Damsels not in Distress: Chell and GLaDOS

Damsels not in Distress: Chell and GLaDOS

I tend to have a soft spot for a strong female character. I blame (and thank) Joss Whedon and my mother for this. This is why I absolutely love the strength shown by Portal’s Chell and GLaDOS.

I recently had surgery and spent the better part of a week on the couch dividing my time between reading, watching Netflix, and playing Portal 2. I must say, if you are looking for a title to play while recovering, look no further. The game is beautifully structured in that it keeps the player engaged while operating (for the most part) at a slower pace. Apparently I am active with my arms while playing other titles that have more intense action sequences. One of the main reasons why I love this title is the strong character development.

The Portal series does an incredible job in telling the characters’ stories in a very subtle and interesting way. As the game progresses, the gamer unlocks tidbits of information that paint a complex story of each individual character and it manages to provide these details in a very natural way. The gamer learns these pieces of information through conversations with characters, insults, or monologues that do not seem forced. What is great about Portal 2 is that there is fresh information that is discovered about the main characters that adds more depth and development, demonstrating just how awesome Chell and GLaDOS are.


This silent but deadly powerhouse is one incredible lady! Chell brings new meaning to the expression ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. The heroine of the series has a warrior’s attitude and stubborn determination that has been critical to her survival.

Chell was picked by Rattmann to be the next test subject, hoping that she could put an end to GLaDOS. Selected by her abnormal stubbornness, Chell used this as a survival tool to escape the incineration chamber. Chell’s stubbornness also allows her to remain neutral, even when under the constant emotional abuse of GLaDOS. Where others had failed, Chell succeeded because of her determination. This determination allows her to team up with her nemesis in order to survive. It takes a big person to work with someone who actively tries to kill you. Chell channels GLaDOS in some ways as both characters seem to be emotionally disconnected. For Chell, this proves to be an asset to her survival, as she remains levelheaded throughout the game. This is extremely gratifying to play as a female as we tend to be stereotyped as emotional crazies who are constantly PMSing.


Chell in Portal

You would have bedhead too if you were in extended relaxation

Not only is her attitude practical for this environment, but her wardrobe is too! Now, I am not sure how much of this was Chell’s doing but her outfits actually make sense. As a female, I tend to take notice of character’s outfits in videogames, going beyond noticing how much cleavage is showing or how short a character’s skirt is. Sex does sell, however a character can look sexy and still be practical. Chell’s outfit in Portal screams efficiency and sensibility. Her jumpsuit is standard and designed in a way that allows movement. Her heel springs allow her to land from great heights without sustaining any damage. In both titles, she styles her hair in one of the most practical ways by putting it up in a ponytail. Do you know how annoying it is to do anything while your hair is in your face? Very annoying. In Portal 2, Chell still sports her jumpsuit but wears it folded down with a white Aperture tank-top underneath, possibly allowing her to say cooler while she is running for her life. She has donned long-fall boots, which I personally think makes more sense than running around barefoot. She has also added an arm-wrap that protects her wrist while holding the ASHPD. This girl knows how to rock practical fashion!

Chell embodies strength and determination, two aspects that create a powerful heroine. She would definitely be someone I would want in my corner, I just couldn’t see her having a girl’s night sipping cosmopolitans and painting each others’ nails.


Where to start with GLaDOS? What Chell lacked in verbal communication, GLaDOS made up for, ten-fold. GLaDOS’s narcissistic personality makes her such an incredible villain. (SPOILER) As we learn in Portal 2, Cave Johnson nominated Caroline to take his place and be virtually cloned in order to successfully continue to run the company. Caroline’s personality was transferred to GLaDOS who remains in charge of the testing facilities. Although we do not see the progression (or regression) first hand, we see the final product, a lean, mean, testing machine.

Her approach to destroying her victims is not only a manipulation of the physical environment around Chell, but also psychological. Her continuous insults are akin to those that create a learned helplessness in victims. If the victim is continuously told that their generous-ness broke the aerial faith plate, they will eventually accept the statements as truth. And boy, does GLaDOS know how to insult someone! Throughout the game she insults Chell for being mute, moronic, overweight, and abandoned/adopted. What makes her a fantastic villain is the way that she insults Chell. Her insults are stated as facts and within normal conversation, quick little jabs that are absolutely hilarious (for anyone but Chell)! She not only toys with them through insults, she also destroys them emotionally. GLaDOS, queen of manipulation, creates an environment where her victims develop a deep attachment to a companion cube, the only positive connection that they have developed. GLaDOS uses this attachment as a means of hurting her victims by ensuring the cube’s demise. Instead of destroying the cube herself, GLaDOS forces her victims to euthanize it, causing much emotional distress.

GLaDOS in Portal 2

GLaDOS has many sociopathic tendencies that make her an incredible villain. She shows no remorse for her victims as used neurotoxins to kill Aperture employees without hesitation. The individuals who survived the neurotoxin attack were then forced to become subjects for GLaDOS and her tests. GLaDOS used deceit and manipulation in order to get her subjects to complete tasks; she used the promise of cake to coerce her victims to play into her murderous game. What really allows GLaDOS to appear as a sociopathic evil genius is her inability to handle emotions. Although she harbors resentment towards Chell for murdering her, she tends to distance herself from any emotional response. When she first discovers that she has Caroline’s consciousness programmed into her, she becomes immediately overwhelmed and disturbed; she even stays quiet for a few minutes! This discovery increases access to Caroline’s personality and GLaDOS becomes less of a murdering sociopath (although not by much). GLaDOS is so upset by this change that she deletes Caroline’s personality from her memory as soon as she locates it. Like Darth Vader, she does have a soft spot for her enemy; plus there has been speculation that Chell is Caroline’s daughter (Chell, I am your mother!). Unlike Vader, GLaDOS survives and continues her testing eventually finding new victims.

I cannot help but to love GLaDOS. Sure she is a power-hungry, murderous, sociopathic, narcissistic, operating system…but can you say independent woman?

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