Prompt 3: Themes Shown in Portal
Imagine you just had a long day, and decide to sit down and watch television. As you are flipping through channels, you discover someone who looks familiar. On further inspection that person is you. The program is a video of your day until the moment you sit on your couch. If a program existed like this, how would we watch it? Certainly the experience would be far different from when we lived the experiences in person. We would be forced to look at our actions in the day from a conscious, analytical perspective rather than just subconsciously living them. This is the way Marcuse feels we should study art. Looking at Valve’s popular video game Portal helps us discover several themes displayed in the video game.
“And there will be cake,” is how GLaDOS finishes most of its sentences in Portal. What is the cake in portal? To answer that we must know who our character is in Portal. If we step back and study our character, we see that our endeavor in this game is rather pointless. We are a lab rat, who GLaDOS tells us has no friends or family. The writers are using Chell as a symbol for anyone influenced by our society. The cake, is a symbol for anything society tells us we need. Chell is quite literally going through mazes to reach the cake that is promised to us at the end of the test. The funny thing is, we don’t even feel that we need any cake until GLaDOS tells us it is waiting for us. Think about current advertisements on Television. We don’t think we need an ear vacuum until television tells us we do. Also, as we progress in the game, we see signs telling us not to drink the water. (Picture 1) I feel that this is a reference to the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid.” The writers of the game are telling us not to give in to these pressures of society.
While playing my way through Portal, I started to gain a sense of boredom and loneliness after not talking to anyone for three hours. Because of this, I found the companion cube to be a welcomed sight. The writers designed for the cube to be looked at fondly. They are making a statement about how we put too much love into our technology today. In the game, Chell, although an android, looks like a human. We can see this when we look at our reflection in a portal. Imagine how silly it seems for Chell to be attached to an emotionless cube. The writers go further with this concept by showing posters of men with the cube pasted over their faces in a back room of a level. (Picture 2) This is actually not too far off from where we are today. Today, people start relationships online without ever meeting the person they are talking to. In a way, they are becoming attached to soulless machinery. The writers of the game are telling us to break out of this trap and make real connections and friendships with people. The writers add to this point when the cube is incinerated. GLaDOS, although possibly lying, tells us that we incinerated the cube the fastest out of any subject. This is telling us that our character has no sense of empathy or love which we know from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a large part of what makes us human.
Last, Portal is giving us a warning about technology. In the beginning of the game we start off with nothing and have limited ways of navigating the mazes. As time goes on, we gain new technology and upgrades that allow us to complete very complicated mazes in a variety of ways. This is a metaphor for technology today. Although technology has many positive aspects, its progress is extremely dangerous. We now possess the power to wipe out an entire city or country in a matter of seconds with a nuclear weapon. As we continue in Portal the puzzles become increasingly more dangerous. Another example of dangerous technology is GLaDOS. GLaDOS was initially designed to run the testing center but obviously became far more powerful than any its designers ever anticipated. It is a strong symbol of the dangers of ever increasing technology.
Too many players, Portal is simply a quirky puzzle game, but if we step back and look it the way Marcuse tells us to it is much more. Portal is a social commentary of how we must always be careful not to become over reliant on technology. We must maintain what makes us human and never give in to being a nameless machine like many in our world today.