Portal as a Feminist Statement

Generally, first-person shooter games are considered “masculine.” The weapon of choice is an obvious stand-in for the phallus, and the game usually puts the hero in a “search, kill, conquer” situation. But the game Portal, which was released on PlayStation 3 this past week, seems to be made of something different.There’s an article at GamesRadar that calls the game the “most subversive first-person shooter ever created.” Why? Because Portal, the author says, is feminist statement.For starters, the protagonist is female. She’s not a Lara Croft-type female character, either. She’s less of a fantasy than other video game heroines. The weapon she uses does not kill—instead it creates portals, “connections” which she uses to overcome her opponents.The enemies include a female-voiced artificial intelligence that plays emotional games with the heroine, belittling her when she does something right and constantly speaking to her as a form male-constructed “comfort.” There are also little robots that say cute things but behave in deadly ways. The character has to defeat these obstacles not by killing them, but by using something other than aggression, namely, intelligence.It’s something to think about, the subversion of the values that many popular video games seem to have.If you have any questions about the continual need for changes in popular culture, take a look at this kind-of related clip from the Onion.I don’t know of anyone who has played the game yet, but if anyone has, please share your thoughts.


One Response to “Portal as a Feminist Statement”
  1. As a point of interest, the lead designer of Portal is Kim Swift–having a female designer could add to the feminist argument, whether the design choices were intended that way or not.

    The writer, Erik Wolpaw, incorporated humor and refers the AI protagonist GLaDOS as a motherly figure (homicidal or not). She was an amusing and constantly-present character. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a horribly catchy funny song at the end during credits.