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On Rosebuds of the Interactive Sort…

So I just finished playing Portal. And I’m probably the least video game literate of those who post on this site, so what I’m about to say blooms from an ignorant soil… but is Portal the Citizen Kane we’ve been waiting for of the video game medium?

The mechanics of Portal are great and was the aspect of the game that got the early press, probably because the early press hadn’t played the game all the way through. Now that critics have, they are saying a lot of great things about the narrative. And I have to agree: Portal was an awesome narrative experience. And a step in the right direction for those of us who want to see video games evolve as an expressive medium capable of rich narrative — and best of all, Portal did things film cannot — and the only cut scene comes at the very end.

So when I compare Portal to Citizen Kane, I don’t mean to compare the two by the value of their narratives. I compare them by how they advance their medium by doing things that hadn’t been done. And in that sense, then I think Portal will stand as the Citizen Kane of video games and be remembered for a very long time as one of the most important early works of the movement. Thoughts?


  1. Oren wrote:

    I am yet to play Portal as I still havent been able to put down Bioshock. If you havent played Bioshock, watch this video ( – Its the first 5 minutes of the game, with great cinematics, and a well done story) or run to the nearest store and buy it. The gameplay is very first-personish, with the addition of RPG elements; reminds me of the Elder Scrolls games, though it is considered the successor to System Shock. But what really makes it stand out in my mind is how they included the story into the game. Rather than having to stop to listen to the story the entire time, you pick “diaries” and listen to them throughout the game. They are all done with amazing detail. My roommates actually enjoy sitting there and just watching and listening to the story. The gameplay is spot on throughout the game, along with the twists that happen throughout the story. And they also tackle in a slight way the ethics question. Again, as Frank has stated over and over again, there is usually a system of sticking to what you decide in the beginning, be it good or evil. I think this game is easily one of the best games of the year, if not the best. I can only say that after I play some Portal, which should be soon. Hopefully in the next week I will have a more in-depth analysis of Bioshock.

    Monday, October 29, 2007 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Charley wrote:

    Get over it, Oren… Portal is the real deal.

    But don’t take my word for it: link


    Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  3. Oren wrote:

    I am not saying that Portal is not the real deal. From what I have heard, I am very excited to start playing it. But right now, I am deep into Bioshock. I think Bioshock is amazing, not because it is the most innovative game in years (its not), but because it manages to do things many other games try to do and fail miserably at. Another thing that stands out for Bioshock is the story, which has been getting not enough attention because any mention of it will reveal spoilers. The fact that it was based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand (the “main bad buy” is named Andrew Ryan!) and does a great job of incorporating it into the story is what amazes me most. I dont know many games that have incorporated great works of philosophy into the design. And I am not the only one saying this, check out Wikipedia for some choice quotes, including “One reviewer has also compared BioShock to Orson Welles’ 1941 film, Citizen Kane; although the film and game are set on opposite sides of the World War 2 era, they share some symmetry in their themes of lost innocence.[48]”

    And Charley, I am sure Portal is a great game, I would expect nothing less from Valve. But sweeping aside Bioshock is like throwing aside every other movie made during 1941, including the Academy Award winner, just because it is not Citizen Kane. And I am sorry, that blog post you linked to did nothing to make me more interested in Portal, just made me want smack that kid. He said nothing! At least give a little reasoning…

    I will leave you with one quote plastered all over Bioshock that becomes soo much more interesting as you play the game, “Who is Atlus?”

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  4. Oren wrote:

    P.S. Have you read the book I lent you? Read this.  It reminded me of the book. For all of you interested, one of the best books I have read on games, escapism, and god among other things- The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. – By Robert Coover (link)

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  5. Charley wrote:

    Oren, what are you going as for Halloween… a pirate? Because you just completely galvanized my Portal post with your Bioshock drivel. I’m not asking anyone to not consider Bioshock — it’s just Bioshock has been talked about a lot recently and Portal is being overlooked. Ten years from now, people will still be talking about Portal. Maybe Bioshock too. But it’s time to direct the conversation towards Portal now as Bioshock has had its day.

    And yes, the Coover book is still on my nightstand and I look forward to reading it.

    ps: link.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Charles wrote:

    I actually have payed both Bioshock and Portal, and I’m afraid that I’m going to have to side with Charley on this one.

    They’re similar games beyond the obvious (first-person shooters). They’re both in a strange way about video games themselves. Bioshock is a critique of a philosophy based on the virtue of the selfish pursuit of power. The irony being that the point is made inside a game, where the selfish pursuit of power is almost the essential act (this was Frank’s brilliant analysis, by the way). The irony in Portal is that it’s about obedience, another essential aspect of a game. After all, if the player refuses to follow the rules of play, the game can disintegrate.

    Ultimately though, Portal is more compelling. Bioshock is weighed down by a lot of fat, most of it coming from it’s RPGness. It also, and I think everyone can admit this, has an incredibly belabored last third, where all the careful consistency of the game world is tossed out the window. Portal, on the other hand, is clean and elegant. It is, along with Knytt, one of the only games I’ve played that felt like it had the right magnitude. In that it was no bigger, or smaller, than it needed to be. The people who are complaining that it’s too short are, in my opinion, missing the point.

    I do have to disagree with you though Charley, when you say that Portal is doing things that have never been done. The Portal Gun is definitely an incredible innovation, but part of me feels like it’s story has been told. I think seeing it in another game would feel gimmicky. Taking that for granted, what I really love about Portal is that it’s advancing the medium by synthesizing a lot of things from games that have come before it. While playing I was reminded of a lot of other games, from Metroid Prime to Zelda and Silent Hill, and surprisingly Dragon Quarter (one of my favorite games of all time that no one has ever heard of). Whether these were actual inspirations or if it’s simply a coincidence I don’t know, but it definitely felt like the Fates were conspiring.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I finished Portal about an hour ago and I’m still feeling the rush!

    Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 2:22 am | Permalink

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