Close Playing – Jesse – Portal

Jesse Davis


Games and Culture

Close Playing: Portal

            This small video clip is from the “last level” of the video game Portal should be the “ending scene” of the game if you had believed the original story given to you by Gladus, the robot who runs all of your tests. There are several different “layers” to look through for this specific scene. This analysis will look into the sub level themes and weigh them against society as we know it.

            The first layer is that everything before this point in the game was a lie and possibly a waste of time. The main objective of this game has been to complete all 19 levels and be rewarded by the cake at the end! However, as this clip shows, the cake is a lie and so was everything else. This realization could weigh heavily on a person who is OCD about finishing tasks, but there are also several other realizations to be made here.

The first of these to analyze is the concept that you would be killed at the end of the game. It was this moment that I decided that the video game was a metaphor for life. Every aspect of the game can be associated with a part of everyday human life, implying that there are almost unlimited real-world metaphors to be seen. The fact that the aperture laboratory’s testing system was going to kill you tells us that the character that you have been playing as is essentially valueless to the system that she has participated in. I interpret this metaphor to the idea that we as humans, in our society as it is, all seem to go through life completing tasks to better ourselves, only to die in the end. The value and/or meaning of these tasks can vary, but the inevitability of death is still there. While dark in meaning, I think that may be one of the best subconscious themes of this game.

The second interesting concept is the idea of why one would even complete the tasks assigned to them, telling what the motivating factor is. In our real world we mostly live in capitalistic societies that are driven by the need/want of money for survival. In the game we are driven by the desire of beating the challenge to obtain the cake. This can be seen as a metaphor for the way capitalistic societies work in general. Showing how we as humans work (complete levels) to obtain wealth (cake) for either fun or survival. Looking deeper, there is a saying of “you cannot have your cake and eat it too” which has an interesting tie to the end of the game. When you finally get your cake, you cannot eat it due to death.

The third is the analyzing of the aperture laboratories facility as a metaphor for life’s limitations. The completion of the tasks in the right order could serve as a metaphor for a different life lesson you have learned, giving you something that you will need for upcoming challenges (levels). Everything you had learned previously in the game gives you the ability to address any challenge that faces you, and these challenges are set under a set parameter. There is no difference in the beating of a set parameter challenge in the game as there is in normal life. Take college as an example, it is a challenge that offers a potential reward that we are motivated to complete, in a set parameter, in which we must compile our intuition of previous knowledge, skills, and ability to think to graduate (beat the game). The walls in this level can relate to limitations set in our experience. To continue the college example, there are limiting factors that a student cannot simply surpass to get to the end (walls). It would be worthless to have a degree if anyone had the ability to get accepted and then walk across the stage a week later. This goes for the game, no one would want to play that game if you could just walk through the walls and beat it. These guiding factors help us assign meaning and value to everything. They serve as the foundation for anything to not only be assigned a value but to hold it.

To continue this theme, I think that the limitations of this game and the players ability to break out of this facility tell us about what success in life is. You can play the game of life by the rules and be the best that you can be, but if you are daring enough to challenge the parameters, you may be rewarded with new discoveries and a better/different quality of life. Some of the people who are less daring will go through the game of life without challenging the system and they will die like all the rest who followed the rules.

Overall, I really enjoy the game Portal for its fun and challenging gameplay and also appreciate the sublevel meanings that can be found if you look hard enough!

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