Portal (game)

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Video game fandom
Developer(s)Valve Corporation
Publisher(s)Valve Corporation
Release dateOctober 10, 2007 (Portal)
April 18, 2011 (Portal 2)
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Android, Nintendo Switch
External link(s)Official websiteArchived Version
Related articles on Fanlore.

Portal is a first-person puzzle-platform video game series, beginning with the first game of the same name released in 2007 by Valve Corporation to near-universal acclaim.[1] Its sequel, Portal 2, was released in 2011.


Before Portal there was Narbacular Drop, a free game created by students of the DigiPen Institute of Technology. Gabe Newell, the president of Valve, subsequently hired the students of this game. The team went on to turn the project into Portal. Originally the game had no narrative, but play tester feedback encouraged the team to then add a story. The team quickly ended up creating an A.I. to lead the player through the tests, and eventually the A.I. became the infamous robot GLaDOS. Portal went on to become "acclaimed as one of the most original games of 2007."[2]

Four years later on Apr 19, 2011, Portal 2 was released as Portal's sequel. Gabe Newell described Portal 2 as "the best game we've ever done," and Wikipedia says that "it has been described as one of the greatest video games of all time by numerous publications and critics."[3]

Fans and the Third Game

Though fans have been hoping for a third game in the Portal universe many are unsurprisingly skeptical that one will ever be released, for a number of reasons. Looper, an online publication that writes on games, said that Portal will never get a third installment due to many of the original Portal team having had left Valve.[4] Screenrant, another gaming publication, notes that Valve has never successfully created a three part sequel, referencing both Half Life and Left for Dead.[5] As of May 2020 there has not been any confirmation or hint from Valve that suggests the game will ever receive a third installment. A mod called Portal Stories: Mel is sometimes treated as third installment, though it was only a fan creation (see Portal Stories: Mel).

Gameplay and Plot


Portal is a puzzle game with elements of platforming. The player takes control of Chell, a human woman stuck inside of a testing facility called Aperture Science. She must navigate through test chambers while making use of the portal gun provided to her. Along the way a mono-toned artificial intelligence named GLaDOS steers her forward, giving both praise and negative feedback. Without knowing the contents of the game's plot the player may first assume the voice coming from the speakers is a human, however they will discover GLaDOS is a robot by the end of the game. Alternately, a player may first assume that the voice is automated, but over the course of the game it becomes clear that the voice is not prerecorded and it belongs to a sentient robot.[6] During the final test GLaDOS claims that there will be cake as a reward, but intends to kill Chell- which would go on to become a meme. Ultimately Chell escapes the facility by killing GLaDOS and the game fades to black with her on the surface. A patch to the game before the launch of Portal 2 retconned the original ending and altered it so that Chell was seen to be dragged back inside by a Party Escort Bot.

Portal 2

Portal 2, the sequel, has more complex puzzles and several new mechanics. It also introduced a much longer and detailed plotline. New characters included the robot sphere Wheatley as well as a cast of deceased humans. At the beginning of the game Wheatley is a guide to aid Chell in her escape, which wakes up GLaDOS in the process. Chell and Wheatley attempt to defeat GLaDOS in her chamber again, where Wheatley takes over GLaDOS's chassis. He becomes the new enemy while GLaDOS is put into a potato. Chell and "PotatOS" team up to defeat the unstable Wheatley. They confront Wheatley, defeating him by sending him through a portal on the Moon. GLaDOS is then returned to her chassis and reluctantly sets Chell free.

Shared Universes with Half-Life

One of the other Valve series, Half-Life, is canonically in the same universe as Portal. In canon, Black Mesa and Aperture Science are rivals. In Portal 1, Black Mesa is referenced as an Easter egg in a presentation room of Aperture Science, and is also referenced in the in game song sung by GLaDOS, "Still Alive." In the Half-Life series, the Aperture Science logo is displayed on the Borealis in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Outside of these references, the two games do not directly interact with one another, though fans have made many theories about them.


Despite the short length of the first game Portal amassed a fandom following for its unique gameplay and characters. One of the most well known memes from this era, "the cake is a lie," comes from this fandom. This early-2000's meme spread through forums and blogs, and it quickly came to mean "you are chasing after an empty, unattainable goal," as noted by Known Your Meme[7] or "your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator," as noted by Urban Dictionary.[8] This meme format has been used so prolifically that some consider "the cake is a lie" to be an overused meme.[9]

Fans went on to make a large and varied amount of fanworks, including fan characters, fanfics, machinimas, and fan songs. It was popular within the early fandom to humanize or personify the (generally) non-living objects of the game, such as the companion cube or radio.[10] Many artists used this as a way to create more characters to play with in fanon, and even after more characters were introduced in Portal 2 continued this practice, especially with the creation of personality core fan characters and humanizations.


Before Portal 2 was released in 2011, there were only three characters that fans could use in their shipping: Chell, GLaDOS, and the unseen Rattmann. Fans would also personify the turrets and cubes/companion cubes and use those in shipping, though this was much more rare.[11] The first major ship from when only the first game was released was Chell/GLaDOS, also called ChellDOS or "ChelDOS." When Portal 2 finally released it opened the fandom up to many more characters, including the ever popular robot Wheatley, who quickly became shipped with Chell. Wheatley/Chell, also called Chelley, became a popular ship that competed with ChellDOS.

As of Feb 11, 2022, on Archive of Our Own Chell/GLaDOS has 226 fanfics (12%) and Chell/Wheatley has 188 (10%), making the two ships come close in popularity among fanfic writers of AO3.[12] As of Feb 11, 2022, on Fanfiction.net, sorted by all ratings, romance, and Chell/GLaDOS, there are 139 fanfics (roughly 4%), and then sorted by all ratings, romance, and Chell/Wheatley there are 244 fanfics (roughly 8%), showing Chell/Wheatley is about double in popularity on FFN.[13]

Other, much more rare, ships include GLaDOS/Wheatley, GLaDOS/Chell/Wheatley, and Chell/Doug Rattmann. Atlas and P-Body, minor characters from Portal 2 who go on to play a larger role in multiplayer, are also frequently shipped together.

Fans of ChellDOS and Chelley sometimes create discourse with one another (see ChellDOS and Chelley are Abusive), with some saying that Chell/GLaDOS is abusive while simultaneously saying that Chell/Wheatley is not.[14] In response, one ChellDOS fan said that "if GLaDOS was voiced by a man ChellDOS would be so much more popular."[15]


GLaDOS Mother Theory

The "Mother Theory" was a theory that gained popularity after the release of Portal 2. In Portal 2, in a specific part of the game, it is implied that Chell was brought to Aperture Science Laboratories during "bring your daughter to work day." It is also implied Chell was one of the smarter children, having made a potato battery so successfully that the potato became immensely overgrown years later. GLaDOS is also revealed to be composed of a real human woman's conscious, who was the CEO's secretary named Caroline. Some fans believe Caroline and Aperture Science's CEO, Cave Johnson, had relations, and that Chell is their daughter, though there was never any explicit proof within the game that Caroline and Cave Johnson were together.[16][17] However, others believe that even if Caroline and Cave weren't together, Chell could have been adopted by Caroline due to the numerous references to Chell being adopted.

One argument used by both proponents of the mother theory and the detractors (particularly shippers of Chell/GLaDOS) is the "Turret Opera."[18] The Turret Opera was a short song sung by the turrets at the end of Portal 2. Within the lyrics the usage and meaning of the word "bambina," which is assumed to be directed towards Chell, is debated. "Bambina" in Italian can be used as a pet name towards one's partner (in the same sense "baby" is used in English), or it can be used towards one's daughter.[19] Thus, the Turret Opera has caused much grief between believers in the mother theory and ChellDOS shippers alike.[20]

Rattmann Father Theory

An opposing theory is that instead of Cave being Chell's father that Rattmann is Chell's father. Because Rattmann went to great lengths to help lead and protect Chell, as well as frequently painting pictures of her in Portal 2, it also makes sense why this theory would become just as widespread.[21]

Inanimate Objects are Alive

The theory that animate objects are alive was proposed as early as the first game, due to dialogue from GLaDOS speaking about the companion cube. In Portal 1, GLaDOS attempts to remind Chell that the companion cube cannot speak, but many players interpret this as GLaDOS trying to sway you from listening to the cube by playing it off as Chell's imagination.[22] The companion cube never actually speaks in either games, though in Portal 2 it emits music. A spin off of this theory, which may have been popularized by The Game Theorists and then Cracked.com, was that the companion cubes were stuffed with the dead bodies of past test subjects.[23][24]

After the discovery that GLaDOS's artificial brain was created from a real human, other artificial intelligences in the game had similar theories. This includes the turrets, the personality cores, and Wheatley. This theory may have been further perpetuated in part due to an Easter egg in Portal 2, in which a specific turret, if picked up and held, begins reading cryptic dialogue dissimilar to any other turrets.[25][26]

Discourse and Criticisms

ChellDOS and Chelley are Abusive

Discourse within the Portal fandom is mainly centered around shipping. While ChellDOS was the first and most popular ship for Portal 1, it was also frequently criticized by others who saw Chell and GLaDOS's relationship to be manipulative and abusive, regardless of how fans wrote the characters. GLaDOS, on top of being the antagonist of the first game who tries to kill Chell multiple times, was also verbally abusive towards her, for example mocking her weight, saying her birth parents didn't love her, and insinuation she looked stupid. In contrast, Chelley shippers may see Chell/Wheatley as being inherently less manipulative and abusive, though Wheatley eventually takes GLaDOS's place as a murderous antagonist in Portal 2 and equally implies Chell is stupid.

Some ChellDOS shippers may believe the relationship between GLaDOS and Chell cannot be abusive, because GLaDOS's personality may have been born out of past trauma. Others are uncomfortable with this argument, citing that those who've gone through abuse can still themselves be abusive.[27] Others, such as Tumblr user alexandriansight, say that GLaDOS could not be abusive because her motivations were rooted in believing she was acting in self-defense and otherwise only following her programming, while Wheatley's motivations were ultimately selfish.[28]

A similar take is placed on Chelley by some, with fans saying the ship is also as abusive as ChellDOS. Overall, both ChellDOS and Chelley remain contensious ships even amid their popularity.[29][30]

Racism and Whitewashing

While Chell's race was never official confirmed, her skin tone is a warm-pale or light tan, and Valve concept artist Matt Charlesworth described her as having "a hint of Japanese ethnicity."[31] Chell's face and body model, Alésia Glidewell, has a Brazilian-American father and a Japanese mother. Some fans took this to mean that Chell was canonically the same race as the body she was modeled off of.[32] Several Tumblr meta posts discuss issues of white washing within the fandom, and some reference the mother theory in which Caroline and Cave Johnson were theorized to be Chell's parents. Other fans also stated that Valve themselves whitewashed Chell in the official Lab Rat comics.[33] Discussions of fandom racism are as modern as at least 2020, though could have started as early as the first game, around 2007. A quote from 2020 is provided below.

i hate the people on that one post i made a while back saying I was upset with the fact that people think Chell is Caroline and Cave’s daughter and that that is a popular theory even though Caroline and Cave are both white and Chell is a woc, and then they go “Well, I personally think Chell is adopted and not their actual daughter so how about that :]” like dude you are still missing the point which is the rampant racism and whitewashing in the Portal fanbase.

tumblr post by zelda-and-princess-hyrule, 3 July 2020[34]

Conversely, Tumblr user humanwheatleyslefttoenail stated in 2021 that she felt the Portal fandom had gotten better at not whitewashing Chell, and criticized other fans for not giving Chell a wider personality range out of a fear that they might stereotype her. As a result, humanwheatleyslefttoenail found characters perceived as white, such as Wheatley, and characters like Gordon Freeman, were given more personality by fans, while Chell was made bland by fans, which could also be perceived as racism.[35]

Example Fanworks

Portal Stories: Mel

Portal Stories: Mel is a fan mod created as a prequel to the Portal series. It follows the main human Mel as she is guided by a personality core named Virgil. It was released on Jun 25, 2015, four years after Portal 2.[36] Portal Stories: Mel is a totally fleshed out game with its own textures, art, and mechanics, leading some people to consider it nearly canon material even though it is fan made.[37] In 2016 it received the Game Award for "Best Fan Creation".[38]

Portal 2: The (Unauthorized) Musical

In 2015 an actors' group called Geekenders began putting on showings of their fan musical for Portal 2. This "unauthorized" musical goes through the stages of Portal 2, but in musical format. It had two showings on January 30 and 31, 2015 at Vancouver's Rio Theatre.[39] It was then revived for another run in 2017. Both the original production and the 2017 remount can be watched in full on Youtube.[40]


Harry101UK is one of the most popular Portal Youtubers who still actively makes Portal fan content on Youtube. It is impossible to be within the Portal fandom without coming across several of his videos, especially his "Meet the Cores" series which he started in 2012. Harry has been making Portal content on Youtube since 2010 when only the first game was out.[41] He still regularly makes content, as evident with his video "Sound of Science" that was released on May 29, 2020.[42] Harry's old Portal videos receive millions of views, though his newer videos are also nothing to scoff at as they usually receive to upwards of 300,000 views.

The videos usually consist of skits based around Portal using both canon characters and fan characters. Harry designs a wide array of original core characters that he voices in his Meet the Cores series. Besides his skits, Harry has also orchestrated several well known fan songs for the game. His videos are edited impressively, with complex animation, lighting, and sound design, making them very professionally edited for fan content.

Blue Sky

Blue Sky is a popular Portal fanfiction of novel length and professional quality writing. It contains 15 chapters, each of considerable length, and a wide cast of original characters. It also employs a very accurate and in character representation of canon characters.Its popularity had earned it fame in the Portal fandom, and Blue Sky itself has produced numerous accounts of visual fanart and spin-off fanfiction.

Blue Sky became popular enough to have its own Tumblr tag. "Blue Sky," while containing numerous images of sky photography, also has a handful of fanfic fanart and pictures of Wheatley. Narrowing it down to "Blue Sky Portal" comes up with dozens upon dozens of fanwork. One user even made a Blue Sky themed quilt. Archive of Our Own also has a "Blue Sky (Portal)" tag. As of June 2020 Blue Sky has 16 spin-off fanfics on AO3 using this tag, some of them having been written in 2020, seven years after the original fanfic was completed. There is also a Blue Sky fan made web comic.[43]

Some fans of Blue Sky have had the fanfiction printed as a hard back or paper back book.[44][45]

Trans Portal Project

EvilToTheCore13 created an initiative on Tumblr called the "Trans Portal Project", aimed at encouraging trans and nonbinary fans (and allies) to create headcanons, fic, and art where characters from Portal are portrayed as trans and/or nonbinary. The project has an AO3 [collection] run by EvilToTheCore13, which will apparently eventually contain every trans and nonbinary themed fic in the Portal fandom






Links & Resources



  1. ^ Portal for PC Reviews on Metacritic. Retrieved 2014-10-24. (Archived 11/11/2022)
  2. ^ Portal (video game), Wikipedia. (Accessed 4/28/2020) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  3. ^ Portal 2, Wikipedia. (Accessed 5/7/2020) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  4. ^ Why Valve Won't Make Portal 3, Looper. Mar 13, 2017 (Accessed 5/7/2020)
  5. ^ Portal 3 Updates & Rumors, Screenrant. Apr 5, 2019 (Accessed 5/7/2020) (Archived 4/23/2022)
  6. ^ People on that Last Post... Tumblr. Jun 11, 2020 (Accessed 7/21/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  7. ^ The Cake is a Lie, Know Your Meme. (Accessed 5/7/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  8. ^ The Cake is a Lie, Urban Dictionary. Oct 15, 2007 (Accessed 5/7/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  9. ^ I didn't play Portal when "The cake is a lie!" ravaged the internet, Reddit. Aug 22, 2012 (Accessed 2/11/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  10. ^ PORTAL Characters, DeviantART. Feb 2, 2008 (Accessed 5/7/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  11. ^ A Turret Personified V2, DeviantART. May 5, 2011 (Accessed 5/2/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  12. ^ Portal (Video Game), Archive of Our Own. (Accessed 2/11/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  13. ^ Portal FanFiction Archive, Fanfiction.net (Accessed 2/11/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  14. ^ Tell Me Again How Chelldos is Inherently Abusive, Tumblr. Circa 2017 (Accessed 5/2/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  15. ^ Reply to Tell Me Again How Chelldos is Inherently Abusive, Tumblr. Jun 28, 2017 (Accessed 5/2/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  16. ^ Portal Theory: Caroline/GLaDOS and Cave Johnson are Chell's Parents, Reddit. Aug 16, 2013 (Accessed 5/2/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  17. ^ Daughter of Cave and Caroline, Half-Life Wiki. Circa April 20, 2011. (Accessed 5/15/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  18. ^ Turret Opera, Youtube. April 19, 2011 (Accessed 5/15/2020) (Archived 7/29/2020)
  19. ^ Bambina, Urban Dictionary. April 20, 2005 (Accessed 5/15/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  20. ^ Peacefully scrolling through #chelldos on instagram, Tumblr. Nov 12, 2019 (Accessed 5/16/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  21. ^ Chell's Father (Theory), Reddit. Apr 26, 2011 (Accessed 5/2/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  22. ^ Portal universe - the Companion Cubes aren't stuffed with the bodies of past test subjects. Reddit. May 18, 2016 (Accessed 2/23/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  23. ^ 5 Video Games With Disturbing Implications You Didn't Notice, Cracked.com. Undated, but older than 2016. (Accessed 2/23/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  24. ^ Game Theory: Portal's Companion Cube has a Dark Secret, YouTube. May 25, 2013 (Accessed 2/23/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  25. ^ Do turrets think?, Steam. Sept 11, 2015 (Accessed 2/23/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  26. ^ (Portal 2) Wheatley and the other personality cores are made from former Aperture employees, Reddit. Nov 16, 2015 (Accessed 2/23/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  27. ^ TBH the whole "Chelldos can't be abusive because her actions are a result of her own abuse", Tumblr. 9/3/2017 (Accessed 2/24/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  28. ^ Hello! I just wanted to ask you why you say that ChellDOS isn't abusive and also as to why Chelley is abusive? Tumblr. Circa 2017 (Accessed 2/24/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  29. ^ The worst shipping take I care to recall, Tumblr. Dec 31, 2019 (Accessed 2/24/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  30. ^ Things both Glados and Wheatley have done to Chell, Tumblr. Jun 24, 2020 (Accessed 2/24/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  31. ^ Redesigning Portal: Valve’s Artist Speaks, Gameinformer.com. Mar 22, 2010 (Accessed 2/24/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  32. ^ Why does this even exist? Why is whitewashing a thing?? To me, it just looks like blatant racism., Archived version, tumblr post by hateful-constructs-blog, 1 December 2017. (Accessed 2/24/2022)
  33. ^ contrary to popular belief, Valve whitewashing Chell is just as bad, Archived version, tumblr post by crystallizedkingdoms, 9 June 2020. (Accessed 2/24/2022)
  34. ^ i hate the people on that one post i made a while back saying I was upset, Jul 3, 2020 (Accessed 2/24/2022) (Archived 11/11/2022)
  35. ^ take this with a grain of salt because, disclaimer, i’m white, Archived version, tumblr post by humanwheatleyslefttoenail, 11 July 2021. (Accessed 2/24/2022)
  36. ^ Portal Stories: Mel, Portal Wiki. (Accessed 5/16/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  37. ^ I love how even though it’s a non-canon mod, Tumblr. Feb 2, 2017 (Accessed 5/16/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  38. ^ What is Portal Stories: Mel, Prismstudios.org. (Accessed 5/16/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  39. ^ Portal 2: The Musical Is a Real Thing, Techtimes. Jan 16, 2015 (Accessed 5/17/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  40. ^ Portal 2: The (Unauthorized) Musical, Youtube. Deb 4, 2017 (Accessed 5/17/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  41. ^ Let's Play Portal: Part 1, Youtube. Jul 18, 2010 (Accessed 5/31/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  42. ^ Sound of Science, Youtube. May 29, 2020 (Accessed 5/31/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  43. ^ Blue Sky: the web comic, Tumblr. (Accessed 6/20/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  44. ^ ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-look-what-came-in-the-mail, Tumblr. 2018 (Accessed 6/20/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)
  45. ^ Its Been Years Since I First Read this Amazing..., Tumblr. Sept 16, 2019 (Accessed 6/20/2020) (Archived 8/2/2020)