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PBS Game/Show Rightfully Touts the Portal Games As a Feminist Masterpiece

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I’m about to say something that will likely make you go “Where the hell were you in 2007?” I’m only now on Level 19 of Portal. Don’t worry – it didn’t take me nine years to get here! I started the game a couple of days ago, and am now on the verge of getting the hell up out of Aperture Science Laboratories (I hope?!). I knew going in that there wasn’t going to be any cake, though, so I’m not expecting any. Stupid, murdering, no-cake-having mother-f#@%ers.

Anyway, I’ve been addicted to this game 1) for the puzzles, 2) for the creepy, creepy sensation of being trapped alone in a creepy, creepy lab (I get sucked in to the vibe of this place and I do not like being in dark rooms filled with acidic sludge with creepy voices telling me what to do), and 3) for Chell.

Back in the 80s and 90s, I’d sometimes play games on friends’ consoles, and there was that brief moment in time when I was addicted to playing Myst on my sister’s PC. I also played a bunch of other computer games when I was a kid, like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and The Oregon Trail. But I’ve never really considered myself a “gamer” until recently, mostly because it wasn’t something that I sought out as a thing to do. I’d play games if they were presented to me, and yeah they were fun in the moment, but I’d never owned any, and so never got to really put in the time it takes to see a game all the way through and fall in love.

Dating and living with a gamer with her own multiple consoles has totally ruined changed me forever. Also, games weren’t really online when I was growing up (hell, online wasn’t really online when I was growing up), but now there’s Steam and so I can play just about anything that’s out there on my laptop. I’ve played more video games in the past three years than I think I’ve played in my entire life. All of this is to say, this is why it’s taken me so freaking long to play Portal.

Portal is the first time, in all the first-person games I’ve ever tried, where I truly felt like I was in the game, not just manipulating someone else’s actions. And I think I felt that way, because I came in knowing that Chell was female. So when I first picked up that portal gun, I immediately felt like I was at home. Granted a really dysfunctional home that’s trying to kill me, but still. And I know that, when the game was first released, part of what made it so revolutionary was that she was a silent protagonist that you only ever see once you’ve been playing a while, so everyone who played and got sucked into this creepy atmosphere was identifying as a female character whether they chose to or not, and that’s a rare experience.

The only other time I’ve felt that was finally getting to play as Ellie in The Last of Us (I’m still in the middle of that game and trying not to get stabbed with a machete over and over by a redneck creeper), but even that is only temporary.

For this, and many other reasons that you’ll hear about, PBS Game/Show touted Portal as a feminist masterpiece in its most recent episode, which you can check out above.

I didn’t mean to blather on about my gaming history and Portal in this post, but I really felt the need to express some gratitude here. As someone who’s relatively new to the gaming world, I can attest to how important it is to have characters and experiences that make you want to stay. Now obviously, I love playing male characters, too. I love playing Joel in The Last of Us, and I love being a Big Daddy and drilling people in the face in Bioshock 2. But it’s really, really nice to have an alternative to that; to have games where it’s understood that the person having the adventure shares my gender, rather than having it be a player choice, and to have a game where what gets you through isn’t how well you can destroy or kill people, but how smart you are.

So, thank you, Valve. You deserve a piece of cake.

(Image via screencap)

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