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Bigger on the OutsideEdit

The Portal Gun gives a unique outlook on how space can be manipulated and used. Each puzzle we see is, space-wise, fairly small, but the entirety of Aperture is huge. Due to both the constant use of elevators and how we make already contained spaces smaller through use of portals, we get a sense that this place, that would actually be gigantic, is a pretty manageable size. (This is actually a great way that a mechanic, being using portals to move through a space, directly affects a narrative feel of being trapped.) We now derive the “Bigger on the Outside,” yes I ripped that from Doctor Who, theme – where our mechanic has made what’s inside seem much smaller than it truly is.

An important lesson to learn is that Aristotle is wrong about just about everything. However, we still study him, and that’s because no matter how wrong he may be, he was very influential, and very useful to still think about. Aristotle, in Poetics, talks about space and time, dictating that stories should take place in as little time and space as possible. Now, it should be noted that, at the time he was writing, the only form that stories were depicted in, besides artwork, was play, and that Greek plays would last as long in real life as they did within the play – which means that every time the sun goes up and down in writing, it would also go up and down in life. So it’s fair that he would talk about the importance of efficiency of time. These days, though, just about everyone ends up proving that, at the very least, he had a lack of extreme foresight, and, while Portal does take place over a very small amount of time, I doubt Aristotle could have ever even imagined manipulating huge amounts of space in such a way.

              On the fiction side, there a lot of books which analyze a character from a small world who moves into a world much larger than they expected. This is quite common, especially among dystopian fiction. Recommended here is a personal favorite of the post-apocalyptic, young-adult sci-fi variety, City of Ember, by Jeanne Duprau. The book is a very dark book, both literally and as a tone, where an underground city is beginning to lose the last of its power – the catch, of course, being that those living there don’t know that they’re underground, and have no idea about the outside world at all, leading up to a powerful discovery.

Killer KnowledgeEdit

Often we see the theme of the search for knowledge. In fact, somewhere in most media is that idea: of growing, learning, and experiencing at the very least. Usually it’s more literal though, be it a quest for an underprivileged youth to go to college, or one for the headstrong princess to be taught magic against her parents’ will. Sometimes, though, the theme is the opposite of this: sometime, knowledge is bad. Portal examines more of the latter than the former. In fact, the player experiences almost nothing good that has come from Aperture’s research.

The Portal Gun can be seen as a neutral piece of technology; in and of itself there’s nothing dangerous about an item that creates portals. However, the use of that technology can become less-than-stellar. Here we have something that, theoretically, could be used to great benefit, but it’s only being used to “test,” people. The purpose of these “tests” is relatively unknown, but in the context of the player it very easily ends in death, and it’s hard to imagine that Aperture would set up tests that very easily kill any human for the good of the world. The knowledge of the Portal Gun, and everything revolving around the testing of it, has only influenced more evil in the world, or at least that’s the logic of this theme. Whether or not you agree with this logic is up to you, but it’s not an uncommon idea by any means.

Goethe’s Faust is considered one of the most important pieces of German literature. It’s derived from a very old story of a man who sells his sold to the devil for knowledge and happiness, and expands on the original. In Goethe’s version, Faust, the main character, makes the deal that, should he ever become happy with the amount of knowledge he has, the Devil may take him to Hell, and the story goes from there. The point here is that it is impossible for man to have all the knowledge in the world without the almighty powers of the Devil, and that the attempting of such a thing leads down a perilous road.

H.P. Lovecraft’s stories often go into this theme. Many times they show his own bend toward Christianity, and they often explore the things that man could know but never should (many of the stories in Cthulhu Mythos falls under this category). The Silver Key, though, focuses on how science and empirical knowledge erode the dreamer inside. While not as dark as many of his other stories, it examines how the growing child falls into despair as they become an adult due to the “practical” ideas of man.

One, Two, Three, TestingEdit

Testing human capability is a common trope among just about everything in the world. In fact, The Hero’s Quest, which most stories can be related to, sets up a series of tests that a “hero” must have to face in order to complete his narrative.

However, actual testing is rarer in a narrative. In Portal, the Portal Gun is used as a mechanism to test humans. That its original intention was for the sole purpose of testing is unlikely, however within game that has become its sole purpose. A lot of literature puts a character through emotional tests, or puts physical obstacles in their path to overcome, in order for the character to succeed, but the reality of having to pass tests, or the reality of the constant endurance of trial directly after trial is more uncommon (outside of extremely cheesy fantasy).

The first set of books recommended is a long, young adult series, called Young Wizards. These books revolve around several teenaged wizards, who come into finding their magical prowess. However, in order to become a full-fledged Wizard, they must specifically go through what is called an Ordeal, which is basically exactly what it sounds like. This Ordeal, though, has the bad habit of killing teenagers. The first book is primarily what deals with the Ordeal, as the main character works to prove her ability, fight the bad guy, and pass what may be the most important test of her life. Pass or fail, but in this case failure is death.

The second set is another, generally considered young adult, series. A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of books surrounding the sad lives of three children who lose their parents in a fire. While this book does not explicitly state that they must pass tests or trials to succeed, within narrative their lives would end rather quickly if they did not pass tests or trials. In many ways, this series is more similar to Portal than others that do lay out specific trials, as the trials faced are very puzzle-esk in nature. The three main characters must be constantly using their wit and their surroundings to solve hidden messages, escape from prisons, or even heal themselves from poison. The ability to use creative problem solving or discover seemingly random aspects from the environment, the way a player must in any puzzle game, is integral for the three orphans.