Authored by: Robert Furze

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533324
eBook ISBN: 9780203114261
Adobe ISBN: 9781136290510


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Consider the following two contemporary examples of gameplay in video games.

Niko Bellic is standing on a highway off-ramp overlooking a low-rise building. He has spent hours in Liberty City—a fictional urban environment modelled on New York—participating in the many discretionary activities it has to offer, including this one: finding and killing the two hundred pigeons that are hidden throughout the city. Scanning the roof, Niko sees the pigeon, head bobbing in the shadows of a billboard supported by the low-rise’s roof. Niko aims his gun, destroys the pigeon in a flurry of feathers. A moment passes, then a message flashes on the screen: “All diseased pigeons killed. LC is a cleaner place.”

The elevator door opens and Chell steps into Test Chamber 08. The layout is familiar—an austere, white chamber—and Chell’s objective, too, is obvious: to reach the sign-posted exit on the other side. Impeding her progress is a pool of noxious liquid that extends the width of the room. Chell knows she will not be able to jump over it. There are other objects in this chamber: a clear platform; a machine that intermittently spits out lethal energy pellets; and a pressure pad that presumably, once activated, will trigger a mechanism somewhere in the room to aid her progress. As with the exit itself, all these items cannot be accessed directly. However, to help her reach the other side, Chell is armed with a portal gun; a device that, when fired at a surface, creates a shimmering blue ovoid doorway. This “portal” allows physical objects—and Chell herself—to access unreachable places in the environment via a corresponding orange portal that is positioned elsewhere in the chamber. Chell sees this orange portal now, just above the clear platform and—with the aim of stepping onto the platform—uses the portal gun to open a blue portal in the wall beside her. This is a mistake, as one of the lethal energy pellets, that is directed at the orange portal, passes through it and continues its trajectory through the blue portal beside Chell. The pellet hits Chell, thereby ending her attempt at completing this chamber’s objective. As the game reloads and Test Chamber 08 is reset, Chell will have to use her reasoning, and experiment in the physics-bending capabilities of the portal gun, in order to reach the exit.

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