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Plugged In

Universities bring video games into the classroom

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Portal is on the curriculum

They might not root for a top-ranked football team or enjoy the nightlife of a big city like New York or Los Angeles, but students at
Indiana's Wabash College are about to become the envy of underclassmen
around the nation.

That's because alongside classics like Hamlet, Gilgamesh and the Tao Te Ching, they'll have to study smash 2007 video game Portal if they want to graduate.

The game will be included in the school's new "Enduring Questions"
course, a required freshman seminar devoted to "engaging students with
fundamental questions of humanity from multiple perspectives" in order
to help them "confront what it means to be human and how we understand
ourselves, our relationships, and our world."

Portal's inclusion comes courtesy of teacher Michael Abbot, who also happens to run video game blog The Brainy Gamer. As part of a committee elected to help design the new course, Abbot proposed that students first read Erving Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, then play through the first-person puzzle game (essays have been written linking the two.)

After convincing his peers to give it a whirl, Abbot "enjoyed the
first meaningful discussion about a video game I've ever had with a
group of colleagues across disciplines."

"They got it," he said. "They made the connections, and they enjoyed
the game. Most importantly, they saw how Portal could provoke thoughtful
reflection and vigorous conversation on questions germane to the
course."

Portal is just the latest game to make its way into a syllabus. The
University of Florida is offering "21st Century Skills in Starcraft," a
course that uses the classic strategy game to help teach "skills such as
critical thinking, problem solving, resource management, and adaptive
decision making." Students will be required to watch matches, write
papers and, of course, play the game.

"My problem solving skills in Starcraft are the same problem solving
skills learned in school or the real world," class teacher and PhD
candidate Nathaniel Poling told Technology Review.
"In Starcraft you're managing a lot of different units and groups of
different capacities. It's not a stretch to think of that in the
business world or in the work of a healthcare administrator."

If that sounds familiar, it should. A different StarCraft course found footing at UC Berkeley several years ago, as did a 2009 Guitar Hero course at NYU.

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