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A Walk through Portal: an Act of Video Game Analysis

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With this presentation, I will engage in an in-depth close reading of the game, Portal, in order to parse out various meanings I found in the experience of playing the game. I approach the experience from the perspective of how its narrative development and game design help a player learn how to play the game. Sequences in the game will be played and analyzed in detail in order to illustrate and interpret how these various components of the game come together to create a fulfilling playing experience that leads to a literacy and mastery of the gameplay mechanics. I’m currently editing a book with a group of authors performing similar analyses of various videogames. The goal of this book is to help develop and define a literacy of games as well as a sense of their value as an experience. Videogames are a complex medium that merits careful interpretation and insightful analysis.

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A Walk through Portal: an Act of Video Game Analysis

  1. 1. A Walk through an Act of Video Game Analysis Drew Davidson
  2. 2. Analysis Close Reading of the video game, Portal Analogous to Literary and Film Criticism Unit Operations Learning Principles
  3. 3. Portal Narbacular Drop - DigiPen Valve hired student team Portal - Orange Box Award winning game Great success story
  4. 4. The Game Learning Units Themes Chapters and Test Chambers Spoiler Alert!
  5. 5. 00 Introduction See yourself in Space Static in dialogue Test chambers & Backstage Puzzle with instructions
  6. 6. Analysis Narrative Development & Game Design Literacy and Mastery of Gameplay Learning Units - Flow Themes
  7. 7. 01 Portals and Spaces Short little Tutorials Panopticon (cameras, observation rooms) Visual Cues
  8. 8. Narrative
  9. 9. Gameplay
  10. 10. 02 Test Chamber signs Get the Gun! Clean Environments
  11. 11. 03 “Mind the gap” Portals go both ways Developer Commentary You feel alone
  12. 12. Full Disclosure Played through game at least 9+ times + many individual test chambers About 2-4 hours of gameplay Xbox 360 Some GameFAQs & the Web Listened to Dev Commentary
  13. 13. 08 Can die (!) More complex puzzles Recursive view
  14. 14. 09 GLaDOS - trust worthy? Audio and Visuals Elevator - backstage?
  15. 15. 10 First Fling GLaDOS explains momentum Orient through Space Variations (Learning Units
  16. 16. Experiential Themes Experiment - many levels of Space - associations through and with Escape - making the choice to
  17. 17. 11 Get the other half of the Gun Circle around Finally (!) get full Gameplay Timed Puzzles
  18. 18. Experiment Chell is in an experiment Player has to experiment within space Aperture Science Development was an experiment
  19. 19. 13 Both portals, Multiple spaces Test Chambers more complex Puzzles across rooms 2 steps for ward, 1 step back
  20. 20. Space Players have to reorient through space Reorient actions, indirect connections Portal reorients FPS genre
  21. 21. 16 Live Fire (!) Where you can’t be (through portals A Lair - “cake is a lie” Backstage and Subversion GLaDOS - broken? lying? dysfunctional?
  22. 22. Escape Literal - must get out Figurative - subvert GLaDOS Existential - who you are
  23. 23. 17 Weighted Companion Cube! Indirect Storytelling Complex Gameplay combos Love & Guilt
  24. 24. Literacy & Mastery Flow across Learning Units Gradual Gameplay Mechanics Layered Thematics Practice and Variations Explore and Improvise
  25. 25. 19 Cake! Backstage - Backstory Short, linear game Painted Clues Guided Training through Level Design Where you shouldn’t be
  26. 26. Ludic Narrans Homo Ludens + Homo Narrans = Ludic Narrans
  27. 27. And so... Interpret / Analyze Narrative, Gameplay, Learning Units Meaning, Themes, Literacy and Mastery Well Played ETC Press etc.cmu.edu/etcpress

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