So at the very end of my last Half-Life 2 episode, I stopped and strained to hear a fairly short but important Breencast. I’ve taken the liberty of looking up the full text (since I had some trouble hearing it in game) and present it to you in full now:
I’d like to take a moment to address you directly, Dr. Freeman.
Yes. I’m talking to you, the so-called One Free Man. I have a question for you. How could you have thrown it all away? It staggers the mind. A man of science, with the ability to sway reactionary and fearful minds toward the truth, choosing instead to embark on a path of ignorance and decay. Make no mistake, Dr. Freeman. This is not a scientific revolution you have sparked…this is death and finality.
You have plunged humanity into freefall. Even if you offered your surrender now, I cannot guarantee that Our Benefactors would accept it. At the moment, I fear they have begun to look upon even me with suspicion. So much for serving as humanity’s representative.
Help me win back their trust, Dr. Freeman. Surrender while you still can. Help ensure that humanity’s trust in you is not misguided.
Do what is right, Dr. Freeman. Serve mankind.
Let’s, for the sake of this sure to be long winded philosophical exercise, take most everything in game at face value. Let’s assume that Breen is being entirely forthright here, and honestly believes what he’s saying (which may or may not actually be the case; no real way to know that yet.) Further, let’s assume that Gordon is fighting purely because he believes that what he is doing is right, and that he isn’t being manipulated by some shady, possibly omniscient, time/dimension hopping alien thing in a suit (we know that he is. That his morals cause him to do what G-Man wants is irrelevant.)
Assuming ALL of that…is Gordon Freeman (and the resistance) doing the right thing?
I mean honestly. We traditionally look at freedom fighters like Gordon and his crew as heroes, and we have plenty of examples of those sorts of heroes in real life, too (the French resistance that worked against the Nazis, for example.) But what if Breen is being sincere–and what if he’s RIGHT? What if the only hope for humanity IS to submit to the Combine, and to survive and adapt as best they can? What if the choice is between that, and extermination of everyone on the planet?
Well. If that’s the case–and for the sake of this thought exercise it is–then one man, one SINGLE person, has made that decision for the entire species. He’s chosen to fight, and risk utter extinction and annihilation, rather than attempting to work with, or even really understand, Breen’s position. Think about it: Gordon is in stasis for who knows how long, wakes up in some strange future dystopia, is told he’s part of the resistance, is handed a gun (and more than a little bit of hero worship), pointed at the Citadel, and pretty much told “go get ’em tiger.” And he does, without question, without pause, without even understanding the implications of his actions (as far as we know–certainly the player doesn’t know) until things have moved too far forward to back out of, and the uprising has begun.
What gives Gordon the right to decide that humanity should fight, quite possibly to the death, instead of trying to survive under the Combine’s yolk? I suppose it’s possible there are some things about Gordon we don’t know; perhaps something about surviving Xen, or about being the One Free Man (still not entirely sure what that means) gives him the right.
Now, it is true that people are falling all over themselves to follow Gordon, and treat him like some sort of messiah almost. But who are the people we see do this? ALL of them, or a person, are either from Black Mesa, or are part of the resistance (that, it seems to be implied, was started and is run by people from Black Mesa). No ‘regular’ folks (and you meet plenty) recognize or care about Freeman at all.
So prophetic hero-ing aside, what does this one person (or small group of people, I suppose, if you count the resistance) get to determine humanity’s fate? Isn’t it possible, even probable, that given the choice, the majority of people would choose a chance at life, no matter how awful that life might be? Dipping back into World War II history again, that was certainly the case for the majority of the Holocaust victims, was it not? No matter how horrifying and unfathomable their life became, they continued to wake up, to get out of their beds and do what they were forced to do because, for the majority of us I think, the chance at life outweighs anything else. That is not at all to say there aren’t some things I’d much rather die than have to live through…but I can almost certainly say that living in City 17 is not one of them.
I’m not saying that Gordon is necessarily wrong, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t fight with him were I in that position (that would depend on a lot of things, I think.) I’m just saying that, for all of the bravado and art and poetry we humans put out into the world regarding ‘good’ deaths, and noble sacrifices, and how it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees…most of us would rather live than fight a battle we know we can’t win, to prove a point to an enemy that doesn’t care. And that Gordon made that choice for humanity by ignoring Breen and never questioning the need to fight.
In fact…what if that’s the whole reason G-man picked Gordon in the first place? No, really; go with me on this (bearing in mind that I haven’t finished the game yet, and that the ending could blow this entire theory to absolute smithereens). I think we can all agree that G-man doesn’t work for or with the Combine; that much seems (fairly) apparent. But he’s definitely given us NO indication that he’s on humanity’s side, either. At the end of the first game, he talks about Xen being ‘in our control’ thanks to Gordon…what if that’s what he’s using Gordon for again? To claim a world that his employer’s couldn’t otherwise get for themselves? By waking him in the middle of a dystopia and pointing him at the bad guys, knowing he’ll charge in and provoke the Combine to war? Perhaps G-man is hoping that both sides will destroy each other, or at least weaken them enough that his employers can come in and mop up, claiming the world for themselves.
Though, having just re-watched the ending of Half-Life again to get that quote right, his line about Gordon’s weapons being government property is extraordinarily weird…
You don’t think…?