Narrative in Portal

Posted: February 18, 2013 by tacohead30 in Uncategorized

                 Throughout my game play of Portal, I was sort of wondering about the lack of narrative in the game. Narrative is simply the story of the game. I felt like it was just a more realistic “puzzle” game where you generally just try and make everything fit together to advance through the test-chambers or “complete the puzzle.” Then I realized that part of the narrative itself is supposed to be vague. The player takes control of a test-subject who is put through a series of tests. The narrator of the game is the robotic voice heard throughout the levels.

            Character in a narrative can be described as how a player is represented on the TV or game screen. The character in Portal as defined in Rules of Play would simply be the portal gun you are given as well as the orange and blue crosshairs. The crosshairs light up when a portal can be shot in a certain location.

            In terms of embedded vs. emergent narrative, I think Portal definitely falls in the embedded category.  An embedded narrative is a narrative that will always occur regardless of a players interaction with the environment. An emergent narrative comes from player interaction and can change the course of the narrative. The only thing I’ve noticed about Portal’s changing narrative was the narrator-robot saying after you’ve spent a lot of time on a level, basically telling the player how impossible the level is. Besides that, I can say with confidence that the player really can’t do much to influence the narrative of the game.

            The space of a game is described as the digital area of play. In Portal, the space of the game is the test-chambers and elevators, which the character explores to complete various puzzles throughout the game.

            The narrative descriptors of a game are things that help flesh the narrative out. These things can range from text, dialogue, images, sound, etc. Portal has a few narrative descriptors, the main one would be the narrator who doesn’t tell you a lot of information, but makes it clear the player is a test-subject. Other descriptors can be found by looking at the character through a Portal, where you can see the character is a female brunette in an orange jumpsuit.


One level I was stuck on for a while.

            The actual narrative of Portal is not entirely clear to me at this point. I did not have a chance to complete the game in these three sessions, but I will definitely continue playing to find out what exactly the purpose of the tests are in this narrative and try to get some closure! I’ve heard a lot of people during class saying they were getting bored throughout their game, but I think Portal keeps the player extremely engaged not so much through it’s narrative, but more through the aspect that every level requires a new solution to complete. Although the narrative sets up a nice backdrop to the game, treating levels like “tests” and adding a sense of mystery, I still think the best thing about this game is it’s ability to really make the player think and work through these puzzles. Perhaps in hindsight when I have a better understanding of the narrative I will appreciate it more, but at this point I am really enjoying the problem-solving this game provides.


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