Glados, the machine fans of Portal know and… do not really love, has been with the player since the beginning of the game. And yet she is an enigma. And of course she became more complicated after our class brought up the idea that she might be the environment and not a character. True she feels like a character, but she is hardwired into the mise en scène of the game. As I played Portal, my mind began its quest to solving the Glados dilemma, generating ideas that will hopefully quell debates on the subject.
Most people think of Glados as a character considering how she has all the dialogue Chell clearly lacks. As an aspiring writer, I noticed that she has qualities writing instructors discuss in outlining characters. Although her origin story is unknown, it still exists and affects her behavior in Portal. Glados has an objective to kill Chell, and possibly a super objective that guides her actions in the plot of Portal. Also, she something that resembles a body at the end of the game. As a character, she has an origin, an objective that motivates her actions, and a body of sorts. All in all, the argument for Glados being a character seems fairly air-tight.
Or does it? Glados is a super computer linked into every part of the Aperture Science testing facility. In a way, she is the Aperture Science testing facility. And as Henry Jenkins discussed in his article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” game designers focus heavily the construction of the game’s levels. The commentary from the game designers of Portal within the Bonus Levels do not discuss character design, they discuss game mechanics and level design. Glados, controlling the environment of the game, providing a majority of the plot in the game, sounds more like mise en scène of Portal, and less like a non-player character.
So is Glados a character or the name of Portal‘s mise en scène? The way I see it, if the people who created Portal poured energy into both Glados as a character and as the set, I do not see why she cannot be both. I would also say that Glados is something no novel or movie could properly portray. Video games are the perfect medium for the enigmatic Glados, and similar entities in games will secure a place for video games in narratology.