Why do I play Half-Life?

hqdefaultCarpe noctem my feathered flock! While trolling through some comments and messages, the following idea came in from Rob on Patreon:

Here’s a question, since you’re coming back to Half-Life again. You have a somewhat unique perspective on Half-Life because you played all of 1, spread over a while…and have now been partially through 2 on a blind run for quite some time. Obviously, you enjoyed 1 enough to start 2, and 2 is engaging you enough in some ways to keep you coming back to it. What engaged you about the first one, and is it the same things that are engaging you in the second?

It’s a deceptively fascinating question, at least to me. My initial knee-jerk response is, of course, I play it because that’s what I do. I started the series, I should finish it The sky is blue, dogs bark, and Hawk plays Half-Life. But, as Johnny Rico observed in Starship Troopers, “Fight because I’m an M.I.? Brother, you’re drooling like Dr. Pavlov’s dogs. Cut it out and start thinking!”

So I did. I started thinking. This article is the result of that thinking.

I’ve never been much of an FPS player at all–and certainly not shooters. I much prefer slow, thoughtful (and TURN BASED!) RPGs that give you time not only to absorb atmosphere, but allow you all the time in the world to make decisions and to think things through before committing to a course of action. I grew up on games like the original Final Fantasy, Ultima, and Dragon Warrior–and of course, more puzzle oriented games like Quest for Glory and King’s Quest. (“Pardon me effendi–I don’t know what you are trying to do!” Kids today will never know the struggle of those 80’s era text parsers man…) Oh sure, I was there at what was arguably the birth of the FPS genre–I played the hell out of Wolfenstein 3D–but generally speaking, the closest I ever came to an “action” oriented game was something like the Zelda series. (Or the general Kirby or Mario or sometimes Metroid games.)

So what the hell made me pick up Half-Life in the first place, let alone choose it for my first Let’s Play? Well, that decision was made over seven years ago (!), but as near as I can remember, I chose it because of Shamus Young. Now he doesn’t know me really (though he once mentioned me in a video and I may or may not have squealed like a little girl when it happened), and I certainly don’t know the gentleman personally, but I’ve been a fan of his work for well OVER seven years at this point. He’s always called Half-Life 2 one of his favorite games, and so I decided I wanted to play it. But, like all good narrative obsessives, I wanted to get the WHOLE story–and that meant playing through the first game first. Begin at the Beginning, as they say. (Good god almighty my mic and capture software sucked back then. Jeeze. How did you guys put up with that shit?)

So the short answer to the first part of Rob’s question is that I started playing, and was engaged, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I kept coming back both out pure stubbornness, and because Half-Life fed me juuuuuuust enough story tidbits at juuuust the right intervals to keep me going in spite of the distaste (well, maybe not distaste–more lack of skill) I have for shooters.They bought my goodwill with that first, rather long, exploration/exposition portion, and they spent that goodwill wisely and well. Even when I was stuck, or dying over and over again, I wanted to push through and succeed–not because I’m inherently competitive, not because I wanted to prove anything, and not even because the act overcoming the obstacles in the game was specifically fun (although it often was). I just plain wanted to see what happened next.

I wanted to know why the alien(ish) invasion was happening, I wanted to know who G-Man was, and why he was following me. Most of all, I really wanted to know more about Gordon: who is this postdoc student that everyone looks down on, and why is he able to make use of not only a wide variety of human weapons, but alien ones as well. I pushed to the end, knowing that somehow, some way, there must be some sort of revelation about him. I mean, sure, if you’re boring as hell you could argue that Gordon’s skill with weapons is purely a function of video game logic, but c’mon–they didn’t HAVE to make him a scientist, and make sure that we know he’s not only a doctor, but a graduate of MIT. They could have made him a security guard, or a military man, or anyone, really, but they chose scientist. A scientist who can not only pick of a rifle and use it with amazing precision, under an incredible amount of stress (and trust me people, it’s not that easy to hit your target under the best of circumstances, let alone when a bullsquid is trying to eat your face), but someone who can immediately understand and make use of alien technology as well. I wanted to know why.

half-life-2-gordon-freeman-620x620And of course, as we all know, I never really got my answer. Oh there’s SOMETHING special about Freeman, all right–G-man knows it, and by the events of Half-Life 2 most of humanity seems to know it.

But we never have found out exactly WHY he’s so special. Granted he’s something of an ‘ordinary’ (if you can count someone with his apparent intellectual capacity ‘ordinary) man in an extraordinary circumstance, but we still don’t know WHY he can fight–and to be truly honest, we don’t know WHY he fights, either. We can guess, of course, but no answers have been (or, I suspect, will be) forthcoming. We don’t know why he fights for the same reason he doesn’t speak–he’s an empty avatar for the player to fill as they see fit. (I still want to know where an MIT grad learned to shoot an RPG accurately, though.)

So, Half-Life 2 was a no-brainer after the first one, not only because I had rapidly fallen in love with the word, but because it was really the goal all along. It’s the game that Shamus REALLY loved and talked about. And good golly miss Molly, I can see why.

Once again, Valve grabbed me from the very beginning. In fact, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic of me to say that the first half hour or so of Half-Life 2 might be my single favorite gaming experience of all time. 1984 is one of my favorite books (I’ve re-read it way more than is probably healthy and have great chunks of it memorized completely by accident), and, as simplistic as it may sound…I hate bullies. I really, really hate them you guys. And that first half hour did a fantastic job of making me want to absolutely destroy not just Breen’s regime, but the individuals who allowed themselves to be caught up in it, and use it as an excuse to harm others.

Also, I really like the side characters–even the scientists from the first game were fun to deal with, and Alyx, Eli, Kleiner, Breen and the others are a joy to listen to and interact with. And the enemies are a great example of using animations to tell stories, too–one of my favorite things (especially in the original Half-Life; there seems to be much less opportunity to do this in the sequel) is to hide and watch enemies before they see me. There’s almost always interesting interactions, like fighting Bullsquid or blind tentacle monsters.

So TL; DR I keep playing Half-Life 2 because I’m a SJW white knight who wants to punch mean people in the face, and this game lets me do that.Also, the characters are fun.

And that, as my boy Maechen is wont to say, is that.









6 responses to “Why do I play Half-Life?

  1. Don’t know if i’m wrong, but i think that it was hinted in the first half life that all the scientists with HEV suits had received training with weapons, because in Xen almost every corpse of a member of the survey team (which all were HEV suits) have ammo for different kinds of weapons. Since Gordon is a silent protagonist and has a very vague backstory, we can’t really know how much knew about the experiments that they did with the xen creatures in the lambda complex, but if he did knew that much, that would probably explain why he’s able to use alien weaponry. I’m sorry if i made any mistakes, english is not my first lenguage.

    • Yeah, there’s some indications all HEV-trained personnel got some kind of firearm training. There’s the Hazard Course training module in the original HL1, for one, and as Joaquín notes, the other people and places we see HEV suits tend to also have firearms around in a variety of types, many apparently brought by the HEV user. In that sense, Gordon may have gotten bitten by overly pedantic Black Mesa regs: “HEV suits are basically power armor, and are intended for use by personnel on alien transit missions. Thus, we’ll require all HEV-using personnel to take mandatory range time on the Hazard Course until they pass standards, even if their only actual job duty requiring it is to hit one switch and then push a cart into a science device.” Given his job is not exactly fully engaging, I could see Gordon being into it just for something to do. Or maybe he managed to run a powerful enough botnet at MIT to beat the race to register for both Rifle and Pistol?

  2. A nice insight into your opinion on the series. Gonna be a shame when it ends. I know I’ve been kinda annoying for a lot of it, but I liked this enough to stay with it since Half-Life 1. Hope that makes you happy.

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