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GLaDOS is without a doubt, one of the most unique and popular villains in gaming. No other final boss in recent games has spawned memes anywhere near as popular as “The Cake is a Lie.” If you haven’t yet played Portal and the recently released sequel Portal 2, it’s best that you stop what you’re doing and go purchase and play those now as this Character Affinity is sure to feature some spoilers. At this point you have no excuse to have not played the original.
A lot of Modern Games will introduce villains in a fashion similar to films. They will basically show the bad guy doing bad stuff and sometimes wronging the protagonist of said film/game; Portal goes out of its way to introduce its villain very differently. In it, GLaDOS is the only character you interact with and her voice acts as a guide and companion as you complete the Aperture Science testing chambers.
As a player, you are thrown into the setting of Portal with no context or background information to explain who you are and why you are completing these testing chambers and, while the player has no real idea who GLaDOS is, they listen to what she says as she explains the concepts behind the Portal Gun and how to use it. They listen when she offers helpful advice about test chambers and they almost listen when she betrays them and tries to lower them into a pit of fire.
Over the course of the game, you form a friendship of sorts with GLaDOS and this makes it all the more difficult when you uncover the truth about her. When you escape from her first attempt to murder you, she treats it like a minor offense and as you travel closer and closer to her physical location, her passive-aggressive attitude towards you becomes more and more prevalent. Once the player escapes GLaDOS's control, they discover that the story behind GLaDOS was that she was a testing computer built by Aperture Science that (like many robots in Science Fiction stories) went crazy and killed off its creators with a deadly neurotoxin.
While Portal 2 initially looked to follow fairly normal sequel conventions with the player accidentally reviving GLaDOS, it flipped her whole identity as a villain on its head when you are forced to work together to stop another rogue AI.
In Portal 2 you further discover more of GLaDOS's origins. You discover that she was based on the personality of the assistant of the late CEO of Aperture Science Cave Johnson. As you and GLaDOS work together her passive-aggressiveness towards you regarding the events of the previous game slowly becomes more kind and almost genuinely human and at the very end of the game she saves your life and this is not just one of the strongest moments in Portal 2, but also one of the strongest moments I’ve found in a video game ever.
The reason that GLaDOS is such a compelling character in video games is that she connects directly with the player, while at the same time she is never physically alongside the player, helping them. GLaDOS forges a relationship with the player and this changes over the course of two games.
Player Affinity’s Portal 2 Review can be read here.