Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prompt 3

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.
Picture 1
            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.
Picture 2
            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.


Adam said...

There is something beautiful about your first paragraph. It's an interpretation of Marcuse, rather than just a summary - a thoughtful, compact and easily comprehensible one - and well-written to boot. Good for you!

In the 2nd paragraph, I think you are presenting a plausible and interesting interpretation of Portal, which would place it (I agree) within the domain of what Marcuse calls art. Gathering evidence is harder in a video game than it is in a novel. I like your use of the sign warning us not to drink the water, but in order to be fully convinced of your argument, I'd want to see a lot more evidence along these lines.

Moving through the essay, I feel like your point of view is reasonable but far from obvious. The main barrier here is presenting evidence for the premise that Portal is a critique of excessive dependence on technology. The evidence you present is good, but hardly complete.

But I also want to turn this around and think of it another way. If what Marcuse is doing is asking us to see ourselves in a different way, so that we *really* understand what we ordinarily miss, then really this essay about Portal might need to become an essay about you. If Portal teaches us alienation, show us how it teaches *you* alienation. If you want to argue that Portal works as Marcusean art, that's probably the best possible way of demonstrating it.

Jason Wald said...

First off, I do not think Chell is an android - in fact, I'm almost positive she is human (why else would the neurotoxin matter). Do with that as you will, I would definitely go back and make sure it does not contradict what you have come to say (especially in regard to her not having empathy - then again, we can argue that even as human she lacks that 'most essential' function and so *is* she human? I'm rambling but you get the point, I hope).

That being said, I think the strongest part of the paper is the opening. It presents a great hypothetical and ties in perfectly with Marcuse. It should form the rest of your argument. Don’t show us how Portal shows *society* (or whatever you want to call it) the truths of our world (estrangement effect, alienation etc. etc.) but instead show how it works (or doesn’t) as art for *you*.