Now you're thinking with Portal

As I read Ted Nelson's article on Fantics, I can't help but get a little excited as I realize he has put into words and expanded on many of my own thoughts about education. What specifically gets my head racing is that Ted Nelsons description of Fantics sounds suspiciously like he's describing videogames.

I think about how his ideas correlate directly with the practices and design of some of my favourite games, and I wonder why education can't be more like that. I start to fantasize; wouldn't it be cool to do a class presentation of a videogame? I could correlate it directly with the article, use quotes from the games own developers commentary, have a volunteer play though and have a live interactive experience, and narrate the experience. That would be so cool. But then I think, would people really get the point of that? Would most people be excited and entertained about watching a videogame like that? Won’t people think it was stupid? Plus, I haven’t really done any class presentations like that before on my own. Could I face my anxiety? Would the teacher even think it was a good idea? The presentations are only supposed to be a small part of this project… Maybe this was a stupid idea.

Later I ask Alanna if she thinks it’s even possible. To my surprise she thinks it could work. She tells me I should film it for my “create” portion of the learning contract, with not one, but with two cameras. Good idea Alanna! But two cameras rolling are going to do wonders for my anxiety!

Nearing close to the time I need to present, I keep playing through the first handful of levels in Portal, listening to the developer’s commentary, trying to create some sort of narrative and connection with Ted Nelson as I go along, writing notes. How will I know how Alex, my volunteer, will react? I can’t know how fast he will go through the game, what if he takes too long on one level, or breezes by them all and I base my commentary specifically on the levels? How can I know what I need to say, how much time I have to say it? I’m also competing with the in-game narrator, the AI “GLaDOS”. I could mute her, but her hilarious commentary would spice up the presentation, and Portal just isn’t Portal without her! I try to write more general observations I could make, with a few level-specific comments. I have to try to remember when GLaDOS will interrupt me, and watch Alex’s progress, so I don’t get cut off. I try reading aloud my presentation to myself. I start to doubt whether people will find this interesting, or if it will even play out well. I start to get a lot more anxious…

I wake up in bed suddenly, having had some sort of bad dream. Was it about presenting in class? I only have fleeting images, but my body is oddly trembling. Its only 4:30 in the morning, and I’m still very tired, yet I’m feeling inexplicably anxious and I can’t get back to sleep. I remember I have to present today!

I have to bring my own camera, tripods, cords, zoom microphone, as well as pick up the second camera from the school. I need to get this all to the school somehow. I usually just walk, but I’d rather not carrying all this! Not having my N yet, I have to ask for a ride. I find out I’ll have to get to school at 12pm, two and half hours early,  as my ride can’t drive me any later, and I have to pick up the camera at 1. I get to school with my stuff and go to the lounge. I set up my laptop in a stall and start going over my presentation, opening up Portal and start to play through it. I look behind my self anxiously, seeing if anyone is watching me. There are a few students behind me and I feel kind of embarrassed, I close Portal. I wonder how I’m going to do this in front of a whole class…

I pick up the camera and spend the rest of the time in the lab next to class figuring out how it works and getting all my equipment loaded and ready. I go to class a bit early as everyone is just starting to leave the previous class and start setting up things. As the class fills back up, I feel jittery again as I stand in front of the class making sure the cameras are in the right place and the microphone is working. Everything set? Alanna helps me start the cameras at the same time…

I’ll need to sync up the cameras in editing later…

I clap my hands like a film slate. “Action!” Everyone laughs. I start to feel more comfortable.

“…So I want to persuade you that Videogames are the very definition of what Ted Nelson describes as fantic spaces, and that they have elements with amazing potential to inform or to become part of better education.”

At the end of my presentation I’m feeling surprisingly comfortable. It wasn’t perfect, and I had been visibly anxious, but I spoke clearly, and was able to get across the points I wanted to make. Alex had been a great volunteer and had gone through more of the game then I expected. People start to ask questions and start to give me really good feedback and questions. Alanna tells me I’ve done a great job, and have made a great connection; Joey tells me how much he liked my presentation and how he thought it was very effective; Celinda tells me she doesn’t quite understand the connection I was trying to make, but I give her a surprisingly comfortable impromptu response, and she says that now she can understand exactly what I meant and she gives me back her own personal connection to it.

Suddenly I'm not anxious at all. In fact... I'm feeling pretty good.

The End

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