Friday, April 22, 2011

Except the Ones Who are Dead

As many of you may know, Portal 2 came out a short time ago. Being a gamer who loves puzzle games (especially the humorous ones), I ran to the store to buy it the first day. I have been playing it ever since. As such, I have had one thing on my mind: Portal 2. Still, the Drive-In needs a show every night. And I need to keep up my end of this partnership with Rabbi. So, I've been thinking. And while I would do a Moonlight Spotlight on GLaDOS (and there's little doubt I will in the future), I think I've had enough of looking at why certain characters are scary for a while. Instead, let's look at something that, to my knowledge, hasn't been talked about on the Drive-In before. Let's look at a song. A perfectly harmless and catchy song to anyone else, but for me, this song is terrifying: Still Alive.

The lunacy of this song begins as the end credits role in the first game. As it's the end of the game, obviously, you just defeated the main boss, which if you don't know by now is an evil sentient computer named GLaDOS. The whole point of Portal is that GLaDOS is putting you through tests involving a portal shooting gun for research purposes. What research? What is being experimented? I'm not sure the game developers even know. Still, the puzzle-style game and the dark humor GLaDOS portrays throughout is what makes it so addictive for anyone who's played it. But I digress. During the credits, when GLaDOS has been blown sky high, when various parts of her have been burnt in an incinerator, she sings us into the credits, starting with 4 little words: “This was a triumph.”

GLaDOS' little ditty can be described as... well... happy. Not vengeful, not angry, just... happy. There's a reason for this, though. Let's look into it stanza by stanza. In the first part of the song, GLaDOS is pleased because she believes the experiments were a great success. She sort of hints that they were really testing to see if the portal gun would work to expectations. What gets me, however, is that she's been blown up, defeated, beat down, yet she considers the whole incident a success. We start off the song with a sense that she doesn't care that she's dead, she's still happy with the outcome of the experiments. Already, it's a little creepy.

In the second verse, GLaDOS tries to guilt the player into feeling bad about killing her. She describes the process briefly, and says that it hurt, mostly because she was “happy” for the player. Toward the end of the stanza, she mentions the research again. This time, she expands a little more on why she's so upbeat all of a sudden. She mentions that the research will be useful toward... some kind of end. She says that whoever she's working for is going to release something, and everything the player did helped them learn vital information. All of it is left very vague, though. We don't know what the ultimate goal is. I personally think it has something to do with the end of the world. And, once again, we see how less is more. The fact that all this information is left open-ended so people like me can speculate was a brilliant move. This further proves that what we don't know is far scarier than what is told to us.

Anyway, the last stanza of this song is downright diabolical, and the reason GLaDOS (particularly when she sings this song) scares me. During the last stanza, she mocks the player, telling them they're pretty much on their own. She says “Maybe Black Mesa [can help you],” which, if you don't know, is the name of the villainous organization from Half-Life. She brags about having cake (which she kept saying would be at the end of the game, but the character never sees it). Most important, GLaDOS brags that while the player and the character in the game will eventually die, she is immortal. She really put it best: “While you're dying, I'll be still alive. And when you're dead, I will be still alive.” Ultimately, she's trying to make you feel that the player's efforts were futile. We did nothing, and she'll be testing long after the character is dead.

It's a song sung by a homicidal, science-obsessed, insane piece of artificial intelligence. It takes coldheartedness to a whole new level. GLaDOS tells the player that they did not stop her, they will never be able to stop her. What this whole song amounts to is “I'll be back.” Of course she would, or there probably wouldn't be a Portal 2. She'll always be around, looking for someone to test. Until the end of electricity, she will be still alive. Still alive.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis of a great song.