Poll Question 294 – Do you think Valve made a mistake in making Gordon Silent?

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

There’s been some recent talk on Reddit about Gordon, specifically related to “Is anyone else annoyed by the level of undue praise in HL2?” and “The Success and Failure of Silence: Gordon Freeman in Half Life and Half Life 2”.

I mentioned the first thread on the May 2014 General Chat but I have wanted to re-start the Poll Questions for some time and this seems an interesting enough topic.

Clearly Gordon is “special”, both in terms of in-game and as a game character. Not speaking allows players to slip into his shoes more easily than if he spoke, but is that sort of wording just me regurgitating commonly held views?

How do women feel about playing as a man?

Is it really that important?

I think in the Second Unreal, the player is a woman and it didn’t make any difference at all for me.

Perhaps once we get into hardware that more completely immerses the player then it will matter, but not at the moment.

Thoughts and votes?


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27 Comments

  1. While under normal circumstances I prefer to have the player’s character voiced I don’t think it would have worked out in Half-Life, simply because the game never takes control away from the player. It would have been incredibly idiotic to have Gordon talk to someone while the player is across the room looking at unimportant details.

    But in most games I prefer to have my character voiced. That is because I’ve never felt that the character is me, rather I’m just there to guide them, but it is still their story and whatnot. This also translates to male vs. female characters. I think I’ve played more female characters in RPG’s than male ones, simply because I feel that female characters can have a more interesting story, while males usually have a more one dimension feel to them.

    1. JG

      I’ll almost always play as a female in a game if I am given the option. In fact, one thing I really hope for in next-gen gaming is that this level of customization comes standard. We saw great advances in games like Saints Row and Mass Effect and I’d like to see that continue and appear in more games.

  2. Anon_1187136

    I think it works in HL and HL2, but if he had talked it wouldn’t have broken the spell. Right now it’s a little weird in HL with many people greeting you and you never greeting back and in HL2, as you wrote, the praise for famous Gordon Freeman who never talks is a little bit too much. Duke Nukem got it right, no big speeches, but smart one liners here and there. Oh, and I don’t think the hero of Unreal II was a female, it was John Dalton. But they had some hot female on the game cover, only you are supposed to be the guy in the back :)!

    1. You are right about Unreal 2, but I was thinking of Unreal: Return to Na Pali, which is the second Unreal for me. But even then, there’s nothing about her being female. Perhaps, you could choose your character and Maybe I chose a female? MAN!, I loved those two games. I might dig out my discs and replay them soon. Anybody want to do a TREE-like event with me?

    2. JG

      Yeah, you’re right. You didn’t play as her in Unreal 2. You played as a perpetually suave space marine whose voice actor seemingly had no idea what the dialog he was responding to sounded like.

      Seriously… the world is exploding around him and he sounds like an FM radio announcer for smooth jazz. It was inadvertently hilarious.

  3. JG

    I don’t think the silent protagonist option is inherently better or worse than the talking protagonist. My only annoyance with the talking protagonist is when their big mouth or actions lead me into a choice I wouldn’t have made as a player, which almost invariably makes the game more difficult.

    What I do believe, however, is if your protagonist is silent, you don’t constantly put them in situations where NPCs are talking at them and pretending like they got a response. That’s just calling attention to how awkward it is. When Half-Life 2 was new, the choreographed cutscenes and facial animations were an exciting new thing to see in a video game. And like any new toy, there’s the tendency to overuse it, which I think Valve did, in hindsight.

  4. I’m not sure that it particularly matters whether or not he speaks in these games, him not speaking does make characters conversations with him seem quite strange though.

    However I feel that since Half Life 2 Gordon continuing to be a mute protagonist doesn’t really add that much anymore.

    Due to the abstract nature of Half Life 1 (no doubt due to technical restrictions) it actually allowed for greater flexibility in the way the player expressed themselves. If you wanted to kill a scientist you could, they were all the same 4 guys anyway you could fail certain missions and it wouldn’t spoil the narrative.

    With Half Life 2 being more realistic and narrative focused the player isn’t afforded the same flexibility, they were now the Hero of the Resistance and the characters suddenly mattered. In Half Life 1 the mute protagonist presents a blank canvas but in Half Life 2 despite Valves best efforts the canvas has already, mostly, been drawn for the player.

  5. MisterAddy

    The article “The Success and Failure of Silence” made me reconsider the Half-Life 2 storyline. It brought up the fact that many of the important plot points of the game actually occur “off-screen”, such as whilst the player is in Ravenholm or trapped in the slow teleport during the Uprising. Maybe this is just in hindsight, but I had always felt that there was something a bit “off” with the story in Half-Life 2 so maybe the problem is, as the author says, that Gordon is only a minor character in the events of the game. Then again this sort of fits with the theme of the “illusion of choice”, as throughout the Half-Life 2 arc Gordon is more of a catalyst for the actions of others which have been planned by the G-man.

    As to the question of whether or not it was a mistake, I’m not sure what my answer is. I think it was the correct choice for the type of game that they wanted to make in the original Half-Life, as the levels are designed such that any dialogue would be superfluous. It is the same in Half-Life 2 just as a holdover from the original, and obviously it works overall given what a great game it is, but the limitations are very obvious in some of the longer exposition scenes.

    By this point the silent protagonist is iconic to the franchise and to change it would probably cause an uproar. You can add working this out to the list of problems that could be holding back Half-Life 3.

  6. 23414tgwttgtw

    To me, it’s not that Gordon’s silent, it’s that he has no agency in the game’s events regardless. In Half-Life 1, whenever you felt like the scientists were overstepping their boundaries, you could kill them. Your grievances were addressed. You’d get a game over, or maybe not. In Half-Life 2, every single friendly is immune to your attacks, and it quietly drives me insane when I drop a grenade in Kleiner’s Lab and they don’t react or get hurt. I don’t even get a game over. Nothing happens. How realistic.

    1. That’s an excellent observation. There was a lot of “fun” to be had killing the scientists. In fact, we saw a lot of them die anyway. It’s an aspect of the two games that I never really compared.

  7. Ade

    Anyone remembers that HL1 mod where after stepping out of an elevator and before entering a warehouse with assassins and grunts, there’s a small cutscene of Freeman saying: “This is toooo quiet”? I’m sure it was pun intended and at first I was like ‘oh noes that’s not canon’ but it was too funny not to smirk a little at it and it was probably the only mod that got it right, that’s how successful they were into getting us used to a silent protagonist. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’m not really into mods where the game stops and waits for my choice of words, nor having the game put too many words in my mouth either.
    It doesn’t however fully cater for both male and female players, story wise, since I for one am not into Alyx, but when she’s not around I guess it’s easier to ignore the gender.
    No one mentioned Chell, surprisingly. That’s a Valve female protagonist that’s also silent as far as I recall and because she’s silent it’s harder to notice her gender, and we’re only reminded of that when we see ourselves (or our behinds) in some portal.

    I voted for ‘not that important’ because I’m sure that even with a voice Valve would’ve delivered great games nonetheless.

  8. I have to agree that it probably would not have mattered either way, as I imagine the overall story would stay the same.

    You also have to remember that Valve is not unique in using a silent protagonist in their game. I think Dishonored is the best example of a direct comparison between a silent playable character (Corvo) and one that is not silent (Daud). Yeah, the experiences are slightly different, but the game doesn’t really feel different having one character talk while the other doesn’t when you play as them.

  9. Half Life is a mysterious game with mysterious characters. If I asked you this: “Who are Gordon Freeman?” You would answer something like “He is a scientist who was present when a very important experiment went terribly wrong and brought frikin’ aliens to our world”. And thats pretty much all we know about Gordon at this time. He must have a reason not to talk, or he simply don’t feel like it. Or maybe he is actually mute?

    If you ask me, we don’t need to know more about him.

  10. 23414tgwttgtw

    In response to β€œThe Success and Failure of Silence: Gordon Freeman in Half Life and Half Life 2,β€³ I believe Episode 1 and Episode 2 improved Gordon’s relevance to the HL2 arc. Alyx was often reliant on Freeman to stay alive, but that story was gutted by the episodic format.

  11. Hec

    Actually I don’t mind. I guess if you take the “pure gamer” attitude, we care about to play it and combat in those maps, and care less about if he talks or not.

    To me I’d be very surprised if Gordon actually have something to say. I mean what could he say??? Why me!!! why am I a freakin savior for you people if I never wanted to be chosen by that creepy G-MAN??!! I don’t know is kind of weird..

    So I guess the Valve intention was to actually put the gamer in the flesh-role of Dr. Gordon Freeman.

  12. Hec

    Indeed there are some other things that really worries me about the future of HL3.

    Like the fact the next HL3 could be totally set up 20 or 30 years after Alyx’s Dad death.. Imagine that, imagine the Borealis is not in HL3 at all!!! The CMB could have re-enforced it’s domain over the earth, maybe new resistance generations arrived, I mean maybe some kids were born after the reproductive suppression field was down in the down of city 17. And maybe the Resistance actually made it and retook some parts of the earth, arming a more regular army with combat planes and tanks….

    Who knows possibilities in that upcoming? HL3 are infinite…

  13. Zekiran

    Personally I appreciate Gordon being both male and silent. … That came out wrong πŸ˜€

    As a woman I’ve “had” to play many video game characters that are male, and really when all is said and done until far more women writers work on dialog for female characters (main or otherwise) a female protagonist is just painful to play. The converse seems to be more true when a male protagonist is available – he’s written generally by males who want to be the central character, and thus will be afforded the benefits of a ‘man’s side of the story’. Not all games are like this, but so many have been half-assed in their female portrayals.

    Silence on the other hand, is something that I recently was thinking about since I just finished playing Bioshock Infinite for the first time. I would have preferred Booker to be a silent protagonist, but given that I (like most women) am in love with Troy Baker’s voice having him as the character suited just fine. But his role wasn’t reliant on dialog, and given that yet again control is ripped away from the player whatever dialog was happening while I couldn’t do anything to stop it, was more frustrating than illuminating.

    Unless you’re gonna be the badass Boss in SR3 and SR4 (… also, no wonder there: Troy Baker) with a long list of absurdly silly things to say along the way as you shoot the place up, OR going to be given a wide variety of actual options to choose from *that mean anything* in the context of the game, having a voiced role as the protagonist of any game doesn’t really matter to me.

    All of that said, Ross Scott is still my #1 choice of ‘what goes through my mind when I imagine Gordon sassing back to people’ in HL 1 or 2.

    1. JG

      Yeah, BioShock Infinite is what I was getting at when I mentioned the protagonist talking me into something I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t have steered the zeppelin away from Paris. That was when the narrative disconnected for me and I stopped caring about Booker’s problems. I was no longer Booker and Booker was no longer my representation. In the Stanley Parable sense, this was the Narrator wrestling back control of the story and reminding me of my place. I’m going to do something irrational and stupid because the story says so.

      Hadn’t Elizabeth already been through enough? Booker deliberately lies to her to fulfill a completely selfish, unknown obligation. We don’t know what the “Give us the girl and wipe away the debt” people want with her, but given the gruesome scenes in the lighthouse, nothing inspires us to trust them. We don’t even know what “the debt” is. And when we do figure it out, Booker hasn’t yet. And when he finally does, THEN he panics and wants out of the deal!

      Basically, Booker is an arrogant jerk. And even though there are some narrative reasons for that, I disliked him, let alone playing as him.

      Which is why in DLC2, playing as Elizabeth was so refreshing. It honestly made me wonder why she wasn’t the protagonist in the first place.

      And personally, I’ve always played as the female Boss in Saints Row. She’s a lovable psychopath (“puckish rogue!”). GTAV may get all the credit, but critics really underestimate the strength of the writing in Saints Row. It’s way more clever than it looks on the surface.

      1. Anon_1202884

        I didn’t mind this so much in Bioshock Infinite. It does make a clear distinction between the player and their protagonist but the conversations with characters feel more authentic and when the game prevents you from doing something that the protagonist wouldn’t do (like shooting friendlies) it’s more expected because the distinction between player and character has been made.

        On the downside (and where Bioshock Infinite annoyed me) is that Booker is really ignorant when it comes to anything about tears and I don’t know if these were concepts that other people had trouble grasping but I love this kind of sci fi nonsense and when a new aspect of the tears was introduced I usually grasped it within seconds. Booker took several painful minutes to grasp these concepts. And that made me want to trade him in for a silent protagonist.

        1. Zekiran

          Yeah I would rather play someone like Gordon as silent smart guy (even if all he really ever DOES is push buttons and smash things with a crowbar), than have to suffer through a talkative but average or dumb/ignorant type.

          I didn’t much mind the specific dialog bits IN Bioshock infinite, but when it came down to it he may as well just have been yet another thug in it for the money and I would have had an easier time letting him do dumb things.

          I’m willing to forgive a few things because, well, Troy Baker. My housemate played Last Of Us a couple months ago, and then Second Son just a couple weeks ago, and I’d played SR3 and 4 for ages. Getting a good idea that Troy is apt at more ‘shock, dismay, and being a lovable dumbshit’ but people try giving him just enough depth that I really want a game with much more than we’ve got. I suppose the Last of Us was that, but it’s apparently not made for PC.

          I’d be curious to see a game where the actors get to choose, instead of writers, what they do.

          1. JG

            Yeah, I had no problem with the voice acting in Infinite. It was uniformly excellent.

            Except for maybe Comstock – he sounds a bit dopey when he’s not angry. It’s kind of like listening to Dr. Breen or Andrew Ryan through the voice of Santa Claus. And it doesn’t help that he looks like Santa Claus. XD

            1. Zekiran

              I honestly thought he was voiced by Jeff Bridges at first. But it’s some guy I’ve never heard of.

              That’s kind of another trap that voice acting can lead to – the issues regarding whether Breen survived in Half Life 2, and the fact that voice actors like his have passed away? What happens when you want to replace them? A lot of people over on the Steam forum would be ballistic if someone ‘else’ played an existing role (regardless of the vortigaunt’s actor change, lol, no one ever mentions that).

              1. JG

                Yeah, it’s true with the Vortigaunts. I’m not sure too many people noticed the change though. Breen, on the other hand – we’ve lost Robert Culp. Now, there’s nothing to suggest that Breen would still sound like Breen in Episode 3 if he did transform into an Adviser.

                Because I didn’t put two-and-two together until you mentioned it, I’m struggling through The Last of Us pretending that our hero is actually another Booker who happened to go through a tear involving a zombie apocalypse.

                1. Zekiran

                  They’re actually all the Boss from Saints Row. Because, if you’ve played SR4, you know. πŸ™‚ It’s kind of … actually compellingly possible.

                  1. JG

                    It’s true. It would explain the many post-Steampipe physics glitches. The pesky Zin and their software upgrades… πŸ™‚

  14. I voted “No”.

    What occurs to me though is that, if there ever is an HL3, and it does tie-in with Portal…. If Gordon & Chell ever meet, neither of them will say anything!

    Could be a curious meeting…..

  15. hoyy

    yes because most characters have some kind of voice, and seeing as valve could’ve hired some of the many voice actors they have (such as robin atkin downes that voiced the medic in tf2 or also one of the main player voice in saints row 3 for that matter), or even john patrick lowrie that made the citizens of hl2) adding some depth to Gordon Freeman, instead of being a dumb mute that doesn’t speak and only barely breathing when he takes fire damage.

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