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Portal is effectively an extended player training exercise.

Robin Walker in the commentary track of Portal

The [early Portal] game was limited, constructed to very carefully give a limited set of solutions within designed parameters to the player. The genius of Portal was that it subtly acknowledged and played with this concept. You can’t say ‘this is a controlled environment’ much more directly than placing players in minimalist ‘test chambers’ with limited resources outlined by infographics and light trails. So when towards the end you find yourself on the highway to hell and spot a way out, the huge and immediate visual change between environments, pacing, tone and puzzle style tell you powerfully that you’re not in Kansas any more.

– Stefan Barton-Ross on “Make a Game of That

It never failed to amaze me how the most ordinary day could be catapulted into the extraordinary in the blink of an eye.

– Jodi Picoult in Handle with Care

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!”

 – 1 Samuel 17:34 – 37 (NLT)

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12 (NLT)

What if we built a rat maze for an ordinary person? Portal takes this idea and runs with it. The game starts with the normal Chell waking up in a pristine, doctor-waiting-room-like area. She is instructed by GlaDOS to then find her way through multiple bland-looking training rooms solving increasingly harder puzzles to get to the end, where there will be “cake” instead of cheese. (The cake may or may not be a lie.)

However, after a few rooms, something extraordinary happens. Chell is forced to break out of the training facility. She then has to use all of her training and the super advanced, titular Portal gun in order to progress. The game takes a significant increase in difficulty when the main character has to escape: the well-directed, clean cut testing rooms are replaced by irregular areas with no guides to help you. Yet, the player has been trained so well by this time that most will not have difficulty playing the rest of the game. If they had not done the simplistic rooms earlier and were thrust into the natural environment of the end areas, they would have likely had many difficulties.

Our lives may seem like a rat maze or rat race. They may seem mundane and boring at times. However, in an instant, our rat race can suddenly become a mountain-sized challenge, just like  Jodi Picoult mentioned in the quote above. It will likely frighten us at first. Today, I had a “mountain-sized challenge” thrown at me, when someone at work suddenly resigned and I was thrust into a role with more responsibilities.

Yet, I was reminded of 2 lessons I’ve heard over the years and do not think about a lot. The first is that the key is to view the day-to-day tasks that seem like nothing as training areas for later, like David and Chell did. Instead of GLaDOS directing and insulting us, we have God directing our paths. Instead of having the supernatural Portal gun to get us through this challenge, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. With his guidance and help, we can push through and succeed in these challenges of the race of life. We will achieve the “crown of life” at the end of our “rat maze,” which is much better than cake.

Portal
PC, XBox 360, PS3
Genre: Puzzle, Platform
Rating: Teen: Blood, Mild Violence
Note: I have only played the PC version.
My Rating: Overall: 4 / 5
Gameplay: 5 / 5 Story: 2 / 5 Graphics and Sound: 2 / 5 Controls: 5 / 5 Christian Values: 5 / 5
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