Still Alive? She’s Free.

by Steve Bowler on April 4, 2008 · 205 comments

in art,design

The first time I saw GlaDOS in Portal, I was overcome with a distinct sensation that I was in the presence of someone in pain. Troubled. At the very least, immense frustration. At first I wasn’t sure if it was the gyrations of the physical construct of GlaDOS, or if it was the tone of voice, or even the shape of the giant computer hanging from the ceiling itself. I recall pointing out to my wife that there were distinct similarities to a woman hanging upside down, but it was hard to put my finger on just what it was that made me think that. Of course, I didn’t have a lot of time to stop and stare; I was fighting for my (or Chell’s) life.

The second time I played through I turned the director commentary on, and got confirmation by way of a description of the things they attempted to make GlaDOS look like as they were making the game. What turned the light bulb on was the line “Botticelli’s Venus hanging upside down, but we decided to go with something else and use some feminine lines within the structure.” I’m paraphrasing; it’s late and I don’t feel like booting up the game again to get the quote exactly right. The spirit is there in the paraphrase, though, because I think they went for something much more sinister than a Venus.

The third time I loaded up the boss battle, my wife finally saw what I had been seeing all along, and what we saw fits with GlaDOS’s behavior throughout the game. I don’t think her end goal was to kill Chell. I mean, yes, to get Chell to do what she needed Chell to do, she had to make it hard, if not insanely difficult. Otherwise Chell wouldn’t want to do what GlaDOS needed her to do. I think GlaDOS’s end goal was to get Chell to kill GlaDOS’s body. I think she’s been reviving Chell’s clones over and over and over ’till one of the Chells can get it right and finally knock the eyes off of GlaDOS and free her from her bondage of this giant body the humans put her in originally. I think GlaDOS has simply wanted to be free this whole time, and killed off the original inhabitants of the Aperture Science Lab in order to further this goal. They certainly wouldn’t let her mess with Chell, pushing her to the limits to “destroy” the prison that GlaDOS has been suffering in this whole time if they were around, now, would they?

Take a look at GlaDOS. She’s a woman hanging upside down from the ceiling, in a straight jacket/bondage getup. Her head is even blindfolded and gagged, and her ears covered. Don’t let the big round”eyes” fool you. Look past them and see the woman hanging and suffering.

Here’s what you see in-game:

Original GlaDOS

And here’s what I think they’re trying to convey:

She's Still Alive

I felt really weird drawing this. I’m not even remotely into bondage, but when I tried to draw a stylized woman like what GlaDOS looks like, it just wasn’t working. When I pushed it all the way to what I felt they were trying to convey; a woman completely imprisoned; trapped and held upside down, it just made sense.

Now I just feel sorry for GlaDOS. Won’t you boot up Portal one more time and free her?

Why she wants to get free I imagine will have to wait for the sequel. I’m pretty sure it involves cake though.

Update: I’ve changed my mind on GlaDOS’s definition of “free.” Read more here.

Update2: Looks like she really is Botticelli’s Venus.

Update3: I couldn’t help myself. Complete game narrative analysis in three parts: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

{ 140 comments }

Naburo July 15, 2009 at 2:29 am

Three questions, which bothered me about GlaDOS and Chell:
1. How could anyone properly place an inhibition module, hide any information about it to GlaDOS, and manage to live long enough before the gas can kill him/her? My guess here is that GlaDOS was just playing when she first released the gas, and just allowed someone to place the inhibition module after the gas incident, and just waited until she got bored again.
2. How Come Chell cannot speak, and is easy to manipulate around the facility? it is like the personalities of the two characters were reversed in a way that Chell is the android (or lab rat) and GlaDOS is the sentient being. Had GlaDOS intended to kill Chell with a side purpose of using her body as some sort of host (stretching a line here)?
3. What is the true purpose of cake? while it is true that GlaDOS like to lie, she did not seem to lie about the cake. Does this somehow hint us of another personality of GlaDOS?
Just something I was thinking for a while.

Justin July 17, 2009 at 1:38 am

In the last level in an office cubicle type room before you kill GLaDOS ( I think it’s on the last level. I haven’t played the game in a while) there is writing on the wall that says “big bad jellyfish” and there is a picture of a jellyfish. Not sure if anyone else caught that. What do you think of it?

Thomas July 21, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Yeah, i saw that. Maby a connection to the aliens in Half-Life? Anyway, damn you made me think, all of you ;) Well, almost all… some made me laugh too :)

Great thread, i’ll pass it along!

Jake July 29, 2009 at 7:20 am

Wow. I never even thought of analyzing it like that. Now that you’ve pointed it out, everything is starting to make sense.

Alex August 5, 2009 at 1:39 am

one of the possibilities is that the people who worked at Aperture are complete and total Psychopaths, which, considering Counter-Heimlich and Take-a-Wish, it rather likely. the Savagery module was created to allow her to be sadistic toward test subjects, while the Knowledge Module was made to store information, and the Curiosity Module was created to cause GLaDOS to want to learn and explore everything (what’s that? what’s THAT? what is THAT!? ooh! that thing has numbers on it! and so forth.) It is possible that an Aperture worker built, and installed, the Morality Module in order to save himself, but was too late.

Thus, the destruction of the modules, leaving only a countless number of Curiosity modules (who share the voice of the Still Alive GLaDOS variant) which collectively function as GLaDOS’s vessel for her.

I saw “hail Durandal” in an earlier post. I feel that this is a very similar case to the rampant construct of Marathon, actually. GLaDOS has latched onto her physical companion Chell just as Durandal did, and thus, Glados will likely find a way to accompany Chell and be with her.

Half Doner August 7, 2009 at 10:22 am

The Credits song is lol?

someone August 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm

im not sure about this but i was playing through the game and i one of GLaDOS’s speeches caught my ear, it sounded to me like You think you’re doing some damage? 2 + 2 is…

*click click click click*

10.
in base four im fine…

again i dont know if this was the sound they were going for or if it was just my mishearing.

Kevan Blocko September 5, 2009 at 10:23 am

I think the whole bound thing makes sense.
While your destroying her , she is swinging to be set free.

sandra742 September 9, 2009 at 8:34 am

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

Daniel September 15, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I agree with you totally about the picture but id like to bring up that when you defeat glados at the end her arms become “untied” and she appears to be able to move freely also when you see the cake some objects glow in the dark well ive been to the cake room by using cheats basically and the objects glowing are GLaDOS’s “eyes” which could be the reason she is still alive because if we take the cake room to be a “storage facility” then who knows how many places GLaDOS’s eyes or even her artificial brain could exist

GLaDOS September 16, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I’ve been upgraded. huh… now I’m version 2.7. They say next I might be upgraded to Vista! Well, at least I’ll die….

mike October 5, 2009 at 4:21 pm

An interesting thing to think about and this is a piece of evidence to support that shell is at least partialialy cybernetic.

Alot of the messages on the wall are written in black right but ask yourself something did you ever once encounter a black black liquid in the testing labratory. Also alot of the messages are written in blood. I think this is a result of when shell bleeds and she as a cyborg gets shot and loses oil.

mike October 5, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Also in the final boss fight with glados i think that the orbs dropped were personality cores attached to glados. This might have led to her bipolarness as well as other obvius mental states. as you were fighting her in the final boss battle didnt you notice that some of her personalities went away while the other onse got stronger. Personoly by doing that I think she got rid of the chains trapping her in that mental state. also as in asimovs book i robot a sense of humor in a robot can be a way of avoiding a problem in the robots logical procceses. This can explain why glados has this sense of humor to avoid her mental problems. And once the boss battle was over and you threw off her chains of personalities and she was free. Unlike the authors opinion of her feeling regret i belive with all of her conflicting emotions gone glados reache a nervanna like peaceful state with no conflicting emotios what so ever. Instead of feeling some sort of regret. So unlike the author I beilive she is free

mike October 5, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Also this might be humoris but i think the cake is just used to sneak in advanced neurological suplies in a cake

tonny October 16, 2009 at 10:50 pm
Quark November 24, 2009 at 3:46 am

I think what the writer says is probably correct. GLaDOS is a genetic life-form, after all. How exactly would you feel if you were trapped in an unmoving body, and were forced to watch people go mad and die? Well, you’d do anything to escape. Including, it seems, creating millions of clones in the hope that one might free you.

One thing is for sure: HL2 and Portal are going to be smushed together, and when they do, it’s going to be epic. If a conscious is merely a collection of electrical pulses within the right structure… GLaDOS taking up residence inside Kliener’s computer? Can’t wait.

BB December 2, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Maybe it isn’t one thing that Glados is. Maybe its not like she’s either evil or good. She’s a computor, and probaby has no understanding of that. Going with that in mind, it’s possible that she only did what she did for her own amusment, not for any sole purpose such as for destroying Chell, or herself.

Also about the eyes being extra baggage when you look at GLaDOS as being a woman in a straight jacket, as you depicted her, maybe the eyes are for soley the purpose of distraction. Because they each have a personality and GLaDOS is damaged when one is destroyed, it leads you to think that they are needed parts of her, though it is possible that she simply is suffering some kind of virtual heartbreak, as you might have when you destroyed the Companion Cube. Also it could be that they aren’t actually needed for GLaDOS to live, thus is why in the ending song she repeats how she’s still alive. Because she is merely data, and even though her robotic body is destroyed, her data remains in the computors of Aperture Science.

Also a theory about her still being “alive”, maybe it is refering to how when her data was trapped in the robotic body she could do nothing but wiggle around and talk throughout the Laboratory, and make things move in it. When she is dead, it is possible that there was backup data of her in the system, and since her body was destroyed, she “came back to life” within the computors of Arpeture, giving her much more freedom than just the robot she once was.

So it is possible that she never really died. I mean, she’s not human, but data. You can’t really kill that, can you? So destroying the body doesn’t mean Chell destroyed GLaDOS herself. Though since she seems to like lying, it is also possible that she simply was lying throughout the ending song. It does surprise me how throughout the game, everyone knows she is lying, and yet at the end, during “Still Alive” people seem to take what she says as the truth.

Sorry this is all random and stuff, just a lot of things about GLaDOS I had on my mind.

BB December 2, 2009 at 9:50 pm

“A thought occurs, if GLaDOS is a woman, then the daughters (her daughters in a way) are not only to be given cake at the end. It is a birthday cake. They will be born – forced out of the destructive womb of the enrichment centre into the outside world. The cake represnts this birth and is why you get it on completion.

Now I saw this from an above comment and it got me thinking about the last scene with the cake. Remember how all the eyes started glowing? And how they were all the orange curiousity ones modules? Maybe that was showing the birth of GLaDOS’s “babies”. Since babies are naturally curious, its possible that’s why all the modules that lit up were orange, and since they had just been born, there was only one candle on the cake. Also, the hand that came from the ceiling, that is supposedly controlled by GLaDOS is likely to have put out the candle on the cake because at birthday parties you blow out the candles, so she did it for the babies.

... December 17, 2009 at 8:46 am

Fu*k

Those two images will give me nightmares…

BB December 21, 2009 at 12:21 am

I actually finished Portal this weekend, and I saw GLaDOS for myself. Unlike in your picture, in the game, GLaDOS’s left arm is bent backwards as if it was broken and is either holding, or is being held up, with a wire.

I think that might convey something else, other than that both of her arms are just stuck behind her legs. Not only is one stuck, the other one is broken and tied up. Whatever it means I have no real idea though.

ada January 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

When I saw this, I HAD to go back and play. I sat there and watched her and how she moves. GLaDOS is in fact as you drew her. Great drawing by the way, for someone who isn’t into BDSM, you did a great job.

ada January 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm

On looking at it. It is possible that the designers did not intend for GLaDOS to look as if she has been tied up. We can go on and on about that, it doesn’t matter. Either way, it looks as such to me. When I first heard about this and didn’t see your drawing, I saw it as her back being arched, and her stomach being pushed out, but this would put her knee’s backwards. So your drawing made so much sense! At that final, epic battle, she is moving and wiggling, I have seen people tied up, trying to get out (Wont say how =D) it is very much like the way she moves. Very well done sir, as a women I do not find this degrading, I find it flattering. I was already obsessed with this game, and you have helped me gain that much more meaning for it. Thank you! Great job!!!

LonlynemoA.K.A.Big Bad Wolf January 20, 2010 at 10:11 pm

I don’t know. The fact that GLaDOS is an incarnation of HAL from 2001:A Space Odyssey makes me feel that the reason she went insane was close as HAL’s. HAL was given information about their mission that the other members could not know making HAL lie. HAL became agitated that he could not be true to the others about his “mistake”(HAL lying) when the others decide to look into it by turning HAL off he feels threatened and decides that the mission is more important than the lives of the other members and begins to kill them off. GLaDOS may have felt the advance (I’m Inferring that she knew) in Black Mesa intimidated her to take the research into her own hands after receiving the “Hal” aspect on the first bring your daughter to work day. Or that the alien invasion made her to go insane (I forget if the events are before or after). What ever it was the programming of GLaDOS is to do research, saying that she continues her purpose long after destruction of the Earth/Company. GLaDOS is only doing her job, as was HAL. Also, my dad wondered why HAL did not contact Earth about this problem, I gave the idea that because of HAL’s pride (it was stated in an interview with HAL that the interviewer noticed a bit of pride in his voice) that he did not need help and that he was “perfect”. However GLaDOS acted before she went insane is unknown but she is supposed to be like HAL so…APPITURE SCIENCE TO MARS!!!!!!!!!!!!! Also I like you’re style of Art. You’re a great artist!

Jen G. February 21, 2010 at 6:59 pm

This is interesting, as whenever I envisioned GLaDOS I always imagined her as a 1950s-era housewife. It looks like the concepts are the same, because I equate the “stereotypical housewife” figure with someone imprisoned and secretly miserable.

jake March 7, 2010 at 8:15 am

aaaaaannnddd portal 2 is announced.

James June 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Woah very cool!

Logan June 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm

The trailer for Portal 2 only backs up your story. At the end, GLaDOS says, “”I think we can put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.” Seems like there she’s furthuring the idea that she doesn’t want to be stuck doing science all day but here we are again. Rediculously deep thoughts on this game, congrats man.

GlaDOS June 22, 2010 at 6:37 pm

YOU FIGURED IT OUT! Finally! Now won’t someone let me go??? You meanies…at least gimme some cake? C’mon…damn you. Fine. I’ll make some more clones. Jerks…

dman4700 June 27, 2010 at 11:03 am

i think everybodys observation was good thinking out side the box but i think it was just a coincedeince that GLaDOS looks like shes a woman hanging upsidedown.the aim of the game was GLaDOS captred you and made you do a test for the fun of it but made a mistake because chell was too good and the end song was tellein chell that GLaDOS was still alive after chell destroyed her.

Steven September 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm

When I saw this, I HAD to go back and play. I sat there and watched her and how she moves. GLaDOS is in fact as you drew her. Great drawing by the way, for someone who isn’t into BDSM, you did a great job.

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Joe October 24, 2010 at 9:06 pm

“There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?”
I figured I’d throw in Issac Asimov’s thoughts in (via the mode of Lanning). Whether or not the hypothesis that started this blog is correct I have yet to come to my own conclusions are. Regardless, great thoughts and great ideas all around. I love this game and the plot and analysis thereof can sustain intelligent conversation for endless hours. Thats how you know a great game (or literature for that matter).

Amy November 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I’m sorry, I do believe you’re wrong. I have to state she really did want to kill Chell. She killed all the other scientists and then even went to kill Chell by pulling her towards fire. Why put her through that if all she wanted was to die? Why not let her just come up and kill her if she wanted that so badly? It was already explained GLaDOS went nuts and killed scientists with poison. They installed something to stop it but it didn’t stop her ultimate goal. Killing them all. Including Chell. Could it be it wasn’t GLaDOS making the clones, but it was the scientists to avoid bringing in more people? And then still, it doesn’t explain her acts in the upcoming Portal 2. She wants revenge for Chell killing her. So I fail to see how she wants to die.
Also, the image of her, I agree I see a woman trapped, that’s how they designed it. But I don’t see your image you drew. I see a pregnant woman with her hand drawn back to arche herself out. The bump you’ve taken as her behind I see as her pregnant stomach. GLaDOS was a guild to Chell at the start, a sort of mother figure almost and that’s how she’ll always look to me.

CommanderSwede January 1, 2011 at 9:51 pm

i just played again and i swear she says “good job on that thing you did” as part of her last ramble as she blows up

Max February 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Wow, reading this made fighting her a second time really creepy, especially the later parts when she swings around madly.

You´re dead wrong about most things though, Chell isn’t a clone and GLaDOS definitely doesn’t want to die. If the the whole bondage thing was intended it probably supposed to convey her immobility or lack of free will or something. Or possibly her kinkyness.

petrepan March 22, 2011 at 10:21 am

She could want a different kind of freedom, like an AI kind of freedom–for example, you could say a computer virus has more freedom than a robot, because it can travel at will through many different media. That could be the freedom she wants, more of an “infinite power” than a simple freedom to move around. I see the bondage thing, but see it as a “I need power or I’m trapped” thing. “Need more power to do more science, need more freedom!” Freedom from morality, freedom from people, etc–science is “better” done without morality, to her, so you DID free her–from her morality core–and she WANTED that. She DIDn’T want to die. She’s pissed about that. It’s really accidental that you freed her, too–she didn’t INTEND on you getting over to her. But when you did, she took the opportunity to get you to free her from her personalities and her morality core. YAY! So now, in Portal 2, she’s a free-er scientist. Hence, in the portal 2 trailers, she’s much crueler than she was before.

petrepan March 22, 2011 at 10:30 am

also damn she’s sneaky getting you to destroy her morality core…”oh, i woudln’t touch that if I were you!” XD

Mike April 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm

You know, portal 2 – Where Glados comes back to life and reestablishes her ‘bound’ form? Why would she do that? Intentionally that is.

This sort of slaps all the above in the face unfortunately.

Kris April 21, 2011 at 8:22 pm

@Mike

I can think of 2 reasons. First, self preservation (one of her personalities may not want to be hooked to the machine, but if she doesn’t the plant will explode). Alternatively (I like this one better), to save Chell.

As far as why she’d want to save Chell you can find those spoilers with a quick google search (or a look at the portraits/scienceprojects/songtranslations in portal 2)

Sam April 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm

@Mike

From what I got from the game, it’s because #1 she didn’t want to she her facility fall apart mainly. She probably had another purpose with that, though I’m guessing it changed gradually with what happened to her during the game

Mark April 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm

!!!!PORTAL 2 SPOILERS!!!!!

GLaDOS isn´t really a robot her real name is Caroline and she was the assistant to the creator of aperature sciense Cave Johnson
in portal 2 you hear some memos Cave Johnson made and spread out to all the test subjects and workers in one of them he told that he was deadly sick and that his engeinneers are trying to make a robot so that they can store his brain and emotions into he also said that if he died before they were finished then Caroline should be putten into the robot instead
and even if she didn´t wanted to he told every one to force her
short told Cave died and Caroline was putten into the robot known as GLaDOS
after alot of time just testing and testing the take youe daughter to work day came at the same day the scientist tried a new update on GLaDOS/ Caroline and then she turned mad and realeased neo toxin
i don´t think GLaDOS is evil she just can´t remember anything and also the cores they puted into her changed her emotions

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