Why Chell Doesn't Speak

The lead character of the Portal series is silent. For two games, Chell hasn't spoken, and one of the pesky robots that chatters away at her in Aperture Science even suggests there might be something wrong with her.

Erik Wolpaw, one of Portal's writers, does like that joke. "For all you know, Chell might actually be brain-damaged," he suggested, while fielding a question about Chell during a lecture at New York University's Game Center yesterday.

That's not the real reason.

"We always assumed she could talk and simply just chooses not to, what with these robots all being dicks," he said. "She's not giving them the satisfaction of saying anything."

Funny. But that's not quite it either.

This is the real reason, according to Wolpaw: "There's also this thing, with comedy—this is sort of reductive—there are sort of two different patterns. There's the straight man in a world gone mad. And the other one is: You're a crazy person in a sort of straight world. Portal is definitely the world gone mad with a straight man. And the straight man is you... Because you have to write in the margins in the game, time is kind of at a premium. The fact that there's already this established thing where you can have a silent protagonist, that saves us a lot of time.

"You may want Chell, you may want to know her back story and hear her say things, but I guarantee if she had to say her straight man lines, at the expense of half of the other dialogue, it would suck."

Wolpaw doesn't even think players are that focused on the Portal heroine, so perhaps none of us is expecting her to chime in. "I don't think people are super-invested in the character of Chell. Obviously we haven't given her much character' They're invested in the relationship that they have as the player."

In reporter Geoff Keighley's behind-the-scenes iPad app about Portal 2 he reports that Valve did consider giving Chell a line in her newest game. They changed their mind. Who can imagine what she'd have to say about all this Portal madness, anyway?