But the real magic of Portal 2 isn’t in its script, its graphics, its puzzles or its level design; it’s in the way it plays. And that’s why I’m so excited for you, dear Non-Gamer Friend, to try this game. As important as writing, storytelling, music and voice-acting are, play is the thing that makes a game a game. Play is why we are so passionate about these odd digital artifacts, why we spend so much time talking and reading and carrying on about them.
But gameplay can be so difficult to talk about—what’s that old saying? Something about dancing and architecture? In order to really understand video games, you can’t read about them or watch someone else play; you have to play them for yourself. It’s why we all cried bloody murder when Roger Ebert dismissed the art-game Flower after watching a videotape of another person’s playthrough, and it’s why you couldn’t possibly understand my adoration of the building blocks game Minecraft simply by watching me punch holes in a virtual hillside with a pixelated axe for a few hours.
Playing Portal 2 is a wonderfully kinetic, joyful experience, and it’s one that I really want you to have. This is a game that revels in making the impossible possible, in laughingly defying physics by base-jumping from ceiling to floor and back again. It’s a Rube Goldbergian problem-solving dream, at once satisfying, graceful, and beautiful in motion.
Of all the games in recent years that have made me want to dip my toes back into gaming, the Portal franchise is perhaps the one at the top of the list. And it’s that sense of play that is that reason. Lots of video games feel like a slog now, but there’s always been something whimsical about Portal’s game play.