In this edition of Metagame Monday, I debate: Which has made more players cry, Portal or Counter-Strike?
We all know that the cake is a lie! This horrible affront to all that is right and decent with the world is a legend that has spread throughout the world, as the humor and heartfelt emotion from Portal has engaged both hardcore and casual gamers around the world with its wit and charm. The game blends punchy jokes, subtle humor and introspective thoughts into a memorable narrative around some mind pending levels of puzzle action and the unique dual portal system of transportation…or propulsion…or deflection…or much more.
The title of the game refers to the core game mechanic, but what makes Portal transcend gaming and into our popular culture is the hilarious, tear inducing humor that Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek infused into all parts of game (except the ones that called for moments of introspection. There’s so much to see and experience, with layers that reveal themselves upon repeat exposure: Portal has been given any accolades and descriptions, but one that I have never heard but thoroughly attribute to the game is density. The game progresses in a seemingly linear fashion, but the eventually fiendishly difficult puzzles threaten to snap your mind before another hilarious one-liner or unbelievable physics reaction and the resulting kinetic chaos kept bringing me to tears of laughter. From my frantic attempts to discuss this game with friends that inevitably break down into inappropriately loud laughter, I am quite confident that many fellow gamers have experienced the same euphoria.
The sequel and inevitable games afterwards that will carry on the legacy of GLaDOS, Chell and the rest of this universe will undoubtedly be filled with other great moments of gameplay and dialogue, but everyone reading this article will remember the first time they discovered that the cake was, indeed, a lie.
By its strictest interpretation, The Metagame didn’t specify why a game has made more players cry. With that in mind, there is no doubt that the brutal difficulty in both gameplay mechanics and ferocity of competition in Counter-Strike has left many gamers weeping in frustration and anger as they get picked off a mere second away from defusing or planting a bomb, at the end of a particularly tense standoff or right after getting lured into shooting a wall tag of an enemy combatant and ambushed from behind.
For those that have not played it, Counter-Strike is truly the chess of first person shooters. Every side, weapon, gear and play style combination has strengths and weaknesses that require many hours of frustration and practice to achieve even minimal proficiency at, and an exponentially growing commitment to refine and improve when reaching the upper echelons of combat (or at least the top of the scoreboard). With apex predators wielding undoubtedly sinewy wrists toughened by thousands of hours of rounds expertly wielding weapons that have become extensions of their will while prowling maps they have long since committed even the smallest details to memory, Counter-Strike veterans are the kind of gamer that strike fear into the heart of lesser men and women until they are brought to tears at their inability to win.
A few months ago, I checked out the latest iteration Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and was swiftly relegated to the bottom of the scoreboard with demoralizing scores such as 2-19 and 1-11. Sighing deeply, I logged off and never returned before the waterworks game: Counter-Strike has never made it dusty in the room during my years with the game, and I would be damned if I let it start now.
Counter-Strike is known and much respected, but Portal is on another level: the terrible deceit of GLaDOS and the absence of a culinary confection has permeated pop culture, and we are all the better for it. I recently attended a wonderful performance of Video Games Live that featured Tommy Tallarico, Laura Intravia and a packed house of Toronto’s finest in Massey Hall cheerfully singing along to Jonathan Coulton’s iconic song (I must have been only 2 or 3 rows behind the videographer), and no amount of bomb planting or defusing is ever going to top the tears of laughter that Portal has brought to me and millions of others who just wanted a slice of tasty, tasty cake.