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Not Mina Harker

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12:44 pm: Yay Christmas
Bennett came home for Christmas this year! Yaaaaay! They even apparently taught him to hug up there at crazy school in the frigid north! There is so much friggin' snow in Vermont. My mom and I went up there to get him, and we had to rent an SUV to travel. Normally, I'd abhor riding in an SUV, but normally, I'd be riding in it in a state that barely gets half an inch of snow a year, thus a state where an SUV is a complete waste of space, money, and gas. But in Vermont, you really do need something with four-wheel drive in the winter. Three feet of snow. It was crazy.

Anyway, it was good to see Ben and meet his friends. It's good to know that he has friends up there and life isn't unbearable, but I still think he doesn't need to be there. He belongs at Enloe, with his Enloe friends-- whom my parents don't believe exist, but they totally do, as those friends of Bennett's who read this journal no doubt know.

He was very happy to get home, but I gotta say, once he did, I didn't see a lot of him. He stayed in the bonus room mostly, on the computer. Same old Ben. Crazy school won't cure him of his immunity to social obligation, and my parents don't seem to want to discipline it into him, so it's just mom, dad, and me left to draw Grandma Tina's sometimes trying questions, like "Why did people give me chocolate for Christmas?" (This is not a rhetorical question. She really wants a serious and indisputable answer.)

But I kinda get why he was on the computer so much. Bennett downloaded the newest game from Valve, those makers of fantastic storyline'd games and oodles-of-fun physics engines. That game is Portal, and it is pretty much the best game ever. Let me explain why.

I am a video game junkie. I love them. I love power-ups and weapons and levels and plotlines and really difficult puzzles and over-the-top battles. The thing is, I'm a woman, and something about the possession of ovaries impairs me from ever actually playing these games. I'm fine on simulation games like Roller Coaster Tycoon or Civilization III, I enjoy those point-and-click adventure games like Myst, and I've even been known to waste countless hours leveling up on those money-sucking MMORPGS like Dungeon Siege and World of Warcraft. But if I want to get in on the excitement of Halo 3 or Half-Life 2, I have to get a guy to play it for me so I can watch. I've tried playing first-person shooters before, and I've only managed to master the art of spinning around in circles and blowing myself up with my own grenades. I am, reluctantly, an eternal n00b.

I thought Portal would be the same when I plopped down on Ryan's bed with his sister Bridget to watch Ben and Ryan play through the first few levels of the Aperture Science Testing Facility. It was awesome. The computer voice, the music, the dark humor, the difficulty, and oh my Jeebus the PHYSICS! In the Half-Life games, the great physics engine was merely a really fun sidenote that got worked into the gameplay a few times and made "sandbox" programs like G-Mod fantastic. Well, Valve decided "Hey, people love our physics so much, why not make a whole game devoted to nothing but cool physics?" And they did. The game is a series of puzzles through which you, the evil computer's lab-rat, must work your way using The Device, a thing that creates two linked "portals" on any flat surface. You could put a portal on the wall next to you and another one on the ceiling above you, then walk through the portal next to you and fall out of the ceiling. This is useful, as the computer makes you work your way across steaming pits of toxic goo that will kill you if you set so much as a pinkie toe on them, and without a bridge, a portal to the other side of the deadly abyss is a lifesaver. You can shoot a portal at the floor under, say, a gun turret determined to kill you, and the turret will fall through the hole and out on to the floor at your other portal which could be safely miles away from you. The double-jump is an especially fun physics trick that the Portal people devised: Shoot one portal way up high on a wall, then another one at your feet. Jump through the floor portal to fall out the really high one, and on your way down, shoot another portal at the floor where you would normally land. You'll emerge through the high-up portal again, but this time with all the speed and momentum you gained while you were flying towards the floor, flinging yourself into space and across long distances. Basically, it's flying without the tripe about happy thoughts and fairy dust.

There's an interesting thing about Portal, which I've heard some other gamers decry as Freudian bullshit but which I am coming to believe. It is an entirely female game. Instead of getting a big phallic gun to shoot lots of pointy phallic bullets at your enemies to phallicly penetrate them and kill them in a manly way, you get a device that shoots what are essentially giant glowing vaginas at walls, floors, and ceilings through which you or any other object can pass. Not only is the gameplay altered in this decidedly non-phallic way, but the voice of the computer guiding you through the series of "tests" is a female voice; your character is a frazzled-looking female test subject; the AI-gun turrets you encounter have feminine voices and use motherly phrases to lure you into target range; even the darkly comic jokes the computer makes reference only females: "Remember, the Aperture Science Bring-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day is the perfect time to have her tested." "Did you know that you can donate one or more of your internal organs to the Aperture Science Self-Esteem Fund for Girls? It's true." Of course, your character isn't "female" in the way that Lara Croft is "female"--that is, designed with enormous boobs and a luscious bum to excite the lonely boys for whom the game was designed. You are a real woman who, when you get a good look at yourself through a self-made portal mirror, has a stocky figure, thick-boned face, set jaw, and an expression that says you ain't takin' no shit from nobody. Any fanboy tries to oggle your proportionally realistic boobs while you're jumping through portals, you'll throw a turret at his face.

Now, I understand why a lot of game reviewers say this interpretation is stupid, and that sometimes a giant glowing metaphysical portal is just a giant glowing metaphysical portal. And I agreed with them for the most part, that Valve didn't set out to make some important statement regarding an affirmation of female sexuality or anything, they just made a cool game that happened to have a female main character. It's not so improbable; after all, there'd be about a 50% chance that any test subject at the Aperture Science Laboratories would be female. The gun turrets are funnier and ultimately scarier when they've got the high-pitched voices and sweetly innocent programmed phrases; their apparent femininity is merely the byproduct of good game design. But then... I played it.

And I mean, I played it.

I. A female. Played a game classified as a first-person shooter. I played Portal. And I played it through to the END! That's what convinced me that Portal totally is a big glowing vagina-fest. There is finally a first-person shooter on the market that a woman can play and WIN with no help from a man. Well, okay, there were points when I was like "Graaah! Why did Ben have to fly back to Vermont? I could really use his help in this massive turret ambush which kills me dead in three seconds whenever I portal above ground!" But the point is, I can play Portal. And that's better at raising this girl's self-esteem than any donated internal organs.

Oh, and now I have a job! I'm a delivery driver for Pizza Hut, and I'm also the only pizza girl they've got. And my work uniform looks pretty much exactly like this:
Pizza Girl
Well, okay, so I may be a pizza girl, but I'm not Pizza Girl. Who cares? I make good money and I get to listen to Wicked on the job. Yay monies.

Eh, guess I should review the Christmas presents... good year, I suppose. Got a Brita Filter that's going to make drinking water in the dorm room so much more pleasant for Gabi and me, and I got wool socks. And let me just say, I am pretty sure that Dumbledore wasn't lying to Harry when he said that he saw himself in the Mirror of Erised holding a pair of good wool socks. So sure, he might have seen his little sister still alive and Grindelwald not evil and still in love with him, but he definitely also saw himself with wool socks. These things are awesome. I highly suggest a pair for everyone.

Comments

[User Picture]
From:virginiadare
Date:January 11th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
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Along with being a really great editor of video, you are a very talented writer! The game review was really good. You should submit your writing to some online magazines. I'm sure they would love you!

Do you mind if I friend you?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:January 11th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
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Portal is AWESOME. I played it through on Thanksgiving with friends, and we laughed our asses off. So much fun! Here's to gamer girls! (Er, you, not me.)
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