Monday, December 8, 2008

How To Overanalyze a Song - 'Still Alive'

'Still Alive'

Okay, so for all of you who have not played the game Portal, from which this song is based, here is a brief synopsis:
The main character, Chell, wakes up on a stasis bed and is instructed through many levels of puzzle solving by this unknown, artificial intelligence named GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). Chell wakes up on the third level of a testing center (similar to the Black Mesa Research Facility found in Half-Life 2) where they have created portals through physical space in which objects can travel. GLaDOS, this insincere AI voice that basically runs this testing center, insincerely helps Chell find her way through many tests, promising a reward of cake at the end. GLaDOS brings Chell, the guinea pig, through levels of increasing difficulty and danger. After Chell completes the final test chamber,  GLaDOS congratulates Chell and tries to lead Chell into a pit of fire (claiming all Aperture technologies can withstand temperatures up to 4000 Kelvin). Chell decides to listen to various grafitti messages which lead her to the correct location - the central room with all of GLaDOS' hanging hardware. GLaDOS tries to unreasonably reason with Chell, but Chell ends up throwing GLaDOS' computer chips, and other pieces, into a pit of fire. Chell eventually leaves the testing center to find a piece of cake and the companion cube waiting for her. Happy ending... for Chell. Still Alive is sung by GLaDOS during the closing credits.

This was a triumph.
I'm making a note here: Huge Success.
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.

The song is titled Still Alive and is sung by the computer operating system GLaDOS. It is obvious that Chell has not killed GLaDOS and that she is, unfortunately, still alive. Throughout Portal we find that GLaDOS becomes increasingly insincere and manipulative. Obviously these first few lines seem very sarcastic. It is easy to see that it truly is not 'hard to overstate my satisfaction' because this line comes off so blatantly sarcastic. Portal ends up with GLaDOS dying... more or less. So obviously this test with Chell was not a 'huge success.'

Aperture Science.
We do what we must because we can.
For the good of all of us
Except the ones who are dead.

Aperture Science is the specific type of science they do at this facility: The Aperture Science Enrichment Center. The next line explains almost everything: 'We do what we must because we can.' This line is downright frightening. This line shows why this entire testing facility was built. No, this testing facility was not built because it was needed, and no, nothing done here benifits society or the human race - in fact, quite the opposite. Rather, it is here because it can be here. And these tests are being done because they can be done (not because they are needed to be done; not because they must be done; not even because they have to be done). There are many apocalyptic stories that depict the outcome of scientists who are unleashed to do whatever they please - whatever they can accomplish. GLaDOS then goes on to claim that all of this is for the good of all of us... except the ones who are dead. First off, how can all this testing possibly be good for this AI? Other than the fact that this AI will learn what humans can accomplish and overcome through such mind-bending tests using such otherworldly physics, GLaDOS has no other gains except for the extermination of the human race. And with the lack of any other human lifeform in this entire game, she has done a fantastic job thus far. And naturally, these tests cannot possibly help the ones who are dead - killed off by her? Most likely.

But there's no sense crying over every mistake.
You just keep on trying till you run out of cake.
And the Science gets done and you make a neat gun
For the people who are still alive.

Now I think these two lines can be taken out of this game's context and put into real life and scientific testing in general. There's no sense crying over every mistake - this just means that, yes, losing a human life is bad, but it is just a mistake on the first stepping-stone of scientific tragedy and there are many more lives we can use to try and fix this glitch in our science. The fact that GLaDOS says there is no use crying over these mistakes just goes to show how insignificant these lives are for her. This can once again be brought out of this game and used in real life. When certain sciences were first born (as in psychology) there were brutal and inhumane testing done on animals and people that could be similar to such wacky testing Chell has to endure through. And, of course, this cake GLaDOS promises Chell is the modern day version of the mouse and cheese labyrinth testing. If promised with cake, can Chell make it through this deadly test? I guess so. The last two lines of this passage stike me as very dark-humor-ish. The Science gets done and you make a neat gun for the people who are still alive. This goes to show that scientific testing is a neverending process. We will never be done testing. GLaDOS admits that Chell only serves a small purpose and her purpose is to help create a similar situation for another test subject. I know that Chell is equipped with a Portal Gun through the game, but I view the phrase 'and you make a neat gun' as something to be taken metaphorically. GLaDOS is AI - she is very clever. I believe that here she is admitting that Chell is not the first test subject, nor will she be the last. And whatever it is that Chell is being used for, that GLaDOS will use the outcome of this testing to help forward her AI agenda: probably of taking over the world, or something technologic and maniacal - one human at a time. And the fact that the last line, and the entire song, says STILL ALIVE rather than just 'for the people who are alive' shows GLaDOS' determination. The way it is phrased makes it sound like all of us humans still alive should not be alive - or maybe will be alive for a shortened amount of days.

I'm not even angry.
I'm being so sincere right now.
Even though you broke my heart and killed me.

The fact that GLaDOS has to come out and claim that she is being sincere flat out shows her insincerity. And how can something created with human emotions and feelings not be angry at her test subject for killing her?

And tore me to pieces
And threw every piece into a fire.
As they burned it hurt because I was so happy for you!

This part of the song describes Chell throwing all of GLaDOS' hardware into the fire pit. If you have not played this game and you take a look at these lyrics, especially these three lines, the singer comes across as morbid and extremely depressing. GLaDOS comes across as a machine who really did care about Chell. Yet this cannot be the case, because GLaDOS tried to kill Chell.

Now these points of data make a beautiful line.
And we're out of beta. We're releasing on time.
So I'm GLaD. I got burned. Think of all the things we learned
For the people who are still alive.

These lines go an to tell of all the fantastic sciences that GLaDOS is involved with. Although in the end GLaDOS is the one that got burned she obviously is still alive. Therefore something must have happened - her backup system was rebooted - and GLaDOS is up and running (after Chell has escaped). The line think of all the things we learned is an interesting one indeed. I think this shows just how learned this AI has become. GLaDOS actually dies (she admits it herself) and somehow finds a way of reviving herself. How? Is it possible that she had a backup program for this exact situation? Has this happened before? Maybe not, because she has obviously learned some valuable knowledge from Chell's escape. Maybe next time GLaDOS gets a test subject she will be more careful of how she brings said test subject into the pit of fire. And, yet again, all this is sarcastic altruism: she does not do this for herself. Instead, all this experimentation is for the people who are still alive (but not for long?).

Go ahead and leave me.
I think I prefer to stay inside.

This is the part of the song where GLaDOS becomes almost immature. Chell has escaped GLaDOS' testing facility and now GLaDOS is trying to maybe reassure herself that she would rather be stuck inside this vacant facility than living outside in the real world. I believe these lines show how envious GLaDOS is of Chell, and of all us humans - that we are able to wander freely while GLaDOS is stuck in such machinery. 

Maybe you'll find someone else to help you.
Maybe Black Mesa... 
That was a joke, Ha! Ha! Fat chance.

Black Mesa is another research facility that appears in Half-Life. Here GLaDOS is being sarcastic again and trying to make fun of Chell's freedom. Maybe GLaDOS is poking fun at the fact that she had Chell trapped in the testing center that was once run by Black Mesa and, now that Chell is finally free, she better not try running back to the people who originally enslaved her (if GLaDOS hasn't already killed everyone in that Arizona facility). 

Anyway, this cake is great. It's so delicious and moist.

Again, GLaDOS is trying to hide her envious side by trying to show Chell what she is missing. Obviously GLaDOS cannot eat food, so she cannot possibly know if this cake is delicious or moist. She is just trying to calm herself into thinking that she has got it good and that Chell is the one missing out. 

Look at me still talking when there's science to do.
When I look out there it makes me glad I'm not you.

GLaDOS might have found another test subject... for she has some more science to do. She is, once again, trying to reassure herself and not show her jealous side. GLaDOS is stuck in her own form of slavery, much like Chell was in the beginning of Portal. GLaDOS seems to have an Eye-For-An-Eye type of mentallity. Humans created her and, in her being created, therefore imprisoned her in a hardware-cell, of which she cannot escape. Her only way to help herself cope: Imprison the ones that created her and then kill them at the finale of a plethora of tests.

I've experiments to run.
There is research to be done
On the people who are still alive.

The end of the song is GLaDOS reassuring herself that there is much work to be done and there is no need for her to fret over the loss of Chell. There are many other humans to experiment on. I would like to believe that GLaDOS knows of her imprisonment and will stop at nothing until every human being is killed or until she is unplugged. I personally think she would prefer to be unplugged (also known as: dead) because she must realize that if she were to kill all the humans on the face of the Earth, her existence would be pointless.

GLaDOS repeatedly tells herself that she is Still Alive and is (sarcastically) happy about this.

1 comment:

Joel said...

Sheesh...aptly named article. And now you've got that song stuck in my head >=|