['Immersion' is a series which I am hoping to kick-start with my post on Portal. However, as I'm in the middle of a hectic diet of examinations 'Immersion' may simply wither away. Oh noes!] Portal
ís Aperture Science Enrichment Center -- Valve's masterpiece of sparse, minimalist design -- is a deeply desolate place. A deeply inhuman place. Despite consisting of cavernous rooms virtually indistinguishable from each other, the Enrichment Center's neutral white walls belied a compelling, chilling story: its clinical white dťcor told a tale of desolation, suffocating claustrophobia and mind-warping loneliness; its omnipresent deathly silence a similar, but just as affecting, legend of loneliness. The Aperture Science Enrichment Center is, in short, a disquieting place.
As the game progressed, I felt myself being dragged -- physically and mentally -- into the Enrichment Center. I felt institutionalised, somehow -- I felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare while playing the game. Truly, the fact that a neutral, clinical laboratory had and still has the capability to send shivers down my spine is a testament to the talent of Valve's developers. This immersion can probably be attributed to the fact that the Enrichment Center, oddly, reminded me of my vision of my imagined mind as a child -- a sparse series of vast caverns decorated in a clinical white, lorded over by a slightly unhinged intelligence capable of, uh, flooding an occupied laboratory with lethal neurotoxins.
The inside of a nine year old's mind
The Companion Cube, in my opinion, was an example of the institutionalism I referred to earlier. It was, in plain terms, nothing but a large, dense cube. However, the Companion Cube became pointedly more than that to many gamers as the game progressed -- thisÖ object
, a solid thing
incapable of experiencing conventional human emotions and feelings such as pain, love, and hate. The Companion Cube wasnít even dead -- it wasnít capable of death, since it had no concept of death. It was, for all intents and purposes, void of any recognisable life. It was, essentially, nothing more than a utility: an insignificant means to a significant end.
Yeah... people dig the Companion Cube. In a big way.
Nonetheless, its eventual demise affected me deeply. I felt disgusted with myself after tossing the Companion Cube into the incinerator, to be licked by the flames. I did, in a small, logical, emotionally dead area of my brain realised that my betrayal of my best buddy was for the greater good; this cold logic core realised that, in order to progress, I had
to incinerate my Number One Best Pal of All Time despite the wishes of my sappy, emotionally overwrought personality. I also realised afterwards that, as a fifteen year-old male, spending almost an hour debating internally over whether or not to toss an inanimate object into a digital fire is simply unacceptable.
The character of Chell also contributed towards the irresistible immersion which I experienced while playing Portal
. Her presence was largely unexplained; her personality barely expressed. In fact, most people I know who played Portal
referred to Chell simply as Ďthe chick in the orange boiler suití. However, her presence didnít really need to be expressed: we didnít really need to know who Chell was. All we, as the players, knew was that Chell was a woman simply attempting to overcome GLaDOSí fiendish physics-based puzzles and escape the eerily silent Enrichment Center. Chell is the perfect example of a protagonist who doesn't need a backstory; a protagonist who doesn't need any ulterior motive.
Kelly Baileyís sublime ĎSelf Esteem Fund
í expressed the lingering loneliness of the Enrichment Center without a single word. The track was dark and brooding without being overly emotionally overwrought; it held a certain cold, aloof quality which instantly reminded me of Portalís white walls and the approaching claustrophobia which bore down upon me as I progressed through Portalís 19 chambers.
I don't believe that Valve intended Portal
to be a chilling experience, but I cannot deny that it was. I don't know why Portal
possessed such dark undertones. I truly empathised with Chell, Portal
's protagonist. She displayed a show of bravery which I feel I would be incapable of demonstrating in such an oppressive setting: I feel that I would simply be driven mad and end up dead, lying in the middle of a test chamber under the glaring, unblinking eyes of GLaDOS, Portal
's unhinged robotic antagonist.
LOOK WHO CAME:
Lord Death of Murder Mountain