The cake is a lie and other true things

I’m trying to develop some better blogging habits so the next seven days will – I say with the best of intentions – be A Blog A Day. Yes. Optimism! Today, my love of Portal 2:

When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons, what am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!
―Cave Johnson, Portal 2 dude
My sister, normally a woman of excellent taste, called Portal 2 boring. I responded with the sort of flaily indignation I reserve for when people suggest that I, Claudius isn’t one of the great triumphs of television. On one level, course, yes, it’s an opinion about a computer game, but on another, much more valid level, one substantially closer to The Real World, she’s wrong. Very, very, horribly wrong. Portal 2 is bloody marvellous.

It took me a wee bit to work out exactly why I love it so much. (Beyond the obvious, I mean – a ridiculous amount of the dialogue makes me want to type it up on poster size pngs, print them out, frame them and hang them all over the house…I’m not going to do that, obviously, that would be silly, but I’ve thought about it.) Eventually, I got it: it gives that same sense of satisfaction, of really having earned that next piece of the plot that I used to get from playing point and click adventure games. Portal 2 isn’t a matter of putting in the hours or button mashing with suitably manic enthusiasm or building up a giant army or giant gun to take down some bad guy; it wants you to relax in its post-apocalyptic sitting, sit back and enjoy giving careful consideration to the puzzle that the homicidal and sarcastic AI (who’s seriously grudgey just cause you killed her that one time) has put in front of you. Sure, there’s the odd bit of running for your life, one or two bottomless bits and giant mashing metal things, and you do have a gun. But it’s gun that makes doors, a gun that makes you think about how exactly you’re going to use it to take advantage of the curious physics of this world in order to fling yourself across rooms at an angle that will allow you to rescue AIs who’ve gone and got themselves turned into potatoes.

There’re an absurd number of things to love about Portal: the endearingly dark-edged humour, the eccentric characters, the marvellous voice acting and innovative setting, the fact that Chell – the player character – is a woman, and that it’s intelligence and not overwhelming force that’s needed to win the day. But it’s the puzzles that are at the heart of it, puzzles that can frustrate and anger and irritate and cause you to address your computer in some very unkind terms when you’ve accidently fallen down seven floors and can’t remember quite how you managed to get up there in the first place, but in the end they reward you with a smashing sense of triumph when you’ve finally overcome them, one that I’ve never had clearing out any dungeon, no matter how good the loot. When it all comes together and you race through the exit, you’re left with the feeling that, yeah, it was totally worth it. You’ve worked it out with your thoughts and cleverness! You’ve really, properly earned that next incremental step forward in the plot, before you’re faced with another, greater challenge.

And you get to shoot the moon. Which is awesome. More games should let you shoot the moon.


3 thoughts on “The cake is a lie and other true things

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