A camera craning through the portal,
Perks up its red, unblinking eye;
Obsessive, heartless, and immortal
Its owner waits for you to die.
No time for eating, drinking, resting –
It’s time for science. Start the testing.
Your stomach quakes with every turn.
Your ankles scream. Your eyeballs burn.
Your overalls are torn and bloody.
You flinch from what a sound portends;
The chain of chambers never ends,
Nor does the ceaseless, sleepless study.
You thought you lived your last life well.
But where else could this be but hell?
(No Portal 2 spoilers please.)
Partway through Portal 2, GLaDoS expresses apparently genuine disappointment that there’s so little time – lots and lots of testing for her to do, and only sixty years of your life to do it in. (“About sixty years. I haven’t got the actuarial tables by me …”)
I haven’t finished Portal 2, but will take a guess, owing to the nature of narrative, that it doesn’t actually conclude sixty years later with Chell keeling over from old age. But what if it did? Can you imagine being locked in an endless loop of Portal chambers, at once infinitely varied and infinitely repetitious, for the term of your natural life? You’d lose your mind.
I think that after a while the notion that you were in fact dead and in Hell would, perversely, become quite an attractive one: most concepts of Hell require that you have to deserve it in some way in order to end up there. By contrast, the only thing that seems to have landed you in Aperture Science is sheerest bad luck. That degree of hideous misfortune is hard to deal with, and terribly tempting to rationalise, even if the rationalisation requires you to conclude that you are a hateful and/or worthless person who somehow earned everything visited on you.
This is the dark side of the human genius for seeking out patterns. On the one hand the overriding principle that any given effect must have a cause drives nearly all disciplines of study: science, obviously, but also history, philosophy, arts criticism. (What led to that war? How does this book/song/film get its message across?) On the other hand, we invented hell.