Friday, March 7, 2014

The Value of $60: Motivation and Rewards in Portal 2

Okay, so a LOT has been written about Portal 2 and it's almost 3 years old now (that's 300 in videogame years), but I just got to play through it for the first time a couple months ago and I knew I just had to say something about it. So here it is. Oh, yeah, and ***MAJOR SPOILERS***!!!

Definitions of the word game elude standardization and universal acceptance, but that has not kept many a scholar from trying. Among the more prominent attempts of late come from Jesper Juul and Jane McGonigal. According to Juul, “A game is a rule-based formal system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.” McGonigal’s definition is simpler; she claims all games have “a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation” (21). Both of these definitions highlight obstacles and rewards—supposedly, the fun of a game comes from the player “exerting effort” toward the goal and receiving the feedback indicative of the higher-valued outcome. Portal 2, the first-person puzzle-platform game released by Valve Corporation in 2011, actively challenges traditional game reward and motivations systems, and openly questions what motivates not only gamers but humanity in general. Time and again, Portal 2 invites the player to consider exactly what drives him or her both in and outside of the game circle.