Sunday, 23 June 2013

Portal 1 or Portal 2?

Portal 2. I understand the first Portal is a purist's game - it's one we can hold up as exemplary of how games, and purely gamey devices can be used to convey challenge, story, humour etc - but I resent the implication that that, that games that do everything via puritanical means, are the utmost examples of videogames. Portal 2 is funnier; Portal 2 is more intelligent; Portal 2 has more interesting puzzles and better graphics. If there's one reason I like it better than Portal 1, it's because if I showed it to relatives and friends who don't play videogames, they'd be seduced by it much quicker. That opening. Man, that opening.

I think for me, that's always been the handle. Over the past few years, we've seen a trend of videogames made for non-gaming audiences, work with simplistic or motion-sensitive controls, or work which engages with subject matter non-gamers might be interested in. I'm talking about the Wii. I'm talking about Cart Life. Though CoD can muster hundreds of millions of dollars of sales within a week, games are still seeking validation, some kind of tip of the hat from the mainstream - from adults - to let them know that yeah, they're a legitimate form of art or entertainment. As someone who writes about games, I'm trying to do the same thing. When I introduce myself at parties, I always start with "I'm a critic" before making a joke about nerdiness and adding "yeah but, not a real one, because I write about games." 20 years after DOOM made us all look like masturbating basement dwellers, and we're all still ashamed to admit we like games.

Portal 2 on the other hand makes me proud, I guess. I'm reticent to use the word proud because it's not like I worked on it or anything, but I feel like, if I had the chance to show people Portal 2 at parties, I wouldn't have to look sheepish or make jokes. I could say: "I write about THIS" and people would understand instantly that that was worthwhile.

Portal 1 would take more justification. Purist, yes, but without the colourful levels; the same bam-bam of good jokes; the Stephen Merchant. I could show Portal 2 to someone who doesn't play videogames and inside five minutes, they'd been intrigued. It's utterly gamey - there are no cutscenes; it's puzzles - but at the same time, totally seductive to absolutely anyone. It's like Uncharted, or that jet level from Battlefield 3: I don't think who you are or what you like matters, Portal 2 is fucking impressive.

But it's still OURS; it's still a videogame. It wouldn't be possible if Valve made films; it's still, you know, a game. I'm pissed sideways on vodka while writing this so sorry if it seems a bit...wrecked. I think what I want to say can be said in one sentence, and since I'm writing this for myself, with no deadline, word count or editor on my case, I'm just going to say it in one sentence.

Portal 2 exemplifies the very best of videogames without subsidising, patronising or modifying itself for non-gaming audiences. To add one more sentence, it's a sugar pill: It's full of videogame things but dressed up in a way that makes it seductive to non-gaming audiences. I don't think that many of those games for non-gamers manage to stay so true to the medium, while at the same time, whetting the appetite of, you know, normal people.

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