The Depths of Aperture Science

Watch out, there's spoilers down there.

Warning: the text below contains major spoilers and discussion of Portal 2. It’s advised that you don’t read this if you haven’t played the game. It might also make your brain hurt.

Portal 2 is more than just a game; it’s more than just a masterpiece. I’m not going to simply write a blog about the hundreds of reasons that I’m sure I could come up with about why I love it so much; so don’t expect a thousand words about how it connected to me, the pure joy I found with it or the excellent dialogue and sound that both blew me away.

What you can expect is an explanation of how that beneath the surface layer of Aperture Laboratories, there is so much more.

And no, I’m not meaning the gels and new puzzles.

Firstly, I’ve came to the realisation, from playing the game several times, reading between all of those glorious little lines more than any normal person should and looking at speculation spread across the internet, that Portal 2 has a lot more to do with Greek Mythology than you’d think. At first, it may seem that this alleged mythological back story is obviously just Valve’s way of adding more to the game than there actually is – but it soon becomes so much more than just that.

There’s something magical about mythology; particularly the Greek variety. The Titans, the Gods, the heroes, it’s all there. There are many stories, dealing with many different themes. One in particular – the story of Prometheus – is explained haphazardly by a friendly turret you meet, travelling along a conveyor belt towards certain doom in the incinerator:

Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man. He was cast into the bowels of the Earth and pecked by birds.

[drop2]This must be referencing the story of Portal, with a little bit of foreshadowing thrown in there for good measure. Surely GLaDOS – Prometheus – has been punished by the ‘Gods’ of Aperture, via the moron that is Wheatley, for giving the knowledge to the human test subjects, namely Chell, in the form of a certain tool that fires portals.

Now for the foreshadowing; the actual punishment that she has to face: POTaDOS is cast down, thousands of meters into the heart of the Aperture testing facility and then promptly pecked on by a bird. Just like Prometheus.

There’s still more to it: the four main robot characters: ATLAS, GLaDOS, P-body and Wheatley can all be linked to Titans. Not just any old Titans, but four brothers: Atlas, Prometheus, Menoetius and Epimetheus respectively. We’ve already covered the GLaDOS and Prometheus link, and whilst the ATLAS/P-Body and Atlas/Menoetius link is harder to make due to them being playable characters with no dialogue to back it all up, we can tell that ATLAS is obviously linked to Atlas by name and he has the trait of endurance.

Enduring Menoetius’ rash actions, perhaps?

Wheatley, then: the “scatter-brained” Epimetheus, accepts Pandora – Chell – as a gift from Zeus and this leads to her effectively opening Pandora’s Box which leads to complete death and destruction on the world. This is parallel to Chell leading Wheatley through Aperture, pressing the Stalemate Resolution Button and therefore leading to death and destruction in Aperture Laboratories.

The ‘Tartaros’ painted on an old Aperture wall… down in the pit you’re thrown into after Wheatley takes over is yet another reference to a big part of the mythology; the Tartarus pit where the Titans were banished to by Zeus. The painting of Cave Johnson and Caroline… with Aeschylus hidden behind him; the writer of ‘Prometheus Bound’, on which this is all based on, again, another strong piece of evidence.

And finally, the ending: Wheatley, Epimetheus, shows his hindsight at the end; something he was characterised for. Chell, then, steps out into a large wheat field, which is clearly symbolism for Elysium – the part of the Underworld set aside for the heroic.

[drop]Ignoring the mythology, Portal 2 is, in fact, a deep story about GLaDOS’ fondness for the human subjects, conflicting with her urge to test and inability to be nice; it’s the way she’s programmed. Caroline still lurks in there, though, so it’s with GLaDOS’ realisation of her past self that we see the humanity break through the seemingly evil AI surface. We learn to like – nay, love GLaDOS by the end of the game. She’s just trying to test, it’s what she was made to do, it’s not her fault you removed her morality core near the end of the first game. It’s not her fault that you pushed the Stalemate Resolution Button and let Wheatley take over.

You’re the one who killed her and she just wants you gone. You monster.

And those are just some of the reasons why, as I sit at my computer in the early hours of the morning writing this, I wish that just for one day, I could be transported to Aperture Laboratories to explore the deepest depths of the facility. That’s never going to happen, though; so I’ll just play through Portal 2 again, perhaps there’re more revelations to be found… or then again it could just be about getting through the game once more, to the ending, to the moon, and finally reaching spaaaace.

That ending isn’t the thing that keeps me coming back though; every playthrough (four so far), every time I even enter a level, I’m thinking about what lies beyond the surface layer of Portal 2.

Even in my speed run, I took time to marvel at the subtle mythology. And I’ll be back again and again – discovering more as I go. Hoping that there’s still always more for me to find out; hoping that I’ll never truly discover what exactly is in the depths of the Aperture Laboratories that I’ve explored many, many times.

After all, what would I do when there’s nothing left to find? Just play the game?

Although this is all my writing and this article is heavily influenced by my own thoughts and opinion, I’m in no way taking the credit for finding the Greek Mythology theory; I’m just spreading the word, so to speak. I couldn’t pin down a source for the origins of this theory – it’s something born from the internet, spreading across many sites. Although this image connecting everything does contain a wealth of information on the subject.

12 Comments

  1. More Portal 2 articles…me thinks someone has an obsession :)

    • and rightly so, its an IMMENSE game!

  2. So the story is borrowed from Greek mythology? Well, if you’re going to borrow, then borrow from the best…!

  3. I didn’t realised the extent of the Greek mythology referenced. Really interesting read!

    • I agree, I had no idea. Unfortunately a lot of people won’t be aware of this depth.

      Great article and great to see such an innovative game.

  4. Nice article Blair. Although “POTaDOS”? PotatOS surely? Even Valve call her that ;)

  5. Wow, I never looked at it that way. It’s crazy what developers implement in such games, knowing that maybe only a small fraction will get the hints…
    I wonder why they do it, though. Is it a personal fascination of greek mythology? Is it just to mess with us? Portal 2 would still be great without it, however, I love that they went the extra mile and did it anyways. :)

  6. heres a link with ’30 secrets and references you may have missed’in portal 2. Further near the end there is quite a bit of detail regarding the greek theory, including Cave Johnson and Caroline in it. Also the whole article is a brilliant read itself, check it out:

    http://www.gamesradar.com/f/portal-2-easter-egg-guide-30-secrets-and-references-you-may-have-missed/a-2011051112135583053/p-2

  7. Really wanted to read this but havent played game yet :-(

  8. I knew something was Greek related in that game after Atlas and the wheat field at the end. Didn’t think there was this much depth though:) really good reas

  9. Greek mythology is fantastic in any case. This just made Portal 2 much cooler! :)

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