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Weighted Companion Cube: it weighs down our hearts with love

This was inspired by my senior thesis, “Narrative in Video Games,” and contains some Portal spoilers.

Every video game has to have a cutesy mascot, from World of Warcraft’s Murlocs to the Chocobos from Final Fantasy. Portal is no exception; its Weighted Companion Cube has been featured on posters, mousepads, and has even been cosplayed. Gamers feel the need to express their love of a game, and what better way than buying a plush with one of their favorite characters?

But can you argue that a Cube is a real character? Wikipedia says a character is “any person, persona, identity, or entity that exists in a work of art.” So in order to say that the WCC is a character, that would mean games are works of art.

Since Wiki is our resident expert on pretty much everything, let’s consult it again. “Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.” Well, a team of designers arranges a bunch of codes in order to create a product that will appeal enough to an audience that they will buy it. Video games appeal to the senses with their visual, tactile, and audio elements, and they often produce emotional responses, such as in multiplayer FPS games (anger: OMG u noob don’t asplode ur team!1!!) or in RPGs with engaging stories (sadness: No, don’t kill the last Ancient!).

So technically the Cube is a character. But GLaDOS is a character, with way more dialogue and direct characterization. But then why aren’t there official GLaDOS plushies to cuddle and squeeze? We don’t care about GLaDOS the way we care about the Cube because of our conditioning, or the conditioning from the game. GLaDOS tells Chell not to care about the Cube, but that’s not what happens. She tells us that the Cube will accompany us through the level, and we should take care of it. It won’t ever threaten to stab us, and in fact, cannot speak. But then… after all your hard work lugging WCC through the level… journeying together past the buttons and platforms… and seeing the WCC shrine… we’re forced to euthanize our faithful companion. And, according to the sign at the incinerator, our hearts are broken as well. But don’t worry, the Cube probably doesn’t feel pain.

What do you do when someone tells you not think of a pink elephant? You think of a pink elephant. What do you do when GLaDOS tells you not to care about the Cube? You care about the Cube. And others have loved the Cube before you; why else would former test subjects dedicate poetry to it and personify the Cube in countless photographs? It feels so good to avenge your weighted friend later when you chuck GLaDOS’s parts in the same kind of incinerator, only this time your heart won’t break for GLaDOS, who made you part with your beloved Cube.

The Cube is characterized in all these ways and more, intentionally so that the players do care about its death. It is a character as real as GLaDOS, as real as Frodo, Gatsby, and Oedipus. Even though the Cube can’t speak out loud, it certainly speaks to our hearts.

~~~In loving memory of the Weighted Companion Cube~~~

The incinerator, the last resting place of the faithful Cube.

The incinerator, the last resting place of the faithful Cube.