Editorial: Villain Spotlight – GLaDOS

Of all video game antagonists, the Genetic Life-form and Disk Operating System, or GLaDOS, is one of the most complex and intriguing. The main antagonist of Portal, GLaDOS is the artificial intelligence unit which controls and maintains the Aperture Science testing facility. The personality of GLaDOS is feminine in nature. (Because the games refer to GLaDOS as “she”, so will I.) She spends most of her time testing human subjects, though during the entirety of Portal and Portal 2, Chell is the only human test subject she is aware of. Eventually, GLaDOS and Chell meet, and do battle. GLaDOS is ultimately killed.

You dangerous, mute lunatic.
She has been really busy being dead. You know. After you MURDERED HER.

Being an artificial intelligence, GLaDOS does not die when she is killed. In Portal 2, the bumbling Wheatley reawakens her and she begins to test Chell once more. She harbors obvious resentment toward Chell for killing her, even when she is stuck as a potato battery. She asks Chell to assist her, stating that Chell is “good at murder.” By the time Chell meets up with GLaDOS in the underground portion of the facility, GLaDOS is fully aware that Wheatley cannot keep the facility running and that it will destroy itself without her intervention. She forms a truce with Chell and plans her return to power. During their trek to find and stop Wheatley, Chell and GLaDOS discover a dark secret. In pre-recorded messages that play throughout the facility, Aperture Science’s founder Cave Johnson asks the scientists working for the company to save him from an inevitable death by developing technology to download a person’s identity into a computer. When it becomes apparent that he will not survive, he demands that they put his assistant, Caroline, into his computer instead, and that she run the facility after he is dead. Chell and GLaDOS discover that GLaDOS is actually Caroline’s personality with additional programming. Shocked by this discovery, GLaDOS speaks in a much less hostile manner to Chell for the remainder of the game. In the end, GLaDOS saves Chell from death on the moon and releases her from Aperture Science Laboratories.

Ginia would find this version of GLaDOS preferable.
GLaDOS as a potato.

GLaDOS is the result of a human woman’s identity being unwillingly thrust into an artificial intelligence program. Over time, she has lost almost all of her humanity. Stuck in a body that prods her with the need to perform dangerous tests on human subjects, she has been driven to madness. She tries to kill the scientists who trapped her in the computer and eventually, whether out of frustration at the diminishing feeling of accomplishment for performing tests, or because she does not like humans, she kills her test subjects one by one. When Chell survives an attempt on her life, GLaDOS is physically confronted for the first time by a person who disagrees with her.

GLaDOS honestly believes that her actions are justified. She believes that she is a champion of science, and speaks of it as if it were some mythical being. She cannot understand why Chell would want to kill her. After her reawakening, GLaDOS masks her thoughts of revenge against Chell by stating, “I think we can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.” She believes that she is the victim of Chell, who she views as a murderous psychopath. When she is free of her old body, though, she experiences a change of heart. The discovery that Caroline’s personality is alive inside of her makes her doubt her relationship with Chell. She begins to understand that Chell is only trying to stay alive. She defends Chell from Wheatley’s verbal assault and ultimately saves Chell from dying when a portal sucks Chell and Wheatley to the moon. When GLaDOS is away from her body, she thinks differently. Some might argue that she thinks more rationally, but GLaDOS believes that she is only rational when she is able to perform tests.

When life gives you lemons, force your lover's brain into a computer!
Goodbye, Caroline.

She is stubborn, trying to hide any feelings more complex than resentment toward Chell and a love for science. By the end of Portal 2, she admits that she considers Chell a friend. Immediately, though, she tries to hide this weakness by telling Chell that she discovered the location of Caroline’s personality in her brain and deleted it. I refuse to believe this. GLaDOS lets Chell leave the facility, and gives Chell the Companion Cube that she claimed was destroyed in the first game, as a memento. In the ending song, GLaDOS says, “now little Caroline is in here too” which heavily implies that Caroline has not been deleted. She also says that perhaps when she deletes memories of Chell from her brain, she will stop feeling so bad, though on the severance form the statement is redacted. That GLaDOS is able to feel emotion at all is evidence that Caroline lives inside her. GLaDOS’ view of Chell as a friend is an attempt by the last shreds of Caroline’s humanity to connect with another human being. During the co-op portion of the game, GLaDOS has Atlas and P-Body find humans hidden in the facility because she claims that robots performing tests is not true science. Though she may believe this because of her unconditional worship of science, it is also likely that GLaDOS tires of Atlas and P-Body and misses Chell. She hopes to find another human that she can connect with.

GLaDOS is a wonderfully scripted character. She is a human unjustly trapped in the body and mind of a robot, driven mad by the horror of being ripped from her own body and corrupted by a programmed desire to test human subjects. She is certainly far more human than most flesh-and-blood villains in video games today. I believe that she is one of the most complex and interesting characters ever created. What do you think of GLaDOS, readers? Do you agree with my analysis? Do you disagree? Is there a villain you think is interesting enough that he, she, or it warrants analysis? Let me know!

7 comments

  1. Want a tough suggestion? Kun Lan from Killer 7. That whole game is almost impossible to understand…

  2. Well, the idea was to pick interesting villains, not unanalyzable villains. I have my own ideas for the other spotlight posts, but I was wondering if there were villains that the readers had that they really liked, whether they thought they didn’t get enough love or they would like someone else’s opinion on them.

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  4. Huh….you know, I didn’t closely examine the pictures of Caroline before, but I’m fairly certain a friend of mine could cosplay her perfectly.

    And as far as developed complex characters…. I don’t know about the rest of the site staff and readers, but I’ve found the argument of Sephiroth vs. Jenova to be interesting. Who was the actual villain? Who caused the most damage? Who was the one really pulling puppet strings?

  5. The only time Sephiroth appears in FF7, barring flashbacks which having occurred already don’t count, is when Cloud hands him the black materia at the northern crater (right MacGuffin?) and in the final battle at the end of the game. The rest are Jenova. So sleeping in a hole the whole game…I’m going to give it to Jenova. Also, Square really needs somebody to tell them what a “clone” is.

    I haven’t played the co-op part of Portal 2, but from P1 and P2’s singleplayer it seems to me that GlaDOS is the protagonist. Chell is very much a blank slate for the player, and aside from falling for deathtraps or not (the deer is a lie!) doesn’t really make any decisions or grow. And by being killed twice grows as an advanced AI into an advanced AI that can suffer a human to live for more than a sixteenth of a picosecond.

  6. You should do one on Cait Sith, the true villain of Final Fantasy VII.

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