Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prompt 2: Marcuse and Portal

Prompt 2: Marcuse and Portal

Perception is a fading skill. In today’s society, how one is perceived, especially through the public eye is an essential component in our lives. Public figures that are given or obtain a certain amount of power, at times can take advantage of his or her status and use that power maliciously. “With great power comes great responsibility” dating back to Voltaire, should remain the core focus of those in such position. The content of Herbert Marcuse: One-Dimensional Man and the 21st century video game Portal highlight the issues of modern media in a culture. Marcuse harshly strikes the media when he quotes that we cannot determine if we should view “the mass media as instruments of information and entertainment, and as agents of manipulation and indoctrination?” The media and the officials administering such content have a responsibility to relay information to the public. The issue isn’t the mechanisms of communication; it’s the content that is being distributed. The audience need not decipher the media’s intentions, from the beginning their intentions should be clear. Examples of false pretences are represented through a protagonist turned antagonist character in Portal and government officials in One-Dimensional Man.

Marcuse’s work is an intense critique involving various economic systems including communism and capitalism. His main points circle around how each system came about and how the public is affected by the personal repression that follows. A quote from Chapter 2 relates to when he talks about how technology is used to control people “with the government as a stimulating, supporting, and sometimes even controlling force.” This quote works hand and hand with the plotline of Portal and the bleak message it conveys.

Portal is set in the Half-life universe where a character named Chell is awoken in a relaxation vault of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center. Chell is presented with a list of testing puzzles that if completed successfully will lead her to freedom. There appears to be no other life form in the facility except the computerized voice named GLaDOS who is responsible for the technical control systems of the facility, she acknowledges that “we are now ready to begin the test proper.”  GLaDOS, short for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating Systems first shows her malicious side by saying “us” and “we” as if she is speaking for the long gone employees of the Center. Later on throughout the game GLaDOS shows more false intentions as she retracts her statement about "suggesting that we would not monitor this chamber was an outright fabrication."  After Chell completed the final test chamber, GLaDOS immediately reveals her true colors as she attempts to lower her into a pit of fire. Throughout the game, primarily in the earlier stages, Chell and her operator are under the assumption GLaDOS is there to successfully guide Chell through each test chamber. On the contrary, her intentions are the complete opposite; she plans on terminating Chell just like she did with the former Aperture Science Enrichment Center’s employees. Luckily for Chell, she comes across graffiti messages written by a former Aperture scientist, warning her about GLaDOS’s intentions. Fortunately, Chell is successful in terminating GLaDOS but had to overcome the reality that she was being led to her death from her initial introduction of GLaDOS. Chell was doomed and destined for the worse from the very beginning, very similar to how Marcuse feels about how the government treats its people once they gain their positions.

While she initially appears to simply be a voice to guide and aid the player, her words and actions become increasingly malicious until she makes her intentions clear. The game reveals that she is corrupted and used a neurotoxin to kill the scientists in the lab before the events of Portal. She is destroyed at the end of the first title but is revealed to have survived in the credits song "Still Alive". She has been viewed as narcissistic, passive-aggressive, sinister, and witty, all of which Marcuse would agree that are hidden characteristics of the government. Another quote from chapter 2 suggests that Marcuse has faith that technologies are capable of being used to form the basis of human freedom but is wrongfully being used to maintain order in society for political reasons. “The established technical apparatus engulfs the public and private existence in all spheres of society-that is, becomes the medium of control and cohesion in a political universe…” demonstrates Marcuse’s frustration with the current use of higher officials’ power over others. 
One- Dimensional Man and Portal are two works of art that explore the idea that mass media and the government have false pretences.  It's a puzzle itself trying to figure if they are wearing the white hat or trying to disguise as one. One-Dimensional Man attacks the issue head on by calling out what Marcuse would define as flaws in our capitalistic world while Portal shows the two-sided story of a protagonist turned antagonist approach. Both works of art represent an example disapproving how the media and government abuse their power.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I have some difficulty understanding your intro; I don't really known anything about your argument other than the texts you'll be focusing upon. The 2nd paragraph is ok, but dangerously out of context - Marcuse is concerned with many institutions, including the government.

The third paragraph is basically a summary of the game, which focuses upon its plot to the exclusion of how gameplay actually works. I'm not saying it's totally unproductive - the notion of Chell as doomed could take you into a more focused project - but this essay is more of an introduction attached to a summary of Portal than it is an actual argument.

The 2nd to last paragraph offers more summary of Portal - some of which obviously needs a citation (who, for instance, views GLaDOS in these particular ways? It wouldn't seem to be you) - then offers an almost random connection to Marcuse. I saw random because all you're really doing is showing that Marcuse is concerned with tyranny and that Portal portrays tyranny. These things are true, but they're also a very vague and loose connection. There isn't a coherent argument here, nor is there a detailed analysis of any particular aspect of either the game or the text.