408)

Oxford: AD1610:

"In addition to ye Greeke and Latin Classics and learned tomes of divinity and medicine, freshmen shall this year encounter Hamlet the work of a vulgar modern playwrite..."

Re:Ooh, change... (2, Funny)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320476)

> Hamlet the work of a vulgar modern playwrite..."

I didn't know Francis Bacon was vulgar... ;-)

Re:Ooh, change... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320508)

If your work was written in the vernacular and had sex jokes, it was vulgar in at least two ways...

Re:Ooh, change... (1)

bistromath007 (1253428) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320946)

Hamlet was by Shakespeare, who was extremely vulgar.

Re:Ooh, change... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320940)

You're seriously suggesting Portal has as much depth as Hamlet?

More digestible, certainly. Better designed, probably. More fun, arguably. But really -- as educational? as insightful into what makes us human? as thought-provoking about morality, the nature of friendship, the line between sanity and madness, and the problem of conflicting personal obligations? Get over yourself.

Re:Ooh, change... (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#33321048)

I wasn't actually making a comparative artistic judgement at all, just noting that "The Canon of Serious Culture" has been evolving for approximately as long as it existed.

At the time Shakespeare was writing, he was basically a commercial hacking ripping off such classical plots as seemed bloody enough to fill the house(and thus his theatre company's stomachs), adding some sex jokes, and running the play until he came up with something else. The only college students "studying" Shakespeare would have been the rowdy ones hanging out on the wrong side of the river with the theatres, the bear-pits, and the whores.

Because, as it happens, Shakespeare was so much better than his peers among the commercial hacks it is hardly even fair(Elizabethan revenge tragedies, for instance, are typically utter dreck) he has earned a place among Real Serious Literature.

My point was just that the canon of stuff considered worth studying changes all the time(even if you don't hang out with the too-cool-for-dead-white-guys culture critic types) and that the idea of adding a video game to the curriculum is really no more radical than adding a popular play, which has happened repeatedly(even the hardcore classicists who were sneering at Shakespeare were probably reading Aristophanes, who had higher cultural value pretty much because his fart jokes were in classical greek...)

Re:Ooh, change... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321354)

You're seriously suggesting Portal has as much depth as Hamlet?

More digestible, certainly. Better designed, probably. More fun, arguably. But really -- as educational?

You're right. It's wrong to compare the entire game of Portal to Hamlet. Both take about the same amount of time to go through...

as insightful into what makes us human? as thought-provoking about morality, the nature of friendship, the line between sanity and madness, and the problem of conflicting personal obligations? Get over yourself.

I don't see your point - unless you're reminding us that we get as much of that in Portal's closing theme music as we do in an entire production of Hamlet.

Brevity being the soul of wit, and all that.

Gilgamesh (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320430)

Well I hope they lvl up the students before letting them encounter Gilgamesh (http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Gilgamesh).

Also known as... (1)

buddyglass (925859) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320582)

...today's sign of the apocalypse.

Americans with Disabilities Act? (2, Insightful)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320606)

How will they deal with students who have physical disabilities? I'm thinking oh, paralysis, cerebral palsy, or anything else that leaves manual dexterity impaired. Or what about visually impaired or blind students? Remember this is a required course for all incoming students. Sounds like a half-baked idea from this distance, and yes, I did read the article.

Let's hope Wabash doesn't get into a heapload of trouble for not complying with the ADA, like losing any Federal grants they might have.

Re:Americans with Disabilities Act? (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320910)

The same way they deal with required physical courses and people with disabilities: they work with the student. No professor is going to say 'sorry, you are blind, tough shit.' to this any more than they will say 'sorry, audio books aren't the required book, so you fail.' Expect them to accept listening to a playthrough guide on youtube, or reading about the game, or any other number of ways that someone could still understand the story of the game without having played through it themselves.

Re:Americans with Disabilities Act? (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320936)

Okay, for reference, people with disabilities have ... disabilities.

That means they can't do everything so where possible provisions are made to allow them to participate.

That said, they are disabled which means they can not do everything that people without disabilities can. The ADA doesn't require that provisions are made so that a paralyzed person can perform brain surgery or do construction work.

There are reasonable limits on what is expected. You don't have to make the web visible to a blind man because you can't, but since there are viable alternatives that are very cheap to implement you are recommended to implement them or required under certain fed programs.

The ADA simply wants reasonable efforts, not solving the impossible. You are not being reasonable.

Simple enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33320942)

... with all this taxpayers money we have develope a fully functional full duplex barn-computer interface.
With this technology no children will be left behind, followed by brain control.

If you pass the course.... (1)

8127972 (73495) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320632)

.... Do you get a party followed by cake?

due to food allergies we can't have cake (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33321114)

due to food allergies we can't have cake

How about Sagan? (1)

gratuitous_arp (1650741) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320676)

If this class is meant to "[engage] students with fundamental questions of humanity" and completely skips over the realm of science, that is a huge blunder. You can't have a full picture of what it is to be human without the insight that science brings.

This would have been a great class to introduce students into an appreciation of science, particularly since most students will never get that out of "normal" science studies. Should have had them read Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, then check out Symphony of Science. Shame.

Re:How about Sagan? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321274)

But this is for Science! (You monster)

Intro Physics (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320738)

I could think of many better games for discussing existentialist philosophy. But as a physics professor, I've toyed with the idea of using Portal to discuss conservation laws in Intro Physics. For instance:

Which of the following physical quantities are conserved by an object passing through a portal?
  Speed
  Momentum
  Kinetic Energy
  Total Energy

Thanks University of North Dakota! (1)

longhairedgnome (610579) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320824)

ENGL 407 Studies In 20th Century Lit: Hypertexts and New Media

In a class last semester, everything from Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl by Mary/Shelley & Herself to Interactive Fiction, like Nick Montfort's Winchester's Nightmare were part of our syllabus. I think the only two things purchased for the class were PG and Moulthrop's Victory Garden ~$20. The rest of our reading was all available free online.

This is a travesty. (3, Funny)

bistromath007 (1253428) | more than 4 years ago | (#33320926)

The first game to be included in an academic curriculum should've been Deus Ex. I'm disappointed with you, America. :|

Re:This is a travesty. (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321374)

I would have chosen HHGTG myself (text ver.)

I personally learned quite a bit from that game playing it when I was about 11.

Motion sickness (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 3 years ago | (#33321160)

Many non-gamers get motion sick when playing an FPS, especially Portal. This sounds like a bad idea.

Aw3some fp (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33321386)

USERS', BIGAZZ, You'Re told. It's Am protesting
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