In Love with an Inanimate ObjectEdit
Within narrative, the whole purpose of the Companion Cube is to give Chell something completely arbitrary that makes the player feel something. The purpose of the CC first and foremost is to make you care about it, in order to feel the most pain at its ultimate destruction. This attachment to inanimate objects is not unprecedented, though it’s much more common in television and movies than it is in literature, probably because it is more difficult to make a person connect to an object if they cannot see it. Sometimes, though, an object is so awesome, or so important, that a reader can relate to it anyway.
Here I do something that I try not to do, and I’m recommending a series that I have already recommended: The Discworld series (perhaps this should just tell you what a great resource these books are), by Terry Pratchett. The object that the reader gets especially attached to only shows up in seven out of the 39 novels, but, like the companion cube, while overall it has very little stage-time, it is quite dear to readers. The object is The Luggage, a large chest with the ability to have hundreds of legs come out from it to move very fast. The Luggage can be used to store things, but it also is fiercely protective of its owner. A specific novel to recommend with The Luggage is The Last Continent, which features both incompetent wizards and The Luggage.
The second novel is Two Princesses of Bamarre, a fantasy novel by Gail Carson Levine, who is primarily famous for her novel Ella Enchanted. Here, the inanimate object is a book called Drualt, which the reader feels attached to more due to the attachment the characters have to it. This is a more common way that people relate to objects, being that the object is of importance to a beloved character, and thus of importance to the reader. This is in opposition to how the player relates to the Companion Cube, however it is still important to understand the different ways that a person can relate to something that is, inherently, not relatable. Sometimes it is due to making it cute, or vaguely sentient (like the CC and Luggage, respectively), but sometimes it is due to its relation to a third party. If a designer needs to point to an important object, these are a couple of ways that they can do it.
Joke's on YouEdit
In the end, Portal is a parody. A spoof. A satire. Like all satires, Portal has huge amounts of truthfulness about the human condition, which is discussed in all the other sections of this wiki. But it’s all wrapped up in a dark comedy satire, making fun of the player.
The Companion Cube is a major part of this satire. Portal is forcing you to feel something for an object of no individual importance, and then laughs at you by making you burn it and feel bad about burning it. The entire scenario is a joke on how ridiculous the player’s emotions are, and it works.
Oftentimes satire is used to make a statement, but sometimes, like in the case of Portal, it’s just used for fun. The texts suggested here lie in both categories.
Moliere is a famous French satirist of plays from the 1600s. He made several for the purpose of criticism, but also made some that were made primarily for entertainment. Tartuffe is one of his most famous plays, and created the term “tartuffe” as a hypocrite who feigns virtue (sound like some unreliable narrator we know and love?). Tartuffe was quite critical of religion, causing a supreme amount of controversy. However, what Tartuffe does examine that is similar to Portal is the ability to love something that one perhaps should not (though, unlike the character of Tartuffe, no one ever stops senselessly loving the Companion Cube).
Of course, if we’re going to talk about satire, we need to talk about one of the most influential, and famous, satirists -- someone you may have studied in high school or college. Jonathan Swift was primarily a political satirist, and often drew severe controversy because of it. And most of the things he wrote were ludicrous. Possibly his most famous piece is the short essay A Modest Proposal, with an almost GLaDOS-esk tone to it, which suggests eating children as a way to help the economy. While the Companion Cube certainly isn’t the player murdering eating a kid, the way the cube is represented in narrative almost becomes allegorical to killing one’s child.
The Unwilling MartyrEdit
One who sacrifices themselves in the name of bettering the world is considered a hero -- but what about those sacrificed for no purpose? What about those who are only casualties? Many times these casualties become martyrs, and their senseless death becomes motivation for others. Sometimes martyrs are heroes, and sometimes not. In Portal, the companion cube is certainly not a hero; it makes no active choices. But it does become one of these “unwilling martyrs,” as it becomes yet another force convincing the player to finish their quest, and best their oppressor.
The Lord of the Rings series is a great resource for games on many fronts. For this game, though, it is most relevant to the theme of those who are made into sacrifices through no choice of their own. From the many who die in battles, to even Frodo himself, sacrificing his own piece of mind and stability to destroy the ring, the entire series centers on what the spirit can endure despite not wanting to endure it. In Portal, even the Companion Cube, with barely any actual sentience, proves to have somehow survived the flames the player throws it in to.
Shakespear’s Hamlet also analyses unwilling martyrs, however it analyses senseless sacrifices, rather than the powerful ones made in The Lord of the Rings. Many of the deaths in Hamlet are completely meaningless, and whose purposes are primarily to show how much humans can break and delve into senselessness. Hamlet accidentally kills more people than he purposeless kills, either directly or indirectly, and in the end there proves to be almost no point to killing of them. Portal is similar, where the companion cube must die for the player to progress, but in the end Chell ends up right where she began anyway.