[Mario Katharsis: an ongoing series in which an intrepid video game journalist cracks open her sternum to reveal the most emotionally affecting moments of her gaming experiences, rated on a scale from single banana peel to spiked shell.]
So you and I both know that video games make me cry. Often. I write it about it pretty much constantly. So now that that’s settled, I’m going to give everyone a break this week and talk about a video game that was responsible for some righteous cracking up on my part. I mean geeze, even I think “What a sissy!” when I read my pieces.
Two of my favorite “people” on the “planet.”
I love the Portal franchise like whoa. Everything about it. The initial concept (tutorial session as game; disembodied tutor as antagonist; brilliant game as brilliant game), script, voice acting, gameplay mechanics, graphics, music, sound design, and the fact the protagonist was not a sexed-up female (but still a chick!). It is, in my opinion, a perfect video game. I’ve expressed that elsewhere, however, so no need to rehash that old trope.
The single player campaign is absolutely hilarious and charming, but what I never expected was for the multiplayer option to provide so many laughs. I’m not a huge fan of multiplayer gaming, by virtue of being a female who has a low to moderate tolerance for verbal sexual harassment (OR IS IT HER-ASS-MENT? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL) over the headset, so I tend to stick to the single player experiences only. That being said, every now and then I’ll play with a friend from real-life, especially if we can play just the two of us.
What happens when you google image search “just the two of us.” I was going to put the youtube video of Dr. Evil and Mini Me rapping, but thought this was better. Whatever are these two ladies going to get themselves up to?!
And I’ll be damned if Portal 2 didn’t offer an incredible two-person multiplayer gaming experience. Though of course I wasn’t at all surprised. I only played a co-op session once, but it was such a perfectly comedic experience I can’t wait to jump in with a new buddy.
My partner was a both a friend and coworker. Someone with whom I like to maintain an easy-going relationship, since we will inevitably be working on numerous projects of a professional nature. But you know, we can toss back a couple of cold ones, rap about our significant others and such, have a business lunch, have a “business” (read: martinis required) lunch, and play a few rounds of shuffleboard in the afternoons of our half-day summer Fridays (you gangstas want my job or what?!).
Last Halloween, I had a bet with said partner that no more than four people in our office would recognize my costume at our company Halloween party. The wager? A black forest cupcake. And a beer. Obviously.
I totally underestimated my fellow desk jockeys. Not only did I lose the bet, I lost by a substantial margin. A happy defeat, if ever there was one. Plus hey, any excuse for cupcakes and beer, amirite?
But back to the point at hand: after discovering we were both fans of all things Portal, we quickly scanned our meticulously kept appointment books to find an open spot for cooperative testing. Fast forward to our actual session, and things were going swimmingly. The two player co-op for Portal 2 casts each player in the role of a robot. As the host of the session, I was assigned ATLAS (the short round one) and my friend was assigned P-body (the tall thin one). I think this is both fortunate and correct, as I am shorter and rounder, and my friend may as well be a giraffe. Okay, he’s of average height, but he’s thin.
It’s like my playstation can SEE ME.
Our first few test chambers were completed without incident. It soon became apparent that GLaDOS was trying to get us to turn on each other, but c’mon G, that’s the oldest trick in your book! We’re here to have fun solving some puzzles and—
Me: “Ah! Did you just hit me with that laser on purpose?”
Friend: “No, that was an accident with the redirection cube. I’m just trying to solve the puzzle.”
His voice remained steady, emotionless. But without the added benefit of staring him down in person, I had no way to be sure he wasn’t yanking my proverbial chain. I decided to trust him.
Me: “Okay, well point it at—what the f***, man?!”
Friend: “You’re between me and the thingy!”
Me: “Well let me get over there—STOP.”
Friend: “Jump! It was an accident; you’re in the way!”
So that’s how it was going to be, eh? A smile spread across my face. Two can play at this game, mister. But I’ll play dumb; bide my time.
Me: (jumping over the laser beam and finally avoiding my friend’s malicious, undeserved wrath) “Okay cool, there we go. I think I know what to do to get to the exit.”
Cut to a few chambers down the line. There have been a few more “accidents” at the hand of my testing partner. During all of them, his voice remained impassive on the other end of my headset, betraying no ulterior motives. I knew better. Dude was punking me, straight up. But subtly, always leaving just a silver of doubt. Well played, sir. Well played.
But what’s this? A block maze of various levels where the floors raise and lower by operation of remote switches?! I suppose one of us is going to have to go in there, while the other raises and lowers the floors accordingly!
Me: “You go in, I’ll get you through.”
Friend: (slightest hint of a pause) “Sure.”
You my friend, are about to die. A lot.
So I crushed him! I crushed him so. Many. Times. The first few times I played it cool on the headset, following his lead. Insisting each time I played “flatten the can for the recycling man” was just a slip of the button-finger, a miscalculation of whether a floor was going to go up or down.
And then I actually crushed him accidentally. And like a bubble bursting, I was cracking up, losing my sh*t on the other end of the headset. My friend acted incredulous, slightly insulted even. But who was he kidding? We’d been getting our little digs in for 5 chambers already. He repeatedly burned my shins, and I flung him into the ceiling like a spitball in grade school. Soon enough he was losing it too, asking me in shouting laughter to “Stop! Stop! Let me get out!” I was gone, though. I had no control. I was crushing him 100% accidentally at this point, and each time was funnier than the last.
I had to put my controller down and take a moment to collect myself before successfully helping him to the part of the chamber he needed to reach. But help him I did, because at the end of the day, the only way we were getting through this was together. Besides, he started it.
Lest you think me unsporting: I let him have a go at crushing me too. Because seeing your buddy get smashed into a million tiny robot parts over and over again while you stand still pressing buttons is pure unadulterated joy. And friends share their joy with each other. Real friends, anyway. Eventually we’ll get to the next chamber. And any hard feelings will be assuaged with a little dancing, a high five, or a rousing game of rock portal scissors. Trophy unlocked!
Mario Katharsis Rating: Triple banana peel.