GLaDOS Followup: She’s Your Venus.

by Steve Bowler on April 9, 2008 · 42 comments

in art,critique

Commenter Harvey James posted an interesting image earlier about his own research he started doing after seeing the GLaDOS Bondage piece from earlier this week, and I wanted to link it here, because as it turns out, Valve did use Botticelli’s Venus as their inspiration (as the director’s commentary stated) for GLaDOS.  It’s just really tough to see.

You have to get up by her “feet” and look down at her “face” to see it.  Harvey convinced someone to unpack her model and looked at it from multiple views in a 3D modelling ap, and then put together this comparison.  This is her default pose, evidently.

She just needs some hair.

This was some awesome detective work on Harvey’s part, and it certainly lays aside any claims of pareidolia people trot out when they like to show off their triple-word-score vocabulary but refuse to use their eyeballs.  And despite some folks’ poor attempts at reasoning to the contrary, this actually validates my original hypothesis that GLaDOS wanted to be free.

You see, the name of that painting up there?  The full name of it is The Birth of Venus.   Birth is certainly freedom from the womb, non?  More amazing symbolism from the Valve folks.

Moreover, it’s possible for an object to be modeled differently from two different positions so that the image has a different visual interpretation depending on how it’s viewed.  The concept has been around as long as people have been making sculptures, but is easiest to describe in this Penny Arcade comic.  I don’t think it’s difficult to see that while the front-on views look the same, the Venus standing on that clamshell certainly isn’t bent at the knees at a 90 degree angle nor is she hunching over so far that she can touch the back of her knees.  Venus’s extended arm isn’t bending the wrong way, either (as GLaDOS’s does in the side view).

So I still think it’s possible that she was trapped in that position, and I’m still thinking she wanted to die (I’ve got another followup critique I’m working on, but I’m trying not to post about Portal like crazy right now if you can believe that) .  I’m not saying I’m right.  Far from it.  I’m not even saying anyone has to see it my way.  I’m saying that what I still see in GLaDOS is a woman uncomfortably hanging from the ceiling who has conducted Chell to end her life.

I’ll post a final critique later, to the delight and disdain of the internets.


kost April 10, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Confirmation and Clarification:

It has been 99% percent confirmed that EP3 will happen on the Borialis – which as you know is an Aperture Labs’ “Mobile Lab” as I call it.

Now what does all the science for Aperture Labs? GlaDOS of course.. so it is very probable that there are at least backups of her there (the backup theory was mine all along)

NOW – as soon as you mentioned that the song was done by one of the backups turning up to realize it’s alive.. So the song was probably sang by the Borialis’s GlaDOS.

some more little facts that can confirm that – the combine are really eager to get (or by another theory (the new, orange eyed, soldiers and the spheres in the end of HL2 which are the same as the ones used inside Portal) they already got) some of the old Aperture technologies. – Well that means that means that inspire of GlaDOS’s attemps with the poison gas, she was enslaved by something else (or close to being enslaved) so she wants to be free (die or otherwise).

And the last and most random reference – at the end of EP2 just before Ali died, he said that you should destroy what ever is on the Borialis.. could he possibly know about GlaDOS and wants for her death as well?

kost April 10, 2008 at 3:28 pm

A comment in the other post:
“…the biblical meaning of the name Chell..
…From the page:
“Meaning Ewe, little lamb, daughter.”

A little more discrete then naming her “Dolly”, eh?”

I would go more with the “daughter” thing – “bring your daughter to work day” anyone?

I think that GlaDOS maybe thinks of Chell as her baby girl that can help mommy get free (and yes of course that means enslaving her daughter as a lamb.. so both meanings fit that characterization)

Pijama April 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm

I am beginning to suspect you are going to keep milking thousands of pageviews from GLaDOS only, mate. :D

Good post.

Fourd April 11, 2008 at 7:36 am

@kost: plus there’s the “donate one or all of your vital organs” thing to back up the cloning idea.

StasZ April 11, 2008 at 8:25 am

You’re articles are great.

I’ve never even had the nearest thought that Portal’s story (Especially the characters Chell and GLaDOS) could be so deep.

I only thought of it as a cheap spin-off story to fit in with the Half-Life franchise but now it is changed.

Black Phoenix April 12, 2008 at 7:20 am

Hello. I love your articles, they changed my view on the game.

Recently I played through game again, and through the final ending, and noticed one very weird thing.

There are some strange creatures/particles/debris? flying around GLaDOS when she is “collapsing” (More weird stuff: effect/sprite is called “whatisthis.vtf”, it’s in corner of image for comparsion):

What the hell? What are those things?

Rumface April 16, 2008 at 7:50 am

If you’ve played the Missing information version of borialis. A Large metal structure dominates one of the rooms for seemingly no reason, and music plays in a sort of “Shocked” tone. Maybe this could be what’s mentioned. Take a look. I don’t condone downloading missing information mod as it’s BAD BAD beta leak.

Jonathan May 14, 2008 at 7:40 pm

I think you’re insane.

That image doesn’t look much like the venus and there’s a whole bunch of objects you could arbitrarily twist into that pose if you really want to.

You’re “GLaDOS is a woman in bondage” imagery on the other hand made much more sense.

Though I don’t think GLaDOS is quite as sarcastic and bitter as you seem to think. e.g. you said that when GLaDOS sang:

“I’ve experiments to run, there is research to be done
On the people who are still alive”

it meant:
“Another exhaustive reference to her servitude to the people who have her enslaved.”

but it doesn’t mean that – you missed the word “On”. she’s not experimenting with or for people, she’s experimenting ON people.

She’s not bitter and suicidal – she’s two-faced.

She loves science, and this was all one big experiment to see how much potential Chell (and her predecessors) possess, just like how in half life it’s all about the potential in Gordon Freeman.

Glados’s sarcasm stems not from spite but from duality – on the one hand her experiment has succeeded, but on the other hand part of the experiment was trying to kill Chell and she was so enjoying that part…

Yes she’s resentful to Chell for escaping, but at the same time she’s glad the experiment succeeded. You see she’s not sane, so something simple like bitterness can’t explain it all.

Terry Biel May 15, 2008 at 6:07 am

And lest we forget: “To be born again, first you have to die.”

Lexie Miles May 22, 2008 at 5:31 pm

AMAZING! simply amazing! i will so totally look at the game in a new way. The woman in bondage thing makes WAY too much sence. Though i noticed it too. I also notices, upon reaching Glados, she seems somewhat desprate for a friend. Perhaps she just wanted someone to talk to as well?

Jon June 10, 2008 at 2:00 pm

i hate this picture. i find the one where she is in bondage hanging (alone) is way better than this one

(just my opinion)

Fredrik Svanberg June 23, 2008 at 6:56 am

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed but there must be some connection between Chell = Shell and possibly Botticelli too.

Jason September 5, 2008 at 10:17 pm

@ Fredrik Svanberg,

I would actually put the emphasis of the name not on the content, but on the artist.
Botticelli. Botti-Chell-i???
While at the same time I have to agree to some extent with the biblical and dolly clone analysis as well.

Vincent Toups November 11, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Someone has taken a highschool english class at an above average highschool.

Adam December 19, 2008 at 10:33 pm

I don’t think GLaDOS’s intention was to die. I think she knew that Chell wouldn’t be able to kill her. She’s still alive, because she’s free; she’s not trapped because she’s still alive. The thing that makes me think she doesn’t want to die is “this isn’t brave… it’s murder”. That seems to contradict the notion that she wants to actually die.

DFord January 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

I can’t really say much on your theory of the whole bondage thing and whatnot, on account a majority of it is merely what you are interpreting from dialogue. However, it’s no doubt she was inspired by the Venus painting. Here’s a screencap I just took in the game, which make it more evident by showing the base, and it’s not some “twisted” form of GLaDOS. This is what she looks like after just being beaten and the screens around her base go missing. All I did was flip the image vertically.

For those who want to know, the health bar is showing because I used sv_cheats 1 and impulse 101 in the dev’s console to get the HL2 weapons so i could quickly knock cores off with the rocket launcher.

Ben February 22, 2009 at 3:13 pm

I think glados is the perfect scientist, but too much of a scientist in that she killed everyone and made her little lab rat do tests for her. She was doing what they wanted her to do but too over the top. And it lead to their deaths…. Also the cake is maybe not a lie, if you noclip around near the end you find a room with cake and companion cubes :P

neurosys March 11, 2009 at 12:07 am

At least, It’s obvious that in the end GladOS is reborn by the imagery of putting off the cake’s only candle, and the awakening electro-eyes around.

Other than that, Sarcasm is the keyword for GladOS’ weird character, the peculiar features of which, I suppose, stem from its funnily evolved conflicting internal social reasoning skills which mystically/ironically/lovely consequents in a newer skill, the empathical reasoning, that will make her wish to be free.

“Free” not as in “free beer”, but more like a yearning for the feeble human’s assured and granted illusion/fallacy of “free-will”.

It made me really upset for both myself and herself, when she said that she will be still alive, when I’ll be no more.

And freedom is a lie.

Michael Walko April 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Cakes a lie as well in this game. Take into consideration that this incident is most likely taking place at the same time as the Black Mesa incident in New Mexico. Possibly a chain reaction in the system. Another co-relation is the “energy orbs”. They seem to have been harnessed completely in Portal because the test facilities have already been built, but they are only introduced when the combine appear in HL2. Something is telling me that Xen was involved. (Remember Xen from the first Half Life? The place with floating rocks and stuff with aliens and low gravity?) The energy orbs have played a key role in the supply of power in all the HL2 games. The immense power of the orbs might have been why the Combine needed to find a new “settlement”. It might have destroyed other planets so they must have moved on to a better solution. Thus suggesting that all of the games are connected.

and guess what???

Remember the Combine Advisor from Hl2?
Reminds you of GLaDOS doesnt it?
The tied up connections, freaky and ominous character and unexplained actions for complete power.

ApertureRox April 18, 2009 at 11:13 pm

I enjoy all your articles on GLaDOS, and I’ve only seen 2!

Anyway; the picture left by DFord is almost an exact replica of Venus, supporting that theory.

If you look at Chell with the placement cheat on (or thirdperson), you can see she is an android, supporting the biblical definition theory.

If you look at the rat’s nest dens or whatever they’re called) you can see that Aperture Science is very old. AND the bed you come out of in the beginning of the game looks like an egg (my friend saw that one), supporting the cloning theory.

Here’s just another thing I found on google from the Valve Developer Wiki (VDW for later in this):
The article is about (you can find hints about it’s existence in-game). Apparently, someone got the Action Script for the flash file the site is based on (the site itself looks like an old DOS computer) and looked through it. It seems as though the timeline (yes, there is a timeline) and another thing on the site leads you to believe that they start using the technology around the time the Portal Storms start appearing. Interesting.

At another page on the VDW, it shows a full Half Life storyline, that says Portal happens next year (2010), which means HL2 took place after Portal, explaining the Aperture Science reference in Episode 2.

All stuff to consider. I like researching stuff for some reason.

Dan May 10, 2009 at 11:38 pm

@ Dford.

I don’t think that picture is nearly as venus-like as the pic at the top which is indeed distorted, if you look at her ‘arm’ for lack of a better word, it is never in that position in game. Although I can see possibility in her being a prisoner, I doubt it. I enjoy all of your imaginations very much, it’s obvious you’re all very creative, but I hold firm that you’re over-thinking it. The way she talks infers total control. She speaks to you in a confident voice the entire game up until her ‘death’. If she had been a prisoner for that long she would have a beaten or broken down tone. Also, the idea that GladOS put Chell through what she put her through to make her want to kill GladOS is silly. Chell was obedient at first, until it became apparent she was not in a ‘friendly experiment’. If GladOS wanted to die or ‘become free’ she could either A) just tell Chell that her body was part of the test and they it must be destroyed (after all, Chell wouldn’t know what GladOS looked like) or B) she has some control over the various ‘levels’ in the game, arguably, she could have brought a sentry gun in to do herself in at any time.

Again, you’re all overthinking this, it’s a cool as heck story sure, but it’s still the same old story. Man builds machine, machine gains self-awareness and distorts it’s purpose and kills people in it’s quest to further it’s own goals. That’s it, she is NOT a venus allegory, that is a HUGE stretch.

Dan May 10, 2009 at 11:40 pm

er, word correction, in line 12 ‘they’ should be ‘that’

Thomas July 21, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Dan, just becouse you so steadfastly refuse to see past your average video game boss, doesn’t mean that no deeper one has been made in Portal.

I love the articles btw, they made me see the game in an even weirder angle than before; simply brilliant.

Wandered In July 29, 2009 at 10:58 pm

I would argue that GLaDOS wants to die, but has been hardwired to be incapable of direct suicide, or has multiple personalities: one, a young girl (Cake, the Curiosity (Orange) Core, the turret voices) who wants to live, the other an older woman, the same girl grown up trapped in a mechanical scaffold, who wishes to be free. After all, GLaDOS means Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System, and she was… developed on Bring Your Child to Work Day. This is the best theory I’ve seen so far, and along with the death-wish one here (I like the articles) explains some of her motivation.

cake August 6, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Dan, you’re forgetting one very important thing with your “she could bring a turret at any time” theory.

There’s an emancipation grid at the entrance to the room. Since turrets are disintegrated at any time Chell tries to being one through a grid, it’s safe to assume that they are considered “unauthorized”, and therefore it is not possible for GLaDOS to bring one in to ensure her own destruction.

In addition, by the time the player reaches her, Chell is already extremely untrusting of the AI, especially after the incident of victory candescence. Simply telling her to destroy the construct because it’s part of a test protocol wouldn’t work; Chell has already been defying every order that GLaDOS has been feeding her ever since she was nearly baked. An order to destroy the computer in the final room wouldn’t reasonably be treated any differently.

22samurai August 21, 2009 at 8:06 am

@Black Phoenix I never noticed those creatures, but I did notice some other creatures:

If you fall in the water and die, but look around before reloading the game, you’ll see little insect-like things floating in and out of your vision.

Toward the end (1/2 way through the post-”cake” area), there is also a Rat Man drawing of a cartoon jellyfish, that says something like “Float, my little Jellyfish!”

Perhaps there are more living things in the Enrichment Center than we thought – they’re just all microscopic. Perhaps the water hazards are actually nutrient pools for these biotics?

POTATO October 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

First of all, i like potatoes. Second,G-Man can be behind everything and Third, i think that Chell is Alyx and Gordon’s daughter.

There must be a philosophical meaning about the entire game, anyway, aewsome posts and theories.

vortigaunt25 October 16, 2009 at 11:24 pm

If you’re trying to say that GLaDOS couldn’t bring in a turret, notice that she brought in a rocket turret to battle Chell. She could have easily used this to destroy herself, as she’s in complete control of the facility. Also, because she rules supreme, she could bring in anything she wanted, as she determines what’s authorized and what isn’t.

one, we can tell. It’s right there in your username. second, how can Chell be Gordon and Alyx’s daughter when, at the time Portal takes place, Alyx is only a child. That would make Gordon a pedophile. And before you pull in the “G-Man can kidnap Chell from a later date and bring her back” excuse, why would he do that, and what kind of effect would that have on the space-time continuum?

Sasha February 7, 2010 at 10:49 pm

The problem is that you are all over-analyzing a computer game. It is true that GLaDOS’ body resembles a tortured, restrained womyn, but that means nothing for the comparison to Venus rising from the shell.

Also, Chell is not an android or a clone or any of that other stuff. She is just the latest in a long line of unfortunate test subject who were mislead by a psychotic computer.

Next, GLaDOS controls every aspect of the facility. That is a lot of power to give up to death. She is not suicidal. She is crazy. She is kind of like the German scientist who experimented on living subjects.

If you have played Portal Prelude to the end, you know that GLaDOS was brought online before she was finished. Her firmware was not finished. She took the HAL 9000 model and ran with it.

Daniel March 8, 2010 at 3:47 pm


Jared March 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm

I have never played portal.but at the end i have an idea……I think the cake means that Glados didnt die but its her first birthday and she is being reborn….. maybe?yes no?And the weird eyes opening means that there are alot more glados to come and they are all a bit of her waitting to get their chance……at chell i dont know :P

Onyx3173 April 18, 2010 at 2:42 am

@32 Rage much?

Since GlaDOS means Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System does that mean that in some way she is genetically created? Ie: hew mind is actually the mind of a human downloaded into a sentient-capable computer or something?

Kaine June 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Portal Prelude is not an official Portal expansion. It was not released by Valve, and not endorsed by the company in any way. Therefore, it is not canon.

nick June 3, 2010 at 4:20 pm

she would kill her self if she was suisidele and shes not crazy shes just mostly machine and veary litte and somewhat of lifeform so shes sefl aware due to that she killled most of the employs with nertoxin beacese she was disend to be the perfect scients yet she fears her creators would get i the way of that and yes she whats to be free but not suiside an A.I. that smart could possably find away to free hersel anoter way aka pormently shut down all her backups and main systems in ordor to finaly stop working so hard with no reward ether my therey or she is INSANE!!!!if a ai can be insane……

Trevor June 25, 2010 at 10:33 pm

After reading this, I had to load the game and noclip myself up to see for myself. Then I noticed that while GLaDOS does actually perfectly resemble Venus, your image of her imposed onto the painting is actually from the wrong side, and mirrored from how she actually appears in the game. If you take the white outer shell peices of her that we assumed to be her back and butt and see that those are actually her chest and stomach, you’ll notice that the arms and body orientation are an exact match to the painting (she also has an orange “eye” on that side of her “head”, further backing this up).

I don’t know why Valve oriented her facing away from you as you enter her chamber, but it could have been to create a more ominous atmosphere for the encounter. As for the bondage thing, I think it’s a very creepy coincidental illusion created by viewing her from behind.

Trevor June 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm

After reading this I was compelled to load up the game myself and get a look with good ol’ noclip. Then I realized, she actually is a perfect “Venus”, but that the image you have of her superimposed onto the painting is actually from the wrong side and mirrored from how she appears in the game.

If you take the white outer shell that we have been assuming is her back and butt and instead see them as her chest and stomach, you will see that her posture and pose matches the painting exactly (you’ll also see that she has an orange “eye” on this side of her “head”, further backing this up).

I don’t know why Valve oriented her to be facing away from you as you enter her chamber, but it could have been to try to add a little ominousness to the initial encounter. I think that the bondage thing was actually an unintended eerie illusion produced by viewing her form from the back.

(and sorry if this is a double post, it took me a second to realize the comments might not update instantaneously :) )

northrup October 3, 2010 at 12:23 am

@onyx: Your interpretation is similar to the concept behind Karen S’jet in the Homeworld series, a young female scientist volunteers to be neurologically connected (apparently permanently) to the core systems of the “Mothership” which you have control over in Homeworld 1 and 2. Her tone of voice in Homeworld, now that I think of it, is similar to GLaDOS’ tone: bleak, austere, almost depressed-sounding. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the programmers behind Portal played Homeworld at least once.

Both of the visual comparisons to various poses GLaDOS can be interpreted to be in are certainly impressive, at least in my opinion. As stated earlier, it’s like a high-level English class. I think my 12th grade AP Lit. teacher might actually enjoy this game with the apparent symbolic effect.

I recall from somewhere that one of the original GLaDOS designs was *supposed* to resemble an upside-down Venus. Apparently Valve kept that idea.

IainBruu April 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Just a thought I had could it be that Chell is the daughter of Freeman and they are both being tested in different ways. Seeing as Freeman starts relatively new at black mesa so he could have been part of aperture before and his daughter is now being tested there in the same way Freeman is being tested to see his potential.

Senor boombastic April 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I thought you were right but now after playing portal 2 i think your definitely wrong. although with the information there was when you wrote this i would have thought you were right

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