Saturday, March 10, 2012

Portal and Selective Safety

Portal 2
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Valve
NA Release: April 2011

I hope we find extra-terrestrial life someday. In fact, I hope we find a number of diverse species out there; a whole universal network of cultures and species. And I hope, out of all them, we get to be known as the only ones who've invented things just for an excuse to strap them to our bodies and fling ourselves around in various ludicrous and high-speed manners.

As a race, we seem to love challenging the old adage of “If God meant for us to _____, he would've given us _____.” We give ourselves the blank to do blank all on our own. We were not supposed to fly, but we created the hot air balloon. Then the airplane. Now we're tweaking jetpacks. But each technological advance we make almost always comes with the need for a bunch of safety measures to ensure our adventures into defying our own forms don't end up with our insides oozing out custard-like onto the pavement.

No matter how many times we try.
Video games don't really have to worry about this reality at all. Mario was able to fling himself off the highest block in the Mushroom Kingdom and land with all bones unbroken. It was a land of pixels and innocence back then, but as games have become more realistic we've come to wonder a little more about the survival of our characters. Or maybe we just get envious of their indestructibility.

This is why I love the “long fall boots” of the Portal series.

You hardly ever see these things in the games, but heck if I'm not constantly reminding myself they're strapped to the main character and test subject, Chell. When it all comes down to it, the boots are nothing more than an excuse for Valve to “allow” the player to plummet great distances without penalty. They could just not be there at all and we could've gotten used to the fact that Chell can fall without getting hurt, but then it would've nagged at us, wouldn't it. I mean, we have no problems at all making Chell play with lasers, automated turrets and deadly water, but letting her drop without deus ex Reebokinas on her feet? That's just ridiculous!

It's a bit funny how we can have such daring spirits yet are soothed by the security of a little safety net, even in a completely fabricated realm. And yet, what great exercises for our minds these conditions present! As we push our bodies to limits and purposes previously unrealized, we're in an endless mental race to design ways to protect ourselves and overcome the fears of our own fragility. Within every new helmet, protective suit and roll cage lies engineering brilliance and maybe just enough of a confidence boost to break the barrier into something new and amazing! And even the fiction of Portal may inspire new devices in our reality.

We'll let the aliens decide if any of it's actually worth it when we find them.