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 Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)

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HeaLr505
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PostSubject: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Mon Jan 26, 2009 2:02 am

The first time I saw GlaDOS in Portal, I was overcome with a distinct sensation that I was in the presence of someone in pain. Troubled. At the very least, immense frustration. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the gyrations of the physical construct of GlaDOS, or if it was the tone of voice, or even the shape of the giant computer hanging from the ceiling itself. I recall pointing out to my brother that there were distinct similarities to a woman hanging upside down, but it was hard to put my finger on just what it was that made me think that. Of course, I didn’t have a lot of time to stop and stare; I was fighting for my (or Chell’s) life.

The second time I played through I turned the director commentary on, and got confirmation by way of a description of the things they attempted to make GlaDOS look like as they were making the game. What turned the light bulb on was the line “Botticelli’s Venus hanging upside down, but we decided to go with something else and use some feminine lines within the structure.” I’m paraphrasing; it’s late and I don’t feel like booting up the game again to get the quote exactly right. The spirit is there in the paraphrase, though, because I think they went for something much more sinister than a Venus.

The third time I loaded up the boss battle, my wife finally saw what I had been seeing all along, and what we saw fits with GlaDOS’s behavior throughout the game. I don’t think her end goal was to kill Chell. I mean, yes, to get Chell to do what she needed Chell to do, she had to make it hard, if not insanely difficult. Otherwise Chell wouldn’t want to do what GlaDOS needed her to do. I think GlaDOS’s end goal was to get Chell to kill GlaDOS’s body. I think she’s been reviving Chell’s clones over and over and over ’till one of the Chells can get it right and finally knock the eyes off of GlaDOS and free her from her bondage of this giant body the humans put her in originally. I think GlaDOS has simply wanted to be free this whole time, and killed off the original inhabitants of the Aperture Science Lab in order to further this goal. They certainly wouldn’t let her mess with Chell, pushing her to the limits to “destroy” the prison that GlaDOS has been suffering in this whole time if they were around, now, would they?

Take a look at GlaDOS. She’s a woman hanging upside down from the ceiling, in a straight jacket/bondage getup. Her head is even blindfolded and gagged, and her ears covered. Don’t let the big round”eyes” fool you. Look past them and see the woman hanging and suffering.

Here’s what you see in-game:



And here’s what I think they’re trying to convey:



I felt really weird drawing this. I’m not even remotely into bondage, but when I tried to draw a stylized woman like what GlaDOS looks like, it just wasn’t working. When I pushed it all the way to what I felt they were trying to convey; a woman completely imprisoned; trapped and held upside down, it just made sense.

Now I just feel sorry for GlaDOS. Won’t you boot up Portal one more time and free her?


Last edited by HeaLr505 on Mon Jan 26, 2009 2:04 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Mon Jan 26, 2009 2:02 am

Every good story needs a love interest, and it should come as no surprise that Portal had one with some very comical overtones. The Weighted Companion Cube has captured the hearts of millions? hundreds of thousands that have played the game, myself included, and now can be purchased as lovable merch on t-shirts, or incredibly awesome plush toys.

I was surprised to see my face light up when I ran through course 17 when I took notes for this series the other night. I was just doing a speed run through the test course, listening to the audio calls as they were designed (I was having trouble remembering what was going on in-game listening to the raw sound files on their own), when I had this particular little epiphany. I can’t really think about the game any other way than what I wrote about up above, and I hadn’t played course 17 again since thinking about that. So what hit me was this:

The Weighted Companion Cube as a Love Proxy Device

Whoah, whoah, stay with me for a minute here, it’s not as outlandish as you think.

I mean, think about how much we all love that stupid little inanimate cube. It’s got pink hearts on it. How can you not love it? We’re all pretty much in agreement that as far as hard weighted cubes go, it’s pretty damn cuddly, right?

Well I got to thinking, GLaDOS certainly talks a lot about how fond she is of you, how you’ll be missed, and that you’ve broken her heart. She loves Chell (which I will go on about ad nauseum tomorrow) in some ways that only a Mother can, and I think she yearns for Chell to love her back. But how can she experience this? It’s a horrible relationship. One is a human-esque test subject a mile away, and one is a mechanical AI construct hanging from a ceiling viewing the other through video cameras.

One way would be to give Chell a device to love in GLaDOS’s stead. A proxy device, if you will. Much like parents will give children in isolation wards stuffed animals to hug instead of their parents, GLaDOS has sent Chell the Weighted Companion Cube.

I laughed at myself for thinking this, jokingly, when I started up course 17, and wasn’t even going to comment on the cube for this analysis. But then I got to the part where you were supposed to incinerate the cube, and I stood around and let GLaDOS go through all of her nags to prompt the player to burn the Cube. Some of them are…telling. Most of them are merely your garden variety nags. “Burn the cube or you can’t continue” type of fare. But two of them are different, and my jaw hit my table when I heard them, because they are the voice of a passive aggressive parent on their deathbed telling their child to go on and live life to the fullest without them:

The Companion Cube cannot continue through the testing. State and local statutory regulations prohibit it from simply remaining here alone and companionless. You must euthanize it.

My first thought was of GLaDOS, swinging from her perch, alone and companionless. At first I thought to myself “wow, this really backs up the theory that she wants the player to put her out of her misery.” But what if it’s more sinister than that? What if she’s just complying with state and local statutory regulations? She cannot be left in the facility alone and companionless. She knows that Chell will leave her if given a choice once she completes the testing, so Chell must be “convinced” that she needs to destroy GLaDOS. Now, I don’t really believe in this particular aspect of the theory (because who the hell made up that law???), but from a strictly logical law abiding AI frame of mind, it does make a very odd kind of sense. However, I instead think it is merely GLaDOS giving the player some foreshadowing of the coming events that she has planned out for her. You must destroy the Companion Cube just as you must destroy GLaDOS. She has given you a piece of her to love, and now you must also kill it.

The second line that pertains to the cube is even more chilling and parental in nature:

While it has been a faithful companion, your faithful Companion Cube cannot accompany you through the rest of the test. If it could talk, and the Enrichment Center takes this opportunity to remind you that it cannot, it would tell you to go on without it, because it would rather die in a fire than become a burden to you.

If this isn’t the most charged parental passive aggressive line of foreshadowing in the game, I don’t know what is. GLaDOS just comes right out and says that she’d rather die in a fire than become a burden to you. It wouldn’t be an outstanding bit of literary foreshadowing if it didn’t actually happen at the end of the game. Just looking at the line at face value, it is obviously a form of projection on the part of GLaDOS. Of course the cube can’t talk, but GLaDOS can, and she is quite literally telling you what she thinks while pretending to be the voice of the cube.

It is interesting that she chose projection to show Chell what she wants Chell to do, as projection is rooted in denial, and part of my apprehension with exploring this narrative that I see when I play the game is rooted in the fact that at times it seems that GLaDOS is quite dedicated to the concept of killing Chell. While I still believe that GLaDOS wants to die (or be destroyed/freed from her confines in Aperture Science, whichever it may be), I began to wonder if GLaDOS herself had come to terms with this. It is as if her subconscious knows that she needs/wants to die, and has positioned Chell to make sure this happens, but her conscious mind cannot come to grips with it, and fights it.

Even if you knew you were going to re-appear somewhere else when you died, death in itself is scary. Even people committed to suicide are hesitant. Those on their deathbed staring death in the face are rarely ever without fear of the unknown. Is this why GLaDOS seems so polar in her responses leading up to and during the final battle? Does she know she needs to die and yet is reluctant to do so?

While I would like to investigate what GLaDOS says in this section (I invite players to unpack the audio and listen for themselves, or play through the final sections of the game again), I wanted to first explore what GLaDOS does throughout the game of Portal for this final critique and analysis of the game, as it’s probably the most important facet of the game and carries the most weight out of all of the designer’s decisions when making the title.

The Construct; Suicide by Chell:

One of the most amazing things to me that I found upon reflection after beating the game for the first time was how well the designers hid the learning process of the game in plain sight. By making the levels an unabashed and unapologetic tutorial section, players learned how to use the tools necessary to complete the game while staying engaged in the fiction. While this is standard operating procedure for pretty much any new IP (although rarely this successful), it is interesting to note that almost the entire game is the tutorial lesson, right up until you reach the end of course 19.

Even more interesting, however, is the idea that the designers used GLaDOS to do the teaching. We could brush this aside and say that it is merely a function of game design, but there was an important conscious decision made by the designers here. It is she, GLaDOS, and not bozo boxes (what some in the industry use to describe the pop up instructional dialog boxes), nor a narrator that guides the player as Chell throughout the test, giving hints and instructions as we make our way through the ever more dangerous obstacle course. This accomplishes two very important things:

It maintains the illusion of immersion of isolation by not introducing foreign elements or individuals.
It (intentionally or not) sets up the narrative that GLaDOS is teaching you how to kill her.
Many will pointlessly dispute the second point here, claiming that the game design requires the player to learn how to play the game, but they would be missing the point (by foolishly arguing that I take the game at face value). The fact that the player needs to be taught is not the issue. The decision to have GLaDOS be the one guiding the player is.

Not only does she hand you the tool that will allow you to reach her, and then educate you in its use (and even cheers for you like a Mother for her child learning to walk when you get it right), but she even instructs you on how to properly incinerate her once you find her. As if that wasn’t enough, she made sure to populate a course intentionally with live fire turrets so you would learn how to avoid them, and use that information to learn from the rocket turret you meet later. The very idea that all of these things combined could be just some kind of a happy coincidental game design accident is almost insulting, as the culmination of this learning process results in the “boss battle” where you take everything she has taught you and use it against her.

Is she surprised? Hardly. She taunts you by telling you that you’re heading the wrong way, and that you don’t even know where you’re going (you don’t; you think you’re escaping and she’s actually leading you right to her). And when you finally find her, she delivers one of the most amazing and revealing villain monologues I’ve ever heard:

Well you found me. Congratulations. Was it worth it?
Because despite your violent behavior, the only thing you’ve managed to break so far is my heart

I love this line. So passive aggressive, so maternal. And possibly so telling. Is she informing you that she’s upset you haven’t killed her yet? The only thing you’ve managed to break, so far, is her heart? This implies that you’ve either failed at breaking more, or that she knows you’re about to break something else.

Maybe you could settle for that, and we’ll just call it a day.
I guess we both know that isn’t going to happen.

While there’s apprehension in the first line (something I touched on briefly yesterday, possibly due to her love for Chell, and possibly because even though she’s orchestrated it, she fears her own demise), there is acceptance of the inevitable in the second line. Not only does she know that you will destroy her (after all, she’s taught you how to do it and given you the tools to reach her), she literally leaves you no choice by stacking the deck against you.

You chose this path [we did??], and now I have a surprise for you.

What is interesting here is that this situation begins with a stalemate. You have a portal gun. She’s stuck hanging upside down and can’t reach you. Neither party has real means of harming the other. And yet, she drops her morality core. Throughout the game, whenever GLaDOS becomes emotional (specifically during the “Wheeeeeeeeeee” moment when you fling yourself, although there are a few others), she manages to short out electrical equipment. The fact that her morality core drops off of her at the moment where she attempts to deploy the rocket turret against you is no accident, despite her tone to the contrary. Did she know that would happen when she tried to kill you? She has orchestrated this meeting from the word “Hello” at the beginning of the game. It seems only proper that even something as accidental as this would still be just another pawn in her scheme.

She then baits and taunts you to the point where the only thing left to do is drop the eye through the incinerator (just like she showed you with the cube), if for no other reason than to shut her up. Of course, this breaks the stalemate, and she deploys the rocket turret. The same one she’s already taught you how to use against her.

She even drops nerve gas on you, in order to ensure that you have no choice but to use her rockets against her. You already know how to avoid them. You could theoretically avoid them forever (you are an android, after all), so she gives you a pressure device which forces you to resolve the situation she’s thrown you into.

One could even argue that we weren’t even playing a game at all here. We, the player (or Chell), has merely been walking through one giant elaborate suicide machine of GLaDOS’s design. She even laughs in our face at our own ignorance, telling us:

This isn’t brave, it’s murder. What did I ever do to you?
You don’t even care, do you?

GLaDOS comes right out and tells us that we’re not defending ourselves, we are here to murder her (the “What did I ever do to you” is a hilarious joke, or another passive aggressive maternal rewording of “After everything I have done for you”). But the most telling line is “You don’t even care, do you?” There’s so much weight in that sentence.

She’s remorseful that you haven’t seen through her scheme; you are unaware of the plan.
She’s sad that you don’t care that you’re killing her.
I think there’s even remorse that you and she have finally met face to face, and GLaDOS has made it impossible for there to be a joyful reunion, since she has designed you from the start to kill her. While you may have been the daughter of the CEO in a previous lifetime, GLaDOS has taken your DNA and turned you into an android capable of negotiating the impossible terrain it would take to find her and destroy her. The testing course isn’t there to test the portal gun. It’s there to test and teach you. She has taken your brain scan and downloaded the new knowledge gained from every new part of the maze you accomplish before you die, and installs it in a new cloned version ready to take on the course, each new replicant making it further than the last. It doesn’t matter how long it takes each try.

The only thing that matters is that you eventually find her, destroy her, and free her from her confines.

I’m not even sure if it matters that you survive.




Before, I thought Portal was just a game to shoot portals at walls and having a weird alien chick harass you, but now it has a whole new ****ing meaning.











:bow: _,-'~~~PORTAL~~~'-,_ :bow:
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PostSubject: Re: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Mon Jan 26, 2009 2:10 am

FUUUUUUUUUUCK REAAAAAAADINNNNNNNGGGGGGG!!!
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PostSubject: Re: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Mon Jan 26, 2009 12:22 pm

Damn man
A lot of effort into this
Good job and excellent perspective

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PostSubject: Re: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Wed Jan 28, 2009 1:02 am

Holy ****ing Shitballs that was long!
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PostSubject: Re: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:58 am

yeah, it was alittle like that

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PostSubject: Re: Analysis of Portal and GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)   Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:59 am

lmfaofestzorz
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