My Weekend with Portal

Maybe it's because I'm more right-brained than left, but science has always bugged me. "What do you mean, Bernerd? How can 'science' bug you? Science tells us how the world works. It makes your car run, your pop-tarts toasty and it created this blog you are writing in right now!" Well, yes, all that is true but, it's not so much the result I have a problem with as much as the process (we can talk about the result at a different time.)

Science has taken over everything. From the way we do business to the way we play - and most importantly - to the way we think. With Science, the ends always justify the means. We're creating a better world, for those who will live in it when it comes. And to quote one of my favorite movies "So me and mine gotta lay down and die... so you can live in your better world?" The answer is 'yes'.

This reality was made all too clear to me this weekend while playing the Valve game "Portal". It never occurred to me that a game could be a medium for a story, but the guys at Valve proved me wrong. This short little game hits it's point-of-view out of the park with one of the most interesting characters I've met in a while. His name? The computer from Portal.

The game centers around a research facility where you are testing out a new device. I'm not going to try and explain the device, or the portals it creates, if you are interested in the specifics, feel free to watch the trailer or download the free trial (available from Steam). You are alone in your tests, accompanied only by the cute and sweet robotic voice of the computer, who helps you along and gives your pointers on how to complete tasks. That is, at first...

You soon realize the cute voice is kind of an asshole. He lies to you, constantly. He messes with your head, and then applauds you for not listening to him. He's pompous and strange, and you soon begin to feel very uncomfortable under the impersonal gaze of the security cameras. Are you testing the device or are they testing you?

The cute voice constantly refers to you as his friend, and promises you cake when you complete your tasks - a cake he apparently has made himself. When all the tasks are accomplished, he asks you to step onto a conveyor belt that will bring you to the party, and the cake. I was sitting there, happy with myself for having beaten the game, when I realized the conveyor belt wasn't bringing me to cake (even though there was a picture of one on the wall) but in fact was lowering me into a toxic sludge that will kill me. What's up cute voice?

I quickly looked around, and found my escape, much to the annoyance of cute voice. Although he didn't show his cards just yet. He continued to tell me that I was wrong in thinking he was going to kill me, and that in fact, the conveyor belt DID lead to the party. He instructed me to assume the "party position", which involved putting down my gun and lying face down on the floor. I didn't listen.

The next few hours involved me running through puzzling backrooms of the research facility, trying desperately to escape. Bloody messages were scrawled on the wall, apparently by previous 'test subjects'. Cute voice echoed through the halls after me, "Where are you?", "It was a joke, come back", "You're not even going the right way". If I wasn't so sure the gamers wouldn't have created the area I was running through if I wasn't supposed to go through it, I might have actually believed him.

In the end, you find the central location of Cute Voice and disassemble him - piece by piece. The entire time he is playing with my mind - "What do you think you're doing?" "This isn't bravery, this is murder", "No one likes you. It says so in your file."

Finally, he shuts up. But sadly, so do you. The final giant explosion that finishes off Cute Voice, also finishes off you. You lie on the pavement, finally outside, dead. The End. Or is it?

During the credit sequence, you find out that your escape, your fight, your death, his death - it was all part of the test, and in fact, you didn't kill him at all. You only killed one of him. One of the many. He's a computer afterall, not some flesh and blood enemy, and he wasn't even angry at you at all. You were just part of the fight for a better future, a future for the people who are still alive.

And finally, the credit song comes sweetly on. Sung by the infamous Cute Voice.

Science is creepy. . .


Anonymous said...

Not a huge deal but the computer has an official name: GLaDOS, and is always referred to as a female (as well as being voiced by a woman).

Just FYI =)