Skip to main content
Jed Copley, Chance Wilson, and Veronica Fennell have collaborated to investigate motivation in the gaming world. Specifically, we wanted to focus on the motivations that GLAdOS provides to the player/character to complete tasks. To help give us ideas and theory behind our ideas, we have incorporated the theories of Shoshannah Tekofsky’s “Theory of Gaming Motivation”.

Tekofsky theorized that there are 3 basic rewards that gaming offers and motivate the player into continuing and enjoying the game: achievement, recognition, and satisfaction. Within these three rewards are 11 basic psychological needs that Tekofsky grouped and charted by which type of reward they offer.

Although Portal incorporates all 11 psychological needs in one way or another, we are focusing on the main needs that GLAdOS and Wheatley use for motivating the player/character: Emotional Regulation, Competition, Danger management.

The Theory of Gaming Motivation defines Emotional Regulation as the psychological response to outside stimuli in an attempt to keep a person “feeling okay.” When a person is not “okay,” there should be an emotional response encouraging that person to get back into an “okay” situation. An example given is that fear will encourage someone to get out of danger. Anger can motivate people to protect their rights. When people return to emotional equilibrium, or a state of being even more “okay” than they were before, they get satisfaction. This is why emotional regulation falls under the “satisfaction group of rewards.

In the beginning of Portal, GLAdOS uses emotional regulation to congratulate you for completing tasks. However, as you progress through the game she begins to use what we decided to call emotional deregulation. She constantly taunts and is catty towards the player/character. In turn, this causes the character/player to want further recognition, another need, for completing the tests.

Competition satisfies both the achievement and recognition sections in the theory of gaming motivation. Basically, people like to win.

Competition is seen in the negative reinforcement and insults. This aspect can be seen throughout both games; both GLAdOS and Wheatley use emotional deregulation to demotivate the character from completing the challenges thus causing the character to become more motivated and want to finish the challenges. The satisfaction that you have beat Glados and Wheatley fulfills the psychological need of achievement. For example, when playing an early level in Portal 1, GLAdOS tells you that she isn’t sure why she put you in a particular testing chamber because it is impossible and that if she were you, she
would just give up.

Danger management deals with both satisfaction and achievement. Avoiding danger in reality, such as narrowly not getting hit by a car, provides a sense of relief as one realizes they get to continue being alive. It also can provide satisfaction, as one might feel rather proud after doing a sweet dodge/rolling maneuver to get out of the way of oncoming traffic.

Danger management is shown in every aspect possible in the Portal games: turrets, acid, great falls, lasers, crushing spikes, etc. These force the player into a survivalist mode. While this game stimulates multiple dangerous situations, once these dangerous situations are survived, it gives the player/character a sense of achievement and relief for surviving a “life threatening” situation.

Portal and Portal 2 offer many psychological rewards throughout both games, and these rewards have helped make the games popular. What video games offer that most other literary media lack is a repeated sense of accomplishment for the consumers as they go through the game and use their own skills to advance story lines. Portal utilizes this particularly well to draw in the player in order to be a highly intriguing game.