If you could recommend a game as a community-building activity for your school, what would you recommend? I thought about some of the arty Jason Rohrer games, but maybe those would be more appropriate for a “How can games lead to deep thoughts” pre-discussion, something I might use to get buy-in from the non-gaming community (including those who wouldn’t have the patience to play through a full-length game). I also wondered about Heavy Rain, but I would have a difficult time justifying the sexual content. (I know they’re just pixels, and the images they represent are no worse than many mainstream movies, but if we’d be requiring students to play the game, well, we are a Catholic college, so I would look elsewhere.) A colleague sent me this link… I’m quite excited.
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. If you’re curious to know how it happened, read on. —The Brainy Gamer
The game has a narrative, it’s set in a lab where you are the subject of an experiment, physics and momentum are a big part of the gameplay, but so is the characterization of the antagonist, the way the game designers tease you on with the hope of a reward, issues of surveillance and your implicit buy-in when you make your character perform meaningless actions just to see what happens in the next level… Existentialism, human rights, a metaphor for the desire for an afterlife… Graffiti scrawled in the walls of the test chambers, presumably by other prisoners/subjects/victims, include passages by Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, and HW Longfellow. Each level has a sort if key that uses graphic design to indicate what threats the player will face, and I spent quite a bit of time staring at unfamiliar symbols, sometimes gathering hints from this designs that helped me through the level. The game originally started out as a student project, but the game company Valve hired the whole design team. A version of the game has been released with voice-over commentary by the designers, so you can hear them talking about what psychological effect a certain game element was aiming for. What am I missing? I’ll look into this again after all my classes have met… back to syllabus-creation for me.