Video Game added to a College Syllabus

In Education, video games on August 27, 2010 at 4:37 am

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Geez, why is Damon spending so much time writing about video games in his Danger Brain blog?” – consider this.

Brainy Gamer is reporting that Michael Abbot of Wabash College has added the brilliant video game, Portal to his syllabus for a Liberal Arts course. The course in question is called Enduring Questions.

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.

In addition to Gilgamesh, Aristotle’s Politics, Hamlet, Tao Te Ching, and the poetry of John Donne, Portal will be used – according to Abbott – for its strong connections to Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Now, I’m sure that’s a whole lot of reading that you may not be familiar with. But, that is not the point.

I use to work for a college preparatory program. During my second year I designed a Film and Social Justice summer course. The purpose was to use popular film to explore community issues with a small group of high school students. Honestly, it was one of the best classes I ever taught.

The next year I began designing a similar class using video games to explore community issues. Alas, it never happen. It was hard enough to convince my boss to let me teach the film class. But, a light bulb had definitely went off and hearing about this course. I was already convinced of the possibilities in using film and television to augment academic courses. Cinema was a great learning tool for me in college. It made subjects like Sociology, Women Studies and Black and Chicano Studies more accessible. Likewise, I had a professor who used graphic novels to teach Freud, Faust and Nietzche. However, using video games point to a multi-media focus; the use of film, television, social networking, video games and literature in the creation of a classroom curriculum. Now, that is exciting!

News of the Wabash College course comes just three days after NPR did a 30 minute show featuring author Tom Bissell and game developer Kellee Santiago called Video Games: The 21st Century’s Fine Arts Frontier. The purpose was to raise the question: “A well-rounded, erudite American could reasonably be expected to have read To Kill A Mockingbird and to have listened to some Miles Davis. But should “beat Red Dead Redemption” also be on that list?

That question and the ability to apply a short computer game to college level reading is the reason why I believe video games to be the most exciting visual medium right now. Its a field that is a product of our generation, an extension of cinema, and its growing in some very interesting areas.

Check out the links for the NPR show and the Brainy Gamer post (they talk more about how he convinced his colleagues to include Portal to the syllabus). It’s some very interesting stuff.


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