Playing Portal

Following my husband’s gleeful purchase of an Xbox 360, and the fact that he has now started his new job and isn’t hogging it anymore, I’ve been playing some new and exciting computer games. (New and exciting to me. I appreciate the rest of the Western World was over this in 2009.)

I really enjoy playing computer games, although I feel I’m not very good at them. In a sense this is a good thing as I get hours more use out of a standard game than most people, simply because my ineptitude means everything takes ages for me to do. But it can get ugly. I shout, I scream, I throw things. After failing to execute a fairly simple jumping puzzle in Ocarina of Time on the Wii I got disproportionately angry and rage quit. For 3 and half years. And you do not want to interupt me in a boss fight. I have called Terry every ugly name under the sun during a frenzied, uncoordinated attack on Ganon. I may have actually threatened to feed his Grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal at one point. It was not cool.

Despite this Hyde-like transformation into a monster whenever I have a controller in my hand, my devoted husband continues to find new games for my edification and delight. And I have to say, the Portal series is a doozy! I’ve still done all the shouting, swearing, rage quitting and so forth, but in my more rational moments I realise that I really enjoy this game. Here’s why:

It’s a First Person Shooter without the Shooting.
Ok, you have a gun of sorts, and you are shooting, but it just feels different to other FPSs. There’s a lack of pressure when doing the aiming and pulling the trigger, which makes a huge difference to me. I don’t handle stressful situations that well, hence the rage quitting. I couldn’t deal with something requiring constant lightening fast reactions and dead on accuracy 100% of the time. I need time and space to plan my move, aim and execute, which in Portal is generally afforded in spades, with few exceptions.

You can die with no consequence.
Unless you have very good motor skills, and/or are using a walkthrough there’s a good chance you’ll die at some point in the game. Doesn’t matter. You don’t lose points, lives, hearts, or anything as far as I can tell. You just respawn at the last save point. Coupled with the frequency of the autosaves, after nearly every section of a puzzle has been completed, you are unlikely to lose more than a few minutes of action. For some people I’m sure this is a drawback, as the risk of a semi-meaningful termination is part of the appeal. But due to my aforementioned lack of proficiency, the fact that I can die as many times as it takes to get it right is critical to my having an enjoyable experience. A game which punishes me constantly for my lack of hand eye coordination, is not something from which I’m going to get any pleasure, and I’m unlikely to be sticking with it for very long.

It’s atmospheric but not too scary.
I don’t enjoy the feeling of being terrified, so a game which utilises every cheap psychological trick to engender a sense of being stuck in a torture porn flick is not going to push my buttons. For my money, Portal gets the balance bang on between a slightly grimy sense of menace, but nothing that’s going to cause emotional damage. Furthermore, the threat which is there, is accompanied by a slightly knowing, sardonic humour which allievates the the tension nicely. Related to which it’s pretty much entirely non violent. I say pretty much as there are a few altercations between you and some non sentient anti-personel devices, but that’s about it.

It’s cerebrally challenging.
Yes, you need some standard FPS skills: hand eye coordination, quick reactions etc. but the most part this game is testing the little grey cells. The puzzles are inventive, and in my opinion quite difficult at times. I like to think of myself as reasonably logical, but spacial imagination and laterall thinking were never my strongest suits. It was a little galling to admit that this time my rage quits were becuase I was too stupid to work out the solution. After years of feeling defensive because it wasn’t my fault that I can’t press more than 3 buttons at a time whilst staring a screen, now I had to accept that it was my critical faculties that were at fault. Cue more shouting and swearing. But with some time, and a little bit of help I got to the stage were I realised I enjoyed the challenge, even if I couldn’t see the solution straight away.

Portal 2 has an awesome co-op mode.
Terry and I have a great tradition of gaming together, occasionally in competition with each other, but mostly, working with each other towards a common goal. Portal 2 requires real team work, and figuring out puzzles together was loads of fun!

Big thanks to @tomscott & @mseckington for the recommendation!

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