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New U.S. College Course Requires Collective Portal Playthrough

A recently-established class at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, requires students to study the script of Valve's award-winning puzzle-platformer Portal in a group activity.
A recently-established class at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, requires students to study the script of Valve's award-winning puzzle-platformer Portal in a group activity. Approved last year, the freshman seminar "Enduring Questions" is required for all new students at the liberal arts college. Wabash's course description notes that the class is "devoted to engaging students with fundamental questions of humanity from multiple perspectives and fostering a sense of community." The description continues: "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." Portal casts players as a human test subject who is tasked with completing dangerous physical tasks while under the watchful eye of a malicious artificial intelligence-driven computer system. "My very first thought was Portal," writes course co-designer Michael Abbott at his blog The Brainy Gamer. "I recalled reading Daniel Johnson's recent essay on the game and its strong connections to Erving Goffman's seminal Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. "One of the central questions of our new course, 'Who am I?' is the focus of Goffman's study. He contends we strive to control how we're perceived by others, and he uses the metaphor of an actor performing on a stage to illustrate his ideas." Abbott notes that Portal accompanies a selection of other assigned works for the course, including Aristotle's "Politics," John Donne's poetry, Shakespeare's "Hamlet," and the "Tao Te Ching."

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