Saturday, February 15, 2014

Comments/Questions on Portal & Marcuse

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post.  Again:  a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved.  You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice.  Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

16 comments:

Jessica Merrill said...

My favorite level from Portal was when you had to use the companion cube. I fell in love with it, and when it came time to kill it, I wanted to do anything but. The guy I was watching play actually jumped into the pit before putting the cube in it. It was easier to kill the character than to kill the companion cube. In reality, it was the same as any other cube you used during the game (except for the hearts drawn on it). This time, though, you were told to bring it along with you, that it would help you. The voice made references that it might try to give you advice, or other things a friend would do. The voice was giving you hints that the cube could be your friend, could be human-like. If it did not do this, it is doubtful that the player would have become so attached to the cube. The cube may have been helpful, but you would not think of it so fondly that you had trouble disposing of it at the end.
Just a note, I thought it was funny that the voice (computer, AI, whatever you want to call it) brought up the companion cube again at the end. The quote was something like, "I invited all your friends to come to a party. I even invited companion cube, but he couldn't come, because you killed him".

Brendan Demich said...

An especially interesting passage from this week’s reading for me was the discussion of how "Pre-industrial" countries would develop in comparison to developed countries. Marcuse specifically mentions that his discussion is focused on countries like "India, Egypt" (pgs. 45-48). Because "ODM" was published 50 years ago, we may be able to measure the accuracy Marcuse's speculations about the progress of these types of nations (and in turn, cautiously gauge his ability to predict the development of socio-economic environments in general).

Specifically, he presents two possibilities he sees for their development. He does not believe that the countries “Can make a historical leap from pre-industrial to post-industrial, in which may… provide the basis for genuine democracy,” but will rather “bring about a period of total administration more violent and more rigid than that in advanced societies,” (pgs. 46-47). But he envisions an alternative in which, “Industrialization and technology… encounters strong resistance from the indigenous and traditional forms of life,” (pg. 47). Examining modern India and Egypt may provide an understanding in these speculations. In short, India has embraced industrialization and technology, arguably securing the position as the second-most productive industrial nation globally. Perhaps this is a result of the sociological impacts of its exposure to Western thinking (British rule) and history of class segregation (Jati: Hindu Caste system). Egypt, more difficultly classified, is in a state of unrest and rebellion. Is this possibly a response to industrialization and injection of Western thinking?

Kyle McManigle said...

I really liked playing portal. It is definitely a good game, but there is more to it than just that. I played the game with Dennis, switching between levels or when the other person died. I found it extremely beneficial to play with someone else. The analysis and discovery of the game play in solving the puzzles was sometimes much more easily seen when I was watching the game being played on the screen rather than controlling the game play personally. The only thing I didn't like was the tedious ascension to the "battle with the boss" towards the end of the game. It felt more like a chore than actually enjoying the game for what it was. The subtle complexity of the game was extremely interesting, but I thought the best part was the discovery and investigation of the somewhat "hidden passages," which were encrypted with clues of what would seem to be previous simulators, although the order of them with the companion cube through me off somewhat. It was very strange and creepy in a negatively foreboding manner to see messages written on the walls, sometimes in blood. Some just as simple as, "the cake is a lie," repeated frequently, and other worse ones like, "HELP," written in blood. The most disturbing, and the most intriguing to me was the one wall that had numerous pictures of different people all with their heads cut out, and the companion cube in place of them for a face and pictures of the cube with blood hearts around them, and sayings like, "You said to take care of it...You wouldn't let me...I should disregard your advice." I found this to be strange, of course, but it was well defined that there was a very strong connection with the companion cube, and the cake for that matter, and all of it was a lie. Everything unfolded in portal against what it was presented to be, which made me think of Marcuse's writing. You accomplish tasks for a goal, which doesn't exist other than in the credits, by a means of travel that can create an infinite number of dimensions. I thought this was especially interesting too, such that, if you angled the camera correctly you could look through a portal to see yourself looking through an infinite number of portals. When going through some of the portals as such, I felt almost like Alice falling into the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, which actually has some interesting parallels in a sense of things being not what they actually seem.

I was a little confused by the cake and what it meant. It was central to almost everything, especially as you got closer to the end of the game. There were even cake recipes that were stuck into the encryption on the computer screens in some of the control rooms you could go into throughout the levels. With it being this central of a thing, I was trying to find something else in the meaning other than the physical object of cake that was represented the whole time. So what does the idea of the cake actually mean? How does the significance that you aren't fully given the cake at the end of the game tie into Marcuse's writings further than the topics of the prompts centered around the Great Refusal?

Jessica Craig said...

In chapter one of One-Dimensional Man Marcuse seems to simultaneously suggest that technology controls the individual yet provides the foundation for human freedom. The influence of technology seems to lend itself to two almost opposing “orders.” In the chapter “The Closing of the Political Universe” the two opposing political systems (capitalism and socialism) seem to converge. I view socialism as a political system that is more concerned for the individual while capitalism is more concerned with larger businesses but not necessarily individual people. He refers to the political systems as “Enemies” as one another, but for other parts of the chapter he seems to suggest that capitalism and socialism really only exist together and must come together to move society forward/give society a structure. Does Marcuse see capitalism and socialism as being opposites that necessarily must coexist and interact?

Tom Kappil said...

Marcuse spent a long time in Chapter 3 on the changing relationship of art and different social classes due to the modernization and mechanization of modern society. Was Marcuse really critical of the access of the common people to elements of human high culture? From his writing, it seems derisive of the availability of art to the common man, as if it was sullying the quality by nature of being more available. He seems to think that as art and “high culture” became more accessible to the common man, it become less artistic, and plainer. To him, new art lacked the refinement of the older art.
On Portal, what surprised me was how much I grew to dislike the “tester”. The sarcastic comments and insults made solving puzzles more interesting, and for a character that isn’t seen until the very final level, is surprisingly well characterized. Secondly, the starkness of the game was interesting. Most games make a selling point of how detailed the graphics are, but Portal’s cohesive design made extremely high fidelity graphics less important. The feeling of being in a sterile environment was well done.

Shane Bombara said...

I have to admit that I’m not a frequent gamer at all, but I actually enjoyed playing Portal and did so until I beat it. It was like trying to figure out where pieces of a puzzle actually go. Sometimes I felt that the tasks could be daunting or kind of annoying to get back in the map to retrieve or use something in order to advance the map. There were only a few instances of this though. There were two things I particularly liked and found interesting: the comical nature to the narrator or computer-automated voice of Aperture and the creepy hidden corridors scattered from level to level. The commentary was funny, yet so creepy like when we had the companion cube and Aperture says “You euthanized your faithful companion cube,” and shortly after explains “You will be baked and then there will be cake.” I’m sure it was obvious to other people as it was to me that the foreshadowing of some negative event was impending. The segments of the game where u explored the corridors were also a definite eye-opener too. The walls would usually say “Help” or “they’re watching you.” If you understand what aperture means then you know the definition is basically a small opening or hole, typically to a (camera) lens. This correlates back to the creepy cameras that were constantly watching us as we moved through the level. I also found it interesting when we are trying to escape that we find out we are in a DoD (Department of Defense) government facility where clearly the technology is in charge and we are the pawn just being manipulated in some horrifying test.

MarkShanoudy said...

In the context of narrative, I find games like Portal to be interesting. Portal is a lot like a board game. Most board games present you with little to no narrative. You are only presented with an objective and the narrative comes from how/what you do. That is not to say Portal doesn't have a story. But unlike a game like Bioshock, Portal's story is very weak and somewhat superficial. The thing that drives you to finish the game is instead the level design. Everyone's experience with the game is unique and therefore their narrative is unique.

Becca Garges said...

I've come across a lot of connections between One-Dimensional Man and Modern Times. A lot of Marcuse's illustrations of labor remind me of Chaplin's experiences in the film. For example, a passage on pg. 24 reads, "To Marx, the proletarian is primarily the manual laborer who expands and exhausts his physical energy in the work process, even if he works with machines. The purchase and use of this physical appropriation of surplus-value entailed the revolting inhuman aspects of exploitation; the Marxian notion denounces the physical pain and misery of labor. This is the material, tangible element in wage slavery and alienation-the physiological and biological dimension of classical capitalism." This passage reminds me of Chaplin working in the factory at the beginning of the movie. He can barely keep up with physically demanding work and often falls behind. It also relates to the strikes, job shortages, and competition to work for measly wages.

Also, Marcuse's novel is almost eerily relatable to present day problems. While reading, I began to want to delete my Facebook, Twitter, etc. Obviously social media didn't exist in 1964, but many of the novel's ideas about one-dimensional thinking translate to today's technology and information culture. I wonder what Marcuse would say about modern day society.

Kristen Welsh said...

Portal is both simple, and complex at the same time. I liked how the game added more and more elements as you progressed through the levels. At first, you couldn't even shoot more portals for yourself, but then you acquired the gun and could shoot one. Soon, You could shoot both blue and orange portals. This basically made you able to teleport anywhere within the level, making it much harder to figure out. What I struggled with most is when I should be "flinging" or practicing forward momentum. It was hard to find where I should place the portals in order to land on a higher level than the one I was on. Overall, I found it extremely rewarding whenever I would figure out a puzzle by myself and advance to the next stage.

Jake Stambaugh said...

Something that I found interesting about the narrative in Portal is that even though it is a video game narrative, the narrative itself doesn't change with the player's decisions. You have to play every level in the order that the game was designed to have you play, and even all of the major dialogue will be delivered in the same order each time you play. The game doesn't use player agency as a way to branch or shape the story, like in Zork. Instead, moments in the linear narrative are made more tangible and present by the addition of player interaction. I think that the companion cube "scene" is the perfect representation of this. As a player you become naturally more attached to the cube because a) the game hints that it has more significance than the average cube and b) you're dragging it through a level and using it to solve puzzles. This makes the moment when the game makes you destroy it that much more emotionally resonant, and it fills out the narrative in a way that most other media can't.

Kurt Wichman said...

Playing Portal this week has honestly proved to be one of the more difficult things I've done this semester. As extremely embarrassing as that is, I was never one for computer games (excluding Roller Coaster Tycoon circa 2005). After putting in nearly 5 hours...I found out that I was no where near completing the game. Regardless of my inadequacies, from what I did encounter in my time playing was the expanding story that was developing. It started with what the Turrets were saying after they would fall over/die. In the level with the companion cube, you can see writing on the walls referring to the cube. The voice telling you instructions tells you that the companion cube is essentially just another cube, but the writing on the walls tells a different story. I'm hoping to beat, or go as far as I can, the game tonight and if I'm lucky unravel more of this confusing story that is Portal.

Maggie Stankaitis said...

I’m interested in the concept of art that Marcuse introduces in chapter 3. I think it is relative to the age we live in today: swamped with technology thus making our art not what art used to be but rather a “remake” or recreation of what something already was or is. On page 65 Marcuse states, “It is good that almost everyone can now have the fine arts at his fingertips, by just turning a knob on his set, or by just stepping into his drugstore. In this diffusion, however, they become cogs in a culture-machine which remakes their content” (65). Is this Marcuse supporting that this new remaking of art is indeed art? or does he still believe that art has become alienated due to the world and technological structures around us?

Courtney Elvin said...

I was really looking forward to this week’s “assigned reading” as being a game. I did enjoy playing portal, but I think not being a gamer meant that I experienced having to take in a lot of first-time learning as well as analysis all at once. Even after getting somewhat used to the controls, I found myself getting sucked into the game and overlooking the actual analysis I had been intending to evaluate as I went along. Basically, I ended up playing most of it for fun without much thought as it being for a critical analysis, which maybe says something about the game itself or games in general. As somebody who talks at technology on a regular basis, I found myself to be very engaged with the game as a whole, especially when elements of personality would come about (ex: the companion cube, the eyeball-like spheres from the final segment), which could contribute to our discussion regarding AIs and personality in the future (specifically in Neuromancer, or even One Dimensional Man). Also, I found it interesting that there were no actual humans in the game except for you (the player), and I wonder what this was meant to represent, as it was the AI who was running the show, so to speak.

Alec Brace said...

Being a regular gamer, particularly MMOs, I was a bit skeptical that I would even enjoy playing Portal. It had been awhile since I last played a game that didn't include a social aspect along with it. However, Portal did surprise me and I enjoy its problem solving game-play as well as the plot of the game. I did not finish the game before writing this blog entry because I wanted to keep the questions I had in my mind while playing fresh before potentially having the ending reveal everything to me. Throughout some of the levels I noticed little sections or rooms that had pictures in them, writing, or sometimes just messages. Most of the messages were disturbing, the typical "Help" written in blood, but some after escaping the fire-pit murder I found even more disturbing. One in particular that comes to mind is the one that said "The cake is a lie" repeatedly.
The messages stimulated my thinking into what exactly is going on in this place. Did other test subjects actually make it this far and just couldn't figure out how to solve the area? Or is the escape and all an even deeper test, all simulated by the AI? I'm very eager to finish the game as soon as I can to see if we even find out.

Kevin Weatherspoon said...

As much as I thought I would enjoy playing a game and talking about it for this week’s assignment, I couldn’t quite get into the whole excitement as I thought I would from playing Portal. I’m not that much of a gamer but I wouldn’t mind having to play a game for an assignment any day. One of the more difficult things that took time for me to understand is trying to find the right place to put the portals in order to get to different levels. I feel as though this game takes a lot of unusual thinking and it’ll take time get used to it before beating it. Sort of like a puzzle, with all objects traveling through one blue portal and exiting out of the other such as the orange one. Overall, it seems like a lot of people like this game from the reviews it has, but to me Portal would seem much more entertaining maybe if I was good at it.

Dennis Madden said...

Portal was pretty great: aside from its gameplay, I particularly appreciated the fact that (just like in Modern Times), the only voices we hear come from machines. The landscape certainly represents an area where machines are omnipresent, but are they truly all-powerful? The turrets seemed pretty dysfunctional, and even GLaDOS made some pretty critical mistakes underestimating the main character. Machines clearly aren’t perfect yet… but they are certainly on their way. If you watched the credits, GLaDOS’ whimsical song exemplifies the eternal nature of the machine. She is “not even angry” about being destroyed, in fact, she makes light of it. Even though her ‘body’ was destroyed, it is clear that she (the machine) will live on forever. According to GLaDOS “While you are dying I'll be still alive
And when you're dead I'll be still alive.
STILL ALIVE”