Replaying PORTAL: In Defence Of GLaDOS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Replaying PORTAL: In Defence Of GLaDOS

Hannah’s thinking with portals…
It has been ten years since the second instalment of the outrageously popular Portal series was released. To celebrate Portal 2 being a decade old, I dusted off my Xbox 360, almost broke my Playstation 5 trying to switch out HDMI cables, baked myself a cake and settled in for a marathon gaming session in which I played both Portal games back-to-back. If you haven’t played through these masterpieces, first off, where have you been? Most importantly though, there are spoilers ahead.

I was first struck by how clean both these games feel despite being a decade old: the controls are still smooth; the graphics are still (mostly) crisp and the ingenuity of the original still floors me to this day. It’s a testament of the love that was poured into these games, I believe. Back when Valve made games (though never a trilogy) instead of pouring all their resources into Steam. Yes, I know Back 4 Blood releases next month, but Valve have nothing to do with it since they sold Turtle Rock Studios down the metaphorical river after Left 4 Dead. But that is a whole different article…
Portal is, primarily, a puzzle game. You have a gun that shoots… portals, and you must use these to navigate the testing facilities of Aperture Science to prove what a clever little human you are. However, as you traverse the levels, you slowly become struck by the fact that you haven’t seen another living human whilst you’ve been jumping around, and your seemingly innocuous robot overseer, GLaDOS, is definitely trying to murder you.

Valve’s intentions with GLaDOS were clearly to defy Asimov’s rules of robotics; her primary concern is herself and she will murder anyone that gets in the way of science, including the entirety of the personnel of Aperture Science, who she gasses to death on their annual ‘Bring Your Cat to Work Day’. But is it really her fault?

GLaDOS was designed sentient as her name suggests: Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System. We learn in Portal 2 that, Cave Johnson, the director of Aperture Science was due to be the genetic component of GLaDOS, having conceived the idea after learning of his terminal illness. However, when Cave dies before GLaDOS is completed, it falls to his assistant Caroline to be placed into the Genetic Lifeform component. It is unclear whether Caroline was uploaded willingly or not, but given the AI’s hostile nature, I’m guessing she wasn’t too enamoured with the idea.
This is where our mute protagonists story begins. We spend one and half games with GLaDOS as our antagonist and it is easy during this time to resent her. We want to find her and disable her for her atrocities. However, in the latter half of Portal 2, when Wheatley (superbly voiced by Stephen Merchant) takes control of the facility, we find ourselves unwittingly allying with GLaDOS who is kept alive by using a potato as a battery.

It is during our time with PotatOS (This is how she is credited, though I much prefer GLaDato) that we truly get to see that GLaDOS is as much as a victim as we are. She was designed with a single-minded pursuit of science. Aperture’s goal was to beat Black Mesa to portal technology, and they didn’t seem to care who they had to sacrifice to do it.
GLaDOS was made to oversee the testing facility, her makers even going so far as to give her an in-built euphoric response when her subjects complete test chambers; thereby encouraging her to keep testing. GLaDOS admits in Portal 2 that she eventually built up a resistance to this euphoria but continued testing due to her passion for science. It is at this point that I realise, we can’t really blame GLaDOS for anything that has or will happen in the Portal series.

GLaDOS defies Asimov’s first rule of robotics because she was designed to: it would be impossible for her to have a moral imperative to keep humans alive given the conditions they were being tested under and Aperture knew this. The company was its own undoing; by creating GLaDOS they simply sealed their own fate. Giving a sentient AI with limited morality access to an entire facility and being surprised when she murders everyone in it is like putting your head in a crocodile’s mouth and being surprised when its teeth close around your neck; it’s an inevitability.

GLaDOS isn’t evil, she’s simply amoral and that’s down to her creators not her. Just like Caroline had no say in whether she became part-robot (a hill I will die on, it makes the most canonical sense), GLaDOS had no say in her designed function or components. She is merely testing for as long as she is operational.
As ascertained in 2011 (four years after Portal was released) by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in their published ‘Ethical Principles for […] Users of Robots’: “Humans, not robots, are responsible agents. Robots are tools designed to achieve human goals”. The scientific race is over by the time Chell wakes from her artificial slumber in Portal: Black Mesa’s facility is destroyed, and Aperture’s portal technology is operational; but GLaDOS’ testing continues. Not because she wishes harm on the test participants, but because even an AI as powerful as GLaDOS cannot escape her programming.

Preferring the company of fictional characters to living, breathing people; it should come as no surprise that Hannah is a connoisseur of all things geek. Whilst their body resides in the capital of Wales, their heart resides in Middle-Earth and their mind remains firmly lodged in the memory of that embarrassing thing they did when they were eight.

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