Is the cake REALLY a lie?

Portal is an excellent example of what a videogame should be. It tells the story through the game, leaves enough open for the player to create his or her own narrative, and is overall fun. Certainly it’s hard to disagree with the fact that the game that launched one of the Internet’s most viral memes – The Cake is a Lie – was a triumph. In fact, I’m making a note here: Portal: Huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction after playing the game. But enough ranting of how great of a game Portal is. Let me get to the point: my character’s personal narrative and how it is probably wrong.

My Portal character was a normal housewife who was unfortunate enough to cheat on her husband with an Aperture Science employee. At some point she decided to stop the affair, and the Aperture Science employee, scorned, put her on a list to be kidnapped and used as a subject in the Portal Gun Testing Experiment. All of this is part of my made up narrative, as the game doesn’t tell you anything about the character. “You” just wake up in a room and are off. At the end of the game (and in my character’s made up narrative) she wakes up outside the Aperture Science building and escapes the complex. She then becomes some sort of anti human testing Neo figure.

But an acquaintance of mine, Mr. Darryl Norris (the only individual in the world to have ever lost a match against Glass Joe in the original NES Punch Out) suggested that ‘you’ are a robot made only for the testing of the Portal Gun. After some thinking, I think I might agree, only because of a few things.

The game takes place sometime after the computer system GLaDOS flooded the Aperture Science building with neurotoxins (a fact you don’t learn until the end) and has been installed with a morality drive – a consciousness for computer AI – to prevent her from doing the same again. ‘You’ wake up not knowing anything about yourself, and the game ends without you knowing anything about yourself, so the possibility that you are a robot with no memories is valid. What is curious is GLaDOS comments throughout the game.

“There will be cake at the end.”

GLaDOS constantly reminds you that should you do everything well, there will be cake at the end. Even after the test where GLaDOS says that she will stop “enhancing reality” (i.e. telling lies) she continues to say two things, one of which is “there will be cake”. The phrase “the cake is a lie” comes from writings in blood found on walls throughout the game, but at the end of the game, a few seconds before Portal’s most excellent, triumphant outro song Still Alive starts, there is cake. The cake is not a lie. In this scene we see that the second of GLaDOS’ promise is also kept. In this “party” with cake there are also “all of your friends”, who GLaDOS constantly states will be waiting for you at the end to share cake with you. This is true. There, at the end of it all, there is your friend the Companion Cube. But the Companion Cube is not the only one waiting there. A large number of GLaDOS orbs are there. If we are to believe GLaDOS – and as she kept her word of cake and friends at the end of the journey – then there is no reason that those other orbs should not also be your “friends”.

Mr. Norris’ narrative was that once the humanoid body shut down outside the Aperture Science complex, its AI consciousness returned to the AI storage facility depicted in the video, where it now gets to spend an inordinate amount of time with cake, the companion cube, and all of its other friends. I’m sure many of you are thinking that this is a ridiculous proposition, but as I stated in the beginning, Portal leaves enough of the narrative open for the player to fill in the character in any way they want, and Mr. Norris’ interpretation is as valid – and far more interesting – than much of what I have read on various forums, and he uses the textual evidence well enough to back his claim.

Still, in the end, whether you think that ‘you’ are a robot AI, a kidnapped housewife, or whatever else you want ‘you’ to be, if you haven’t played Portal you should go play it. Try it in Orange Box for the X Box 360 – it also brings other masterful games.


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on July 19, 2011, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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