While playing Portal an interesting thought came to mind. I have a tool which allows me to bend space-time, yet I can’t make a whole THROUGH a wall. That’s a pretty useless space-time-manipulation-tool if I’ve ever used one. But then another, even more interesting thought came to mind. That’s the point! It’s a useless tool. A lie. Just like the cake. However there’s one difference, the cake is a much more overt lie. The player is hardly fooled by the cake as incentive, especially since it’s a virtual cake which has no means of actually rewarding the player. The gun on the other hand is the obscure lie, the one we’re not supposed to notice, the one that’s meant to fool the player. Why it’s hard to notice the gun’s shortcomings is because unlike the cake, the gun is rewarding to the player. The gun is able to induce all sorts of good Ilinx and Agon feelings and its successful use is addicting. The player is awed and distracted by the gun’s pleasurable aspects that its confining nature remains subverted. Its confining nature being that its a tool that behaves in an entirely linear manner, within a set of rules, dictated by the authority of your circumstances, GLaDOS. This in turn spawned another interesting thought.
What if that’s the reason behind Portal’s widespread appeal? Its relatability, and more importantly its optimism (more on optimism in finale). Our lives are very linear in a number of ways, and in many circumstances we feel impotent and incapable of controlling aspects of our society, and even our own lives. We have our own tools which many times seem to act within the confines of the choices of a higher authority. A simple example (out of many) would be the illusion of choice in voting. It makes sense that due to the constant limitations we feel in our daily lives, that literally being put in a linear confined testing center, we don’t really feel too far from home. But more interestingly, is the optimistic aspect of Portal, which is what makes the entire experience a pleasure.
Chell is about to be incinerated, and the player must use their wits to escape imminent doom. The only available tool is as described earlier, good at bending time-space, but not so good at bending rules. However, with the now obvious realization that GLaDOS has cheated, the player can break rules as well. Grabbing life by the reins, the player is now liberated from rules, and the gun becomes actually useful to the player’s endeavor. In fact, only at this point of realization does the tool actually become the player’s, up until then, it was a tool of the system. Relating this back to the parallel to our own lives, only once a person becomes aware of their social limitations, are they actually able to break free from them. This awareness of one’s own circumstance and life is a necessary step for progress, and it is perfectly simulated in Portal, where the player uses their meta-awareness to save Chell’s life. For this reason, Portal is clearly not just a puzzle game, but a relatable experience with a (somewhat) happy ending.