The Cub Report: Portal to Parenting

When Portal first came out, it was the game that led me to install this Steam thingie that all you young whippersnappers gush about. ‘Digital downloads of games’, pfah!

Why, in my day, not only did we buy our games in a store, and it came in a box 40 times bigger than the disc, but it came with a map of the game world too. In full color.


I miss my little gold tassels. [sniff]

BTW, anyone know wtf a whippersnapper is? What kind of whip, and why does the hooligan snap it? What does he snap it AT? I could Google it, but I prefer to live in a world of mystery and adventure.

A world where I envision a wild creature called the whippet, and those brave souls who hunt it entice it to them by cracking their special whip over their heads, a whip made of string and clackers, and they have to snap it over their heads to simulate the sound of a whippet in heat.

But I digress.


If you continue to read, I warn you, there will be spoilers. It’s a 7 year old game, and yet here I am, warning you of spoilers as if you intended to rush out and buy it tomorrow, and here am I, bastard that I am, RUINING this special moment for you.


Portal is a brilliant game. I’m a cheap bastard, but even I had to buy this game. The humor! The physics! The evil dark mean streak of that bitch of an AI, GlaDOS.

Great game. Played it all the way through, beat it, and counted myself fortunate I still had the reflexes to manage some of those long multi-portal falling leaps. At least eventually.

My son saw me playing it, and inevitably he wanted to try it, leading me to install Steam on his computer so he could give ‘er a go, guv.

He was very good at it, and this is a game that came out several years ago so he played it when much younger.

He liked playing with the radios, and using portals to take cameras off the walls, and he liked talking about to the computer as GlaDOS told him he couldn’t succeed because a test was impossible and tried to trick him, etc.

Somewhere along the way, his computer died. I bought him a new computer and installed Steam on it, but it was more so he could play games like Terraria (which he doesn’t like) and Scribblenauts Unlimited (which he does like, very much).

I don’t even know how it happened, but earlier this week something made Alex think of Portal, and he was sad face about us not having it anymore.

I told him we do, it’s on Steam.

“On your Steam though, right?”

“On both our Steams, we only have one Steam. You play on the same one I do. If you want to play Portal, we just install it on your computer again. But we lost all the save files from your old computer, so you’d have to start over.”

This did not seem to deter him.

Now, when he played Portal before and was a few years younger, I did not let him play through or past the test filled with automated sentries.

Give the developers of Portal their due credit, they did a fantastic job of making the machine guns and impacts of those little sentries realistic, in a ‘gets you in the gut and makes you anxious to run like hell’ type of realism.

Likewise on those times when you stray into the line of fire, and they nail you with a stream of lead.

I didn’t want him having that in his head at such an early age.

Since then, he has become a Minecraft fanatic, and one of his favorite mods for Minecraft lets you have a working Portal gun in Minecraft… and also automated sentries. With laser sensors and machine guns, too. He likes making maps in Creative where he places them in a big perimeter, and then puts something like a cow in the middle.

The world of making deathtraps in Minecraft takes me back to when I was his age, and Grimtooth’s Traps were the best books in the entire known universe. And I used them as a GM, too. There is just something about designing a trap, and making sure there are specific rules for how to get out of it.

Like the universe has rules. How cute!

With his newly won experience in the Portal sentries (and his increased maturity), I installed the game and let him actually play it as far as his skill and patience would take him.

There is a point to all this. There really is.

I played the game and beat it once myself, and had a great time doing it.

I’m also more than a little cynical, but there were still moments in the game that tugged at my heart and my sense of the romantic, and one of those moments was your forced pairing with the Weighted Companion Cube.

On the one hand, you’re being told by GlaDOS to love and protect this cube. It’s part of the test, and for an old cynic like me there is an element of cold amusement that you’re being manipulated by an insane, twisted AI that wants to kill you.

There is also a good bit of fun feeling that in some small way, JOSHUA from WarGames is the ghost of this machine, heartbroken that daddy is gone and damned well intending to MAKE you play this game with him, and screw chess.

On the other hand though, the cube itself is really cute, and as you play the game you keep coming across all these little graffiti left by previous testers (presumably not as resourceful as you) that show their increasing love for and dependence on the Companion Cube. You see the cube drawn on walls, surrounded by little Valentines’ hearts, etc.

To me, this was a fine example of games as art, where the story and the presentation and all the little touches are pulling me into the game world, making me experience some feeling of what the world is like.

My son, as I said, returned to the world of Portal with an enthusiasm that I didn’t quite expect. Always just settled for puttering around in the early levels before.

We had a snow day here, where it was less than -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Schools were closed, and being an adult, I went to work anyway.

When I get home, Cassie gave me THE LOOK.


I wasn’t home, so what did I do now?

“Alex came upstairs sobbing because the game made him destroy his Weighted Companion Cube.”

Aw, geez.

“He got to a part of the game where he had to throw the cube into a burning pit of fire, destroying it forever, just to keep going.”

Aw, geez.

“He made me come downstairs to be with him and watch so he could show it to me before he threw it in, and see the pit, and then he spent some time crying afterward.”

Aw, geez. I totally forgot about that.

I went to check in on him, and he seemed okay, and was playing Portal and working his way through the puzzles.

Later that night, he made a few comments that let me know he was still really sad about it. But he was dealing with it.

Then, during raid, as I fought with Band of Misfits against Heroic Iron Juggernaut, I heard some distinctive GlaDOS dialogue.


I turned around, and sure as shit, he was fighting GlaDOS in the final battle. Like, the real final battle. And he one shot it.

Damn if he didn’t clear the entire Portal game from start to finish, clean run, in two days.

And there at the end… after the song that he really liked… there was a cake. The cake was not really a lie. (Real spoilers this time! Muahahaha!)

He defeated a game I swear it took me a week to do. He is a little sadder, and a little wiser, but I know he feels very proud. He did that, and he did it on his own. No videos, no cheats, him and a game and he kicked it’s ass.

He’ll never really lose that small piece of sadness, I know.

But I have a plan. A plan for a surprise that I think will bring a little fun into his life, cheer him up a touch, and earn a space on his bed. It might even join his revered Creeper plush!


There are no instruction manuals for raising a child, but I sure as hell wish someone would give me the cheat codes.

16 thoughts on “The Cub Report: Portal to Parenting

  1. I completed Portal 2 for the first time over the weekend (after buying it cheap in the Summer sale).The lighthearted GLADOS abuse is probably fine for a child his age, and the emotional stuff doesn’t seem as strong, but the ending does feel a very little bitter-sweat.


  2. Heh. For my youngest’s 11th birthday, I bought her Portal via Digital Download. Since I had nothing to wrap to show her I got it for her, I attached a note to the plushie you linked above that we then wrapped. 🙂

    Tangentially related, any advice on teaching my 11 year old to tank? (In case you found some instructions that I didn’t know about yet.)


  3. I’m assuming you know the Portal song “Still Alive” by Jonathan Coulton. Should definitely check it out if you don’t.


    • A good friend of mine has one. In a joke that will likely be apparent only to those over a certain age (and yes, I’m one), he called him “Devo” 🙂


  4. I tried watching Simon of Yogscast play Portal 2. I bought the game two episodes in so I could stop yelling at my screen. Playing is better than watching, you learn and feel so much more. Buy it next time a Steam sale hits. It even has a two player coop set of challenges.

    Also, if you really want to break the illusion…

    This has been a message approved by Cave Johnson, we’re done here.


    • Addendum, I may have acquired a pdf set of those Grimtooth’s Traps books. I don’t have a RPG group or anything, but they sounded interesting. Thanks for the reading material suggestion.


      • Lord help you.

        Also, where did you get them? My books got trashed decades ago!

        My son would love them as much as I did.


  5. 17 levels of awesome, BBB!

    Portal is superb and I really felt for Alex there. The theme tune is great, too – got it on all my mp3 players and each time it randomly comes on, it’s blasted at full volume. Great tune, great emotions and certainly immersive.


  6. I love your cub reports, thank you.
    You and your son need to play portal 2. First finish it alone, both of you, then play together.
    Something makes a comeback. Me and my 10yo love it.


    • Um.

      After defeating portal, I said we could buy portal 2. He decided instead to watch a lets play series on YouTube that played through the entire game from start to finish.

      Now I want to play it, he did the whole thing next to me and Cave sounded hilarious.


Comments are closed.