When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Last week I wrote about how Valve’s Portal surprised me by being more than a puzzle game – a game that moved me to think about fate, free will, and human autonomy. No matter your thoughts on those subjects, it’s exciting so see the power of games to produce emotions in the player and provide meaningful experiences. Because I had this experience playing Portal, I was expecting Portal 2 to be similar. I couldn’t have been more surprised at how different, narratively speaking, Portal 2 ended up being.
Many people talk about how funny GLaDOS (the evil rogue AI) was in the first game. Maybe I am weird but I just never really thought she was that funny until the last stage, and even then she was so creepy, I wasn’t sure I should laugh. Portal 2, however, is hilarious from start to finish. You’re not likely to think deeply while playing, but you are likely to laugh a lot.
The game opens in a new test chamber–this time the test chamber is fashioned after a cheap hotel room where an automated voice provides instruction:
There is a framed painting on the wall. Go stand in front of it. This is art. You will hear a buzzer. When you hear the buzzer stare at the art. [Buzzer followed by a ticking sound] You should now feel mentally reinvigorated. If you suspect staring at art has not provided the required intellectual sustenance, reflect briefly on this classical music. [Classical Music plays followed by another buzzer].
From the very beginning it’s clear, Portal 2 intends to be funny. There are three main personalities on display in the game: GLaDOS, Wheatley, and Cave Johnson. Wheatley is an idiotic robot who won’t shut up. Cave Johnson is the founder of Apeture Science and might just be my favorite character in the game. Many have said that Cave Johnson makes the game unbelievable because of his blatant disregard for human life. But for me, Cave Johnson, voiced by J. K. Simmons, is hilarious because honestly the entire game really isn’t believable and I love that Portal 2 for that.
Here are some great lines from Cave Johnson as you work on tests he assembled in Apeture’s early days:
Science isn’t about why, it’s about why not! Why is so much of our science dangerous? Why not marry safe science if you love it so much! In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won’t hit you on the butt on the way out, because you are fired!
Those of you who volunteered to be injected with praying mantis DNA, I’ve got some goods news and some bad news. The bad news is we’re postponing those tests indefinitely. The good news is we’ve got a much better test for you: Fighting an army of Mantis Men.
Ten years ago, I never would have thought you could successfully make a physics-based puzzle game that doubles as a dark comedy. Valve has. I like games with meaningful moments but can’t a good laugh be meaningful? Portal 2 produces many of those.