We’ve reported before on some questionable additions to college course lists, before but here’s one we can actually get behind:
Michael Abbot, professor at Wabash College in Indiana, has convinced his colleagues to include Portal on the syllabus for a course on “what it means to be human and how we understand ourselves, our relationships, and our world,” that every freshman is required to take.
We bet the syllabus also says that at the end of the semester there will be cake.
“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. Johnson describes it this way:
…we’re acting out a role that requires constant management…of the interaction. The front stage is the grounds of the performance. The backstage is a place we rarely ever want to reveal to others, it contains the truth of our obstruction and to reveal it would be to defraud our identity in front of the audience – it simply spoils the illusion of where we’re placing ourself in the interaction.
This tension between backstage machination and onstage performance is precisely what Portal depicts so perfectly – and, no small detail, so interactively. Goffman would have found a perfect test subject in GLaDOS. Bingo! Assign students Goffman’s Presentation of Self and follow it up with a collective playthrough of Portal.
Frankly, we think this sounds great, once you take in other details of the course, like that there will only be 15 students in each classroom, and that it is probably intended, like most courses that are required of freshmen, to introduce students to analytical reading and discussion at a collegiate level.
The mandatory freshmen courses I took at my own Oberlin were basically a training ground for not sounding totally naive, pretentious, or idiotic every time I opened my mouth in a discussion (which is not to say that I never did in my later college years, and definitely not to say that I never encountered another student that did). Using something that’s fairly accessible like Portal to help students wrap their minds around Erving Goffman is a really cool idea.
I wonder, however, exactly how many of the incoming freshmen haven’t played the game? This fall’s crop of college freshmen weren’t old enough to drive when Portal came out, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t played it already. Add to that the fact that Wabash is an all male school (yes, I am feeling very left out). The percentage of people who have never heard of the game is probably much lower than that of the wider population.
You can read Professor Abbot’s full blog post about the course here.
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