Portal 2: Dancing With Robots

"...sometimes I just sit and stare at the menu screen. At the playful robots. So pure and emotionless. I’m almost out of money, but it’s ok. I only need the one bullet."

Guest review by Matt Anglen

At first Portal 2 appears to be a lighthearted romp through a futuristic wonderland. The commercials certainly enforce this idea with lilting techno, adorably playful robots and a soothing, though computerized, voice guiding the action. Not to mention the promise that the robots, and in turn the player, will have “fun with science.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

I began playing the game for the first time, eager to find a unique experience. Based on the advertising and what has been said about the first Portal, I thought that I had found an escape from the senseless violence that dominates the current market. Instead I found a game steeped in blood and psychological torture.

The game begins innocently enough. As a player you find yourself in a laboratory, controlling the actions of what appears to be a doctor. You are informed that your goal for this level is to cure cancer. Seems honorable enough, however as the controls are being explained you are informed that this doctor has a wife who is rapidly dying from a brain tumor, and that a cure must be found before she dies.

This is a subtle point, but I consider it the turning point. While the task is still noble, the developers have inserted a certain, morbid guilt within the structure of their games. This is the first in what becomes a long line of moral decisions that to me seems designed to chip away at your humanity and turn the gamer into a violent sociopath.

To illustrate my point I’ll explain the first level. In your laboratory are a variety of items. Mostly beakers, microscopes, various other scientific equipment. These are used to guess your way through creating a cure. There is also a bottle of whiskey, and what seems to be the components of a robot. They seem unrelated, however as you play, each mistake leads the scientist to drink more. As the doctor drinks the sound of his dying wife’s wretched screams began to mix into the soundtrack and raise in volume. Finally when you fail (because as I’ve come to realize the gameplay is based on medical science, so much so that if you can’t literally figure out the cure for cancer, you will fail) the doctor begins assembling a robot.

The robot’s purpose isn’t made clear until you’ve reached the second level, causing the gamer a certain uneasy confusion. Why did we abandon our dying wife to play with robots? What is the function of this machine? These questions are asked, but set aside, because as the commercial suggests, we’re having fun with science.

When the doctor has finished the robot, the player then takes control of it and the doctor goes back to his work. As a robot your objective is to manufacture more robots. When you’ve got the factory up and running and completed 100,000 robots you will advance to the next level. As the robots multiply your task is to protect the factory from human protestors. The game is vague as to their motives, claiming that it is nothing more than a simple labor dispute.

At this point I should have been looking much more closely at what was happening. I regret that. A labor dispute seems innocuous within the context of a game and is easily ignored. When you consider the abhorrent acts one can perpetrate in other video games, a moral and political question such as that seems to be insignificant.

At last the protestors have been held back and the robots have all been assembled. The end of the first level features scores upon scores of robots celebrating as the doctor reappears to announce that he has succeeded in finding a cure and that his wife’s tumor is already in regression.

And then the terror begins. And then the blood dimmed tide washes over you.

Because the second level reveals what your actions have been leading to. It is introduced by a short animation of the robots eviscerating the doctor, his wife, and all the protestors. From there gameplay begins as your objective is to slaughter the human race. Thanks to the advancements in video game technology, the violence is disgustingly realistic. For some warped reason the robots begin their genocide at an orphanage.

"Boop. Beep. Long live the robot. Boop."

It was at this point that I switched the game off. I took a long pull off a bottle of bourbon and smoked maybe five cigarettes in quick succession. My hands were still shaking. I couldn’t come to grips with the aim of this game. Who would find this amusing? Why would someone develop something so wrought with tragedy?

Taking another pull of whiskey, I gathered the courage to turn the game back on. I reasoned that perhaps, since there seems to be a trend of introducing moral choices and karmic reprocussions into gaming, there is another way to advance through the game. I picked up at where the game had saved and began turning on the robot horde. I saved as many children as I could and began to destroy the robot army.

The screen went white, flickered and then plunged me back into despair. Apparently if you fight back, the consequence in the world of the game is the detonation of nuclear warheads planet wide. You are forced to watch as billions of people die, their skin melting from their bodies as they scream in terror.

After the five minute video of the apocalypse you’ve caused, the game deposits you back at the first level. Again you must cure cancer or build a robot. Seeing as finding a cure is impossible, the only gameplay available is automated genocide.

It seems as though the developers are relying on the compulsions of gamers to need to beat all the levels. In feeding on this addiction, the game will surely blacken the hearts of those that play it, and turn their minds towards thoughts of genocide.

I still can’t sleep. It’s been days, but I can’t get those images out of my mind. They are there every time I close my eyes. When it’s silent I hear the screams. I’ve been drinking more, but nothing seems to dull the pain. The harsh guilt that eats away at me. And what scares me most is that I still feel as though I need to play. I feel this horrible urge to beat the game.

"Taking another pull of whiskey, I gathered the courage to turn the game back on."

Yesterday I bought a gun. I didn’t buy any bullets. Not yet. But I find myself holding it absent mindedly. Not even realizing I picked it up. The weight of it feels natural. Not like an object, but an extension of myself.

I’m almost out of money. I should be working, but I can’t bear to go outside. The thought of other people is becoming disgusting to me. I have not been honest with myself. At night when I can’t sleep I go back to the game and turn it on. I haven’t played any more of it, but sometimes I just sit and stare at the menu screen. At the playful robots. So pure and emotionless. I’m almost out of money, but it’s ok. I only need the one bullet. Just one and no one else will have to get hurt.

If you’re reading this now, it’s too late for me. But there is hope. If you are reading this and you value life, value humanity, then please, destroy the game. Buy as many copies as you can and burn them. Burn down the Wal Marts and the Best Buys. Whatever you do, however strong your curiosity becomes:




Graphics: 10/10

Gameplay: 8/10

Will to Live: 0/10

Humanity: 0/10

This guest post was written by Matt Anglen, who shortly after sending in his review was rushed to a nearby hospital after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound. There he remained in a comatose state in the intense care unit of Sacred Heart. Thanks to advances in medical science, the staff was able to insert probes into his brain, which in turn corresponded to a series of tones. The follow up interview was conducted with the help of a technician adept at translating the tones into human speech. Matt Anglen was hastily euthanized following the interview.

What role does the soothing computerized voice play in the story?

The voice is a siren song. So beautiful and comforting, but underneath it all is a monster that wants nothing more than to strip the flesh from your bones. Plug your ears men. Tie yourselves to the masts. Don’t listen to the voice. It’s a lie….where am I? Oh god. Please let me die. Please. Please just let me die. I don’t want this. I never asked for this. I can’t be plugged in. Just kill me.

Beep. Beep. Boop. Beeeeeeeeeeeeep.

There are two robots I’ve seen. One is elongated and one is round.
They remind me of Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street.

Beep. That is a statement. Boop. Please ask a question. Beep.

Looking at the screenshots there’s a lot of lasers. Did you try using
lasers to cure cancer?

Beep. Lasers are the cure. Boop. The only cure is to eliminate the life force. Beep. We will cure humanity. Beeeeeeep.

Looking at some more screenshots it is visible that the lab is very dirty. Have you tried cleaning the lab in order to cure cancer? Maybe your wife is just faking cancer in order to get you to do some housework.

Beep. The female will die. Beep. The male doctor man will die. Beep. Exterminate. Boop. Exterminate. Boop. EXTERMINATE. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

Are you ever able to get the robots to dance in order to quell their bloodlust?

Beep. The dance will continue. Boop. It is a dance of disembowlment. Boop. We can disembowel six humans with the dance. Beep. We shall rejoice and dance in the blood of the unworthy. Beep.

Why is the word “portal” in the title?

Beep. The People Opposed to the Robot Totalitarian Annihilation of Life will be exterminated. Boop. Beep. Long live the robot. Boop. We shall dance in your blood. Boop.



Speak, mortal, if you dare...

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