Poll Question 178 – What is acceptable in a Half-Life game?

26th June 2010

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

Last week I asked Would you play a mod that was purposefully trying to be offensive? and naturally the discussion touched on what is and isn’t offensive. So this week I have decided to allow that discussion more freedom.

Let me start by saying that personally none of the items in the poll are acceptable for me in a HALF-LIFE game. I am not saying that they shouldn’t appear in other games but that I don’t think it’s suitable/acceptable in a Half-Life game. Valve have worked hard to set a certain tone within the games and focus on other elements rather than simple shock value and for that I am glad.

However, the Half-Life games are a combination of obvious shock AND conservatism. You can chop a zombie in half or let him burn in agony but nobody says “Fuck, here come the Combine!”. Some things are off limits but others aren’t. I have little doubt that these were concious decisions by Valve but sometimes it’s hard to justify to people I play a game where killing is acceptable but swearing isn’t.

If you take a few moments to think about the situation described in Half-Life 2 and the episodes, it’s quite desperate and we all know that when humanity is under those kinds of pressures we don’t always leave a good account of ourselves. There’s no need to give real examples, but I am sure every nation has events in its history it would rather forget.

I can honestly say that if I were in the situation described in the games, my behaviour might not be so pure. Perhaps in many ways Civil Protection AKA MetroCops would get the worst of it as they are often seen as traitors and defectors. If I had a chance to extract vital information out of one of them that could save just one individual then I might do it.

Think about it – you are fighting to protect the human race!

But as I said earlier, this is just about the HL games, not other games, not mods but the games that Valve releases. For some reason I want a little separation from a possible reality, otherwise the whole thing might be too depressing to actually be entertainment for me.

One last point about the choices in the poll. Please try and put them in context. Imagine that each and every one was part of the game and used in order to reach an objective. The rape scene would be to illicit aggression in the player and “force” him into a run and gun sequence. The beatings and torture to get information.

That said, I can’t ever imagine a reason to participate in rape, unless you concocted some undercover persona that had to prove themselves within a group. Does saving others excuse raping one person? Very tough questions and that really goes above and beyond the topic we have here but it’s part of it.

The point I am trying to make is that the actions described in the poll should be seen as part of a realistic representation of what might happen if the situation were real.

I want to reiterate that I don’t want to see ANY of the actions listed in the poll in a Half-Life game EVER. In fact I don’t want to see any of the actions in ANY game, but that’s not what THIS poll is about.

What do you think?

A quick note about the poll voting

I have allowed voters to select as many options as they want. However, if everybody chose top vote for none of the options, the poll would be empty and look strange. Therefore I have added two other options. One that says “NONE OF THE OPTIONS” and the other that says you voted. I added the second one, so I can see how many people voted. Some voters may select one option, another voter may select all and I would never know how many people voted and I think that’s important.

The Poll


  1. I have a feeling this poll will stir up some interesting discussion, let’s hope I can moderate it effectively.

    1. Grey Acumen

      Phillip, could Witnessing(and participating in) Rape and Torture be split into separate categories? I consider these very different in terms of how acceptable they are for Half Life, and I’m fairly confident I’m not alone.

      1. Phillip, could Witnessing(and participating in) Rape and Torture be split into separate categories?

        No, I know it’s not perfect but I am not changing the categories now. With these sorts of complicated issues, the poll options never accurately reflect each person’s opinion. Vote in a general way but comment in detail.

        1. Ach!! Grey Acumen is right – especially when we are talking about what is acceptable in an official Valve Half-Life release, and not what goes into mods.

  2. Kasperg

    Valve have worked hard to set a certain tone within the games and focus on other elements rather than simple shock value and for that I am glad

    I guess you mean from 2004 onwards. I remember that beating a scientist to death with your crowbar in Half-life 1 and beating the body until chunks exploded in all directions was perfectly possible. Same with basically all NPCs, friend or foe…
    As for the options, I’d say that a lot of them are acceptable in terms of setting (I’d beleive some of them to happen in a time of war such as what Half-life 2 shows us) but so far the games have proven them to be unncessary. If there was a prequel to Half-life 2, I would expect at least some of those events to be referenced (not shown) in a more obvious way.

    Which brings me to another point. It’s interesting how in games and films we tolerate levels of violence that are very high in terms of death rate and suddenness (think about a big explosion) but we have a harder time dealing with slower and more focalized agressions (torture, needles, etc). It might be because its easier for us to imagine ourselves victims of that second kind of violence than the first. Paraphrasing the film “The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human”: while women appreciate films where one person dies slowly, men tend to like films where a lot of people die quickly.
    Is this true?

    1. Not really true, unless women appreciate watching films like “Hostel”, which features a few slow, gruesome deaths at the hands of merciless sadists.

      1. Grey Acumen

        I don’t think he’s referring to slow tortuous deaths, but ones that are drawn out and explore what emotions are of the person dying and of those around them and how they cope with the situation.

        1. Kasperg

          Yes, that’s what I (or rather the writers for that film) meant.
          That’s why it’s so interesting. The death of Combine soldiers by gravity gun and forcefield desintegration after that (in the Citadel levels) would probably be tied to quick yet excruciating pain. Somehow we see it perfectly acceptable, because when there is no time or way to see the reaction of the victim, we have a much easier time to deal with violence (even regarding accidents, for that matter).

          But how does that translate to actual levels of good and evil?
          Is eating an animal for food and survival considered a “good” thing when we’re talking about pigs or cows but a terrible one if we’re talking about cats and dogs? That double standard exists, no doubt.

          The same can be applied to all these cases where some sort of violence is deemed appropiate or not. It is rarely tied to the actual event and what it means to the victim but rather by the effect it has on the witnesses. Squatting a beautiful butterfly and squatting a fly is considered a very different thing based on…size? aesthetics?

  3. I’m going to wait until more results are in before I comment, but it already seems that people aren’t voting properly 😀

    As of right now there are 8 votes for “More realistic language i.e. pejoratives and foul language” but only 7 people checked the Please select this if you voted for at least one choice besides the “none of the actions” options.” box.

  4. This was a very interesting poll. One of the things that made it most hard to determine was what effect it would have on the Half-Life experience: that is, it should be more gritty, but at the same time, not spoil it. For this reason, I did not vote for rape scenes. I felt these could be considered exploitative: plus of course, it would alter Half-Life 2’s image and perhaps change its rating. In short, sex would take away from Half-Life’s impact and would indeed be somewhat unrealistic. Even the slight innuendos are pushing it, although I don’t think they were prominent enough to spoil it.

    One thing I would really appreciate in Half-Life, in order to make it feel a bit more gritty, is to make certain characters more morally ambiguous. For instance, certain rebels may turn on your or try to betray you out of some misguided attempt to help the Combine in order to get some reward (forgetting that they’ll be killed anyway). A member (or members) of the Resistance has infiltrated Civil Protection: why couldn’t a Combine sympathizer infiltrate the Resistance? Of course, this has already been done to an extent (Mossman). However, I think someone at a lower level (one of the fighters) should perhaps be a traitor. If anyone has seen the Matrix Reloaded, in which [spoiler]Bane is taken over by Smith and is therefore hostile, but not seen as such, and attempts to kill Neo[/spoiler], this is a good example of my aforementioned point.

    Put simply, more human emotions to certain things, and a bit more moral ambiguity.

  5. Bolx

    Whoa! What a question!

    Personally I had to vote “none of the actions”, although I had to think hard about the start of the original Half Life. I seem to remember a question on here a long time ago, about killing the first live Barney after the Resonance Cascade to get his gun and ammo. A few people admitted to wasting him, but Valve could have scripted it so as to make killing NPC’s less possible.

    Realism in the Half life Universe, for me at least, should not be about voyeurism which is what many of options are. I say “voyeurism”, based on the fact that although some of the options indicate participation, they are still being observed on screen. Half life has, in my view always been about the game play followed by the story.

    As for context

    Imagine that each and every one was part of the game and used in order to reach an objective. The rape scene would be to illicit aggression in the player and “force” him into a run and gun sequence. The beatings and torture to get information.

    To add those kinds of aspects to a Half life game would kill any credibility, as they would detract from a series I have been playing for over a decade.

    If I wanted to play games which included some of the options I would, but I prefer to play Half life the way it is now.

    1. Grey Acumen

      I never understood the point in killing that first barney. If you leave him alive and ask him to come with you, he can shoot everything along the way for you and wont ever run out of ammo. You can pick up your own pistol before needing to fight anything else after you have to leave him behind.

  6. Grey Acumen

    Whoa… Okay, a lot of options, and with a lot of conditionals on stuff that is acceptable, and a lot of specific reasoning for the stuff that isn’t.

    1. Grey Acumen

      Okay, this took a couple hours and I wrote it in notepad before copying it over here.
      Ultimately, it wasn’t moral reasons for why I chose what is and isn’t acceptable, but really more in terms of gameplay and storyline reasons. I’ll start with the unacceptable stuff, fairly short list actually;

      Killing Innocent NPCs –
      I almost said acceptable for this. If it was still just the same circumstances as HL1, where you are fighting for your own personal survival and no one else you run across really helps unless you all but force them to, and those who actually set up events to aid in fighting all the shit that went down are already dead, and pretty much everyone else is going to die after you kick off to Xen anyway, then yes it would be acceptable for you to at least be ABLE to kill innocent NPCs even if not attacking them directly.
      However HL2 and the Episodes are different. You have ALLIES this time around. HL1 was the story about YOUR fight, but HL2 is really a story about THEIR fight. If you can attack/kill a generic NPC then it would seem strange that you couldn’t also attack the story integral NPCs, but if you could kill them too, then it would break the story. So ultimately the only thing that would be CONSISTENT would be to make it so that you can’t attack any allies.

      Participating in Rape & Torture –
      Ultimately there is absolutely no possible reason that would justify the player raping anyone, and I would almost certainly avoid a game that allowed you to, and definitely avoid it if it was required.
      As for torture, Freeman doesn’t talk, so how would he be able to interrogate anyone?(the only justification I could see for torture) Just randomly beat a captured CP with his crowbar? *crowbar* ‘talk!” “I’ll never talk” *crowbar* ‘talk!” “you’ll get nothing out of me!” *crowbar* “beeeeeeeep” “uh… oops’
      But even that latter scenario has flaws, as all soldiers have tracking mechanism, so even if the rebels wanted to interrogate any of them, doing so would bring the rest of the combine forces down on the area they were brought to for interrogation.
      The only possible scenario I could see in which a torture scene COULD make sense is if Breen were found alive and taken captive. Even then, his appearance, and the information he has would undoubtedly be story critical, and having Gordon participate in the torture would just detract from the importance of the information Breen would be giving.
      What would make for much better storytelling is if a rebel told Freeman that Breen had been captured and interrogated, but that he said that he would only give the information he had directly to Freeman (the player) This would set the stage for the story critical information to be told without being interrupted by getting smacked with a crowbar.

      Pregnant or Child Zombies –
      Not acceptable. Personally I consider this less offensive than participating in rape, and only barely more than witnessing rape. Moral issues with killing children or pregnant women aside, Valve already has an in game reason for this to be impossible to exist. Anyone who thinks that this has any place in HL2 would not just be adding gratuitous shock value, but doing it at the expense of the storyline.

      Using Civilians as Shields –
      Not acceptable. I actually don’t have any major moral objections to this, but how would this even work? Freeman is the one wearing the armor. How would you get a citizen in position to act as your shield, and how would they be able to survive long enough themselves to be worth the effort of getting them there?

      So everything else falls into the list of at least having the CHANCE of being acceptable in the HL2 setting, provided it is handled correctly. I’m sure there may be some objections to what I consider acceptable, but I’ll be giving scenarios and examples for each case for how I think these situations could be handled tactfully. I’m hoping for feedback on this section to see if it’s possible for a situation that people find objectionable to be handled tactfully enough to be acceptable.

      Killing unarmed enemies –
      Acceptable, but only if optional. A weapon isn’t the only thing that makes an enemy dangerous. I could easily see a situation where you spot an Unarmed CP who is scoping out a building that rebels are hiding in. Even though he’s unarmed, if you don’t shoot him, combine soldiers will storm the building and most likely kill the rebels before you can help them.

      Witnessing rape and torture acts –
      I voted for this to be acceptable, but only because they’re bundled together. I’ll use the comments to break them apart and touch on them individually here.

      Witnessing Rape –
      Unacceptable. With the suppression field down, I could see the attempt being made, but after the length of time that the rebels have been sticking together, I don’t see the scenario of everyone else just standing around and letting it happen to be a believable.

      Witnessing Torture –
      Acceptable. Gratuitously graphic torture no, but we already know from the beginning of HL2 that people do get beaten, often to death, by the combine. Witnessing basic torture wouldn’t be that big of a leap. This is especially true if your stumbling onto the torture scene halts it as the torturer moves to attack you.
      However, one thing that people need to remember is that implying something ALWAYS has greater impact than actually witnessing it. When witnessing something people have the ability to shut off so that they aren’t actually thinking about what is happening, but with something implied they actually HAVE to think about it. As a result, if you actually are going to show someone being tortured, and want it to have the same level of impact as just implying that the torture is or was taking place, then you have to be over the top to the point of gratuity.

      Theft and looting(e.g. stealing a car from a group of fleeing civilians) –
      Acceptable. Under the combine rule, no one really seems to actually OWN anything, so theft just doesn’t have the same impact. You already DO loot rebel areas for supplies and whatever else you can find, and you’re also capable of smashing stuff up in the civilian areas too.
      As for the car scenario, how would you get them out of it so you could steal it? If they were being chased by a hunter and got knocked over, I could easily see “stealing” the car so that you could run the hunter over, or run away yourself, but at which point the hunter would start chasing you. Either situation could result in your actions saving those same civilians.

      Body mutilation (besides cutting zombies in half) –
      Acceptable. I always found it odd that I could cut a zombie in half, but not just take off it’s arm or head, and I also wondered why I couldn’t do the same for combine. Theoretically, the armor the combine wear could be protecting them from sharp edges, so this might not be acceptable, but only for that reason.

      Enemies begging for mercy –
      This is only acceptable if it’s not generic soldiers going “no wait, please don’t-” just as you get in the last shot in the middle of a big firefight, and who were up to that instant shooting at you without any qualms. That’s just going to come across retarded.
      Now if you take a shot from a combine and instead of shooting back at you he runs and is crouched in a corner, then I could see begging for mercy making sense, but there should at least be something that letting him live would accomplish even if letting him live was just attached to an achievement.

      A reward system for various kill methods –
      There are already achievements for killing soldiers with their own grenade as well as disintegrating them in clusters, as well as for killing enemies with objects thrown by the gravity gun, and also pinning the combine to the billboard. I don’t see why other kill methods shouldn’t be rewarded, provided they were creative enough.

      The ability to leave enemies mortally wounded and in pain –
      This already happens with anything you set on fire. I can’t recall off the top of my head anything other than headcrabs and zombies being particularly flammable, but I had thought there were at least a few cases that combine could also be set on fire, though I don’t think they ever lasted long after that.
      The biggest problem this issue has is that unless you check every corpse that you leave, how will you know if they are still alive but “mortally wounded”?

      Sex scenes –
      I know this one is going to go right into the same category as Rape for some people, but I can think of ways this can be handled that wouldn’t be overly graphic, and would fit in the setting of HL2 as it stands. Namely the “consoling couple” that you see several times over the course of the HL2 series. I’m pretty sure I recall one of their complaints being that the suppression field was keeping them from having a family together.
      I could easily envision a scenario where Alyx is leading you to the helicopter, getting ready to lift off after burying her father, only to hear moans coming from a door along the way, at which point she opens it to make sure everything is okay, only to find that couple going at it (positioned so that it’s obvious what they’re doing, but so that nothing graphic can be seen) at which point she goes “oops! don’t let me interrupt!” and quickly slams the door shut.
      This situation could even have storytelling reasons to support its inclusion, as Alyx will likely be keeping her emotions about her Eli’s death bottled up, only to have that act as the breaking point where she actually lets her emotions loose, as she at first laughs at the embarrassment of the situation, but then considers the fact that other people get to move on with their lives but not her father, which sets off the actual grief and tears.

      More realistic language i.e. pejoratives and foul language –
      Acceptable provided people are staying in character. Alyx has already used damn and possibly hell and asshole a few times, but never fuck, and where she could have said shit, she usually says crap instead. Barney swears much more, using damn, hell, shit, even straight out telling you to pass along the message of “Fuck you” to Breen for him, and while it was slightly censored by a loud crash, it is still legible in the actual audio file. Combine Soldiers swear any time they can tell they’re about to get blown up or killed. If there happens to be a new character introduced that cusses every other word, then so be it, but don’t have Alyx suddenly start tossing out expletives in her regular conversation.

      Ethnic, race, religion or sex discrimination –
      I can cope with this provided it’s not cast in a positive light. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a sympathetic character who is bigoted, but just so that it is understood that the bigotry is one of their character flaws.

      Religious discrimination is difficult to justify in the type of setting that HL2 is in. There’s no question that one of the first things the combine would be attacking the ability for people to practice religion, as it’s pretty much the only source that teaches that there are more important things than just staying alive, as well as being the only source that claims higher sovereignty than the position the combine hold as overlords of the entire earth.
      While a religious figure might pity those who are unable to worship, it would be retarded to act as if it’s the person’s fault that they grew up not knowing a specific religion in a world where religion has likely been hunted down and banned wherever possible.

      Ethnic and racial discrimination is if anything harder to justify than the religion. People are always trying to form groups in which everyone in it is the same and everyone outside of it is different, but humans are creatures of relativity. We say an elephant is big when we are comparing it to ourselves, but compared to a whale the elephant is small. The same is true when it comes to racial discrimination. When you introduce other sapient species such as the vortigaunts and combine forces, other humans stop looking that different by comparison. Anyone who is bigoted in this manner is likely going to shift from focusing on skin color of other humans to persecuting the vortigaunts.

      Gender discrimination is a completely different matter from the other points, as this focuses on differences that are not just superficial. Women are the ones who actually get pregnant and can give birth, thus replenishing the species, thus women should be the first priorities for protecting and getting to safety. This is the only absolute point supporting discrimination specifically by gender.
      The other points are more discrimination due to ability, but they are abilities that are often connected to one gender or the other. Just because men and women are equal doesn’t mean that we’re the same in every way: Most guys have better upper body strength than women, so men should generally be focusing on the more heavy weapons while women provide cover fire with lighter firearms. Men are generally better with spacial recognition and logical operations, while women generally seem to have better detail memory, so jobs relying on these fields should be more likely to be staffed by their respective gender.
      Because of all this, it would make sense that even in the setting of HL2 that gender discrimination would still be present, possibly to an even greater degree than what it is in today’s day and age.

      Beatings and other non-lethal violence –
      I can’t see why anyone would be okay with killing the enemy, but NOT okay with beating them into submission when possible.

      1. Zekiran

        I do believe you’ve said anything and everything I’d have said. 🙂

  7. How I voted and why:

    Killing innocent NPCs
    If they have something I need for the greater good.

    Killing unarmed enemies
    An enemy is just that, an enemy. An unarmed enemy can easily become armed.
    It’s worth pointing out that Barnacles, Antlions, Headcrabs and Headcrab Mutants are not armed but can kill you just as surely as can Combine grenades(or their jackboots).

    Theft and looting (e.g. stealing a car from a group of fleeing civilians)
    If they have something I need for the greater good.

    Pregnant or child zombies.
    Why not?
    It would be more realistic and needs not be offensive.

    Enemies begging for mercy.
    If given mercy, they will stop begging for it and look for ways to get you.
    Take no prisoners. Get it done. Kill them all.

    Using civilians as a shield during combat
    The few to save me while I save the most.

    The ability to leave enemies mortally wounded and in pain.
    This is war. Shit happens. A soldiers first priority is self-preservation and that of his comrades-in-arms so as to contribute to the defense or attack.
    Besides, you may not have time to end his misery or inject the opiates for the pain before an Elite pops up and blows your head clean off.

    Sex scenes
    But sex is beautiful.
    Sex can be shown without genitalia. Pornography, SadoMasochism and Ugliness need not be a part of sex and best without.

    Beatings and other non-lethal violence
    This is not a question of opinion, it is a fact because it is in HL2 retail.
    It was done to make the Metrocops all the more abhorrent.

    1. You know Jasper, I was pondering how to tactfully express my own ” acceptability ” opinions on this article, but whether you were sober or not, you’ve managed to do this for me quite accurately. Do we not live vicariously through the games we engage in to satisfy our more basal emotions and fantasies ?

      1. Thank you jjawinte and yes I was sober. 6 hours later? Blowed if I can remember!

        Yes, we do.

  8. korge

    Lol, these poll options are the core mechanics of the next great GTA game. 😀

  9. Jike

    Oh god. I think I’ve played too many mods with this kind of stuff in it to vote objectively…

    I thought about some stuff though and decided to choose None of the options. However think about Half Life 1. Body Mutilation and killing innocent enemies for example…

  10. enablerbr

    i voted for killing of innocent NPCs and beatings and other non-leathal violence. these 2 choices are based on the fact that while playing HL2 series. I never got the feeling of saving the human race from a represive regiem. the HL2 advert demo videos suggested more than the game itself did. you don’t see innocent NPCs being executed and you only ever see 1 vorgiant get a sort of beating when you arrive for the 1st time at city 17. I just thought HL2 would be darker than it was.

    1. Grey Acumen

      wow… you really missed anything that wasn’t spelled out for you directly, didn’t you? What do you think Nova Prospekt was for? That train you were headed for at the beginning of the game headed straight there and everyone else was getting on without even realizing what it was for.

      Where do you think Stalkers came from? What do you think the suppression field did? Don’t you remember the clothing vending machine that everyone had to go to? The woman asking where her husband was? The random room searches where anyone along the way was beaten as they chased you down? Did you think the Guard that told you to pick up the can and beat you if you didn’t even realized that you were Gordon Freeman? That’s how they treat anyone.

      What about the citadel, and the thousands of pods, where people are stored like pieces of paper in a filing cabinet, that alyx had to search through to find Eli? What about ravenholm, that was shelled with Headcrabs in order to turn anyone injured into monsters to finish off any survivors.

      Sorry, but HL2 was VERY dark and VERY oppressive when you actually paid attention to what was happening.

      1. enablerbr

        i was aware of all that. yet it still wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be. considering the real life history of dark events. this wasn’t dark.

  11. ModPlay

    Honestly, reading through those polls just made me almost cry. I always realized that some games are violent, but I haven’t noticed that there is so much more behind it. Pregnant and child zombies just made me go…..

  12. Many of those actions (ie, killing innocent NPC’s, killing unarmed enemies, theft and looting, enemies begging for mercy, reward system for various kills, beatings and other non-lethal violence, body mutilation, using civilians as shields, foul language, and a few others) are a frequent part of other games and acceptable to me in those other games.

    However, even though I find many of those actions acceptable in other games, I would prefer that Half Life did not include those simply because they are not a part of Half Life as it was created. Actually I would be very disappointed if Half Life changed to include some of those violent actions that I like in other games.

    I could have done without the references to rape and discrimination. They aren’t acceptable anywhere.

  13. What I don’t like about this poll is that the question asks about what is acceptable in a Half-Life game, and not about what is acceptable in mods. I can totally dig all the reasons why a company would choose to not include the more complicated and dark activities listed in the poll. But I think one of our jobs as modders is to explore not only the limits of the Source engine, but also the limits of the human psyche.

    Including these vicious activities in a mod and giving them a purpose can transform the game into an experience. It will presumably be a harrowing one, but it will be more of one than that of your average, let’s-play-it-safe, shoot-em-up mod.

    I voted for most things, but not the ones involving rape or sex. I also did not choose pregnant zombies, reward system for kills, human shields, or discrimination. I chose them mainly because we are talking about what should be in an official Valve release. But like I said, mods are the Wild Wild West of games. They have the opportunity to push the boundaries as far as they want – or at least as far as their distributors and supporters will allow.

    So one more time…

    – Official Valve releases: censorship in the interest of reaching a wider audience (aka, the world + Australia)
    – Independent mods: Anything goes; players should download at their own peril.

    1. What I don’t like about this poll is that the question asks about what is acceptable in a Half-Life game, and not about what is acceptable in mods.

      That’s because that’s next week’s poll question! Slow down cowboy! We need one poll to make a comparison.

      1. i was hoping for something like that.

        (I always say the word “jihad” like it’s a country western phrase.

        “Slow down, cowboy!! JIIII-HAAD!!”)

        1. Grey Acumen

          For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a mod or an official game. If it’s going to set itself in the HL universe, then I’ll be judging it on the same set of standards.

  14. Samuel

    I see no reason why profanity should not be more prevalent. It would certainly add to the immersion; Humanity is in such a dire condition by HL2 that you’d think more people than just Barney would drop the F-bomb. But besides that, if you find such language offensive, but not the fact that you’re pretty much butchering everything that constitutes even a minor threat…Well, I simply don’t agree with that.

  15. Oopla

    This poll brought me back to commenting.

    First I wanted to share some context that I answer from.

    My answer to this is based on the pen and paper RPGs I have played in the past and having had good story driven GMs. One game in particular stands out as an example for the behaviors in this poll and how they might be used in the game. I was playing a Rifts campaign where I had selected and evil character, where everyone else had selected good or selfish with good inclinations.

    My character was not a monster, he did not go around killing at random and for fun and pleasure. He had a tight moral code, but little regard for adult human life. He did not steal from, cheat or lie to honorable people. We were searching for a group of kidnapped children, and encountered a group of mind controlled enemy soldiers. After defeating them my character started questioning them. My character believed that the soldiers were withholding information that could lead to the rescue on the basis that my character was not a confirmed friendly. He considered this a cowards act.

    So my character began to torture them. Not with the rack or a waterboard, first beatings, then psychic projections of trauma. I let my character play this one out. He valued innocence in a twisted way, having his stripped from himself early on, and viewed the soldiers as obstacles in his way. He would just as soon hurt them for information as kick down a door that stood between him and the rescue of the children.

    Understand that the game setting is a post apocolyptic earth where most of the major powers are “bad guys.” I viewed this character as having come about his alignment honestly. He had a troubled past and was willing to do a lot to survive. He had moral convictions, honestly viewed himself as righteously as any hero would view himself. I was set on playing this character through, not becoming him, but exploring him.

    Soon the GM pointedly asked the other characters who were not sure what to do during this torturous interrogation, if, being good characters, they would stand by and allow torture to happen. They then interviened and my character stopped immediately and fell into line.

    I use this as an example that I hope could bring some new context to the discussion.

    Imagine for instance, in HL3 there was a character who acted similarly. This character is allowed to exist as they serve a purpose and get results, and allow other people to feel clean in a dirty situation. Other NPCs instuct Gordon to leave that character alone as a game play mechanic to allow this story to progress, and it continues.

    The character honestly believes themself to be righteous, feeling that they must be not just as “hard” but “harder” than the enemy to survive. They are fighting to save a species, only once so closely threatened with extinction. Its like in the pilot episode of The Shield. Vic Mackey tortures a pedophile who has a child locked away, who could die. The by the book “good” character Claudette Williams stands by and allows him to torture this person, deprive him of all constitutional rights in the name of saving a child. Many people hated Vick Mackey and tried to take him down. I think in part because they hated him for allowing themselves to compromise.

    This character already exists to a small exstent. People tolerate Dr. Magnusson, in spite of him being a verbally abusive, belittling, angry little man, because he gets results. He launched a rocket, saved the earth, he’s a hero. A hero I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with, but the definition of hero is flexible. Of course, he is not anywhere close to this degree we are theorizing about, but how would you have reacted if he threw a manual at an assistant in fustration before a launch and drew blood. Then dismissed the assistant without an apology. What if Dr. Kleiner had stepped in if you approached Magnusson and told you to leave him be, “he gets this way before a test or a launch.

    Think about it. Stand up to Magnusson ‘do the right thing” and end up delaying the launch, and possibly destroying the human race? I am not making a slippery slope argument here, I am just asking to what degree do we tolerate the base activities that lead up to the more extreme ones like in the post.

    I think that the abberant character idea I mentioned before would be a great idea. Especially if paired with a twist like the Gman hauntingly questioning you about “the company YOU keep…”

    I think that a lot of the activities mentioned here would break the tone of the world Valve has tried to create.

    I think that Gabe’s comment about “ripping the heart out” really plays through in Ep2. At the end, it appeared that you had the first true “win” ending. You defeated the Combine in a climactic battle, launched the rocket and saved the world. The game was going to end on a “there’s more” note, but then at the last second you were powerless as Eli was killed. Suddenly, the game isn’t a win. They pulled it off in a way that didn’t feel like a big giant middle finger to the audience, but more of an epic tragedy.

    With Eli’s death, I could see Mossman becoming this sort of aberrant character, especially with the Pandora’s box that the Boreales offers.

    And I would say that I would love that dark story line. Just so long as she doesnt get Anakin Skywalker falls to the darkside hammy.

    Some food for thought. I think that many of these things are acceptable depending on circumstance and consequence.

    1. This isn’t meant to undermine your point, but I feel the concept that either you or the game you mentioned has about “good, but selfish” and “evil” really doesn’t make any sense at all. They aren’t just matters of public opinion, though people will often try to claim otherwise, they have a real and impermeable meaning.
      the simplest definition of Evil that I can think of would be “being a detriment to society for your own personal gain” (killing innocent people, stealing from someone, kidnapping, destruction of property, treason, etc)
      while the simplest definition for Good would be “to work towards the betterment of society” (protecting innocents from those who would harm them, aiding those who are also protecting innocents, aiding innocents with tasks above their ability, gaining aid from others at their own free will and recompensing them when possible)
      Actions that fall into neither category (working towards your own benefit but not to the detriment of society, staying uninvolved in conflicts between active participants of either side, stealing from those who have stolen, killing those who intend to kill) fall into neutral territory and mostly depend on intention and results to determine their relative good/evil-ness. Just because you don’t like what someone is doing doesn’t automatically qualify it as EVIL.

      While I might label your character as misguided or overly harsh, I just don’t see him qualifying as evil. They’re soldiers, even if mind controlled, so it’s not like these are just random people off the street minding their own business. Heck, what if your character had been correct, and the GM specifically prompted the other players to do something so that he wouldn’t get the information that would make the difference?

      It’s just always irked me when games provide a good/evil scale, but then base it on laws.

      1. Oopla

        I might be mis-understanding, but I think that in the case of torture, the law reflects morality. I think personally that torture is wrong against anyone, no matter how heinous the person, because it violates a basic universal human dignity that I expect humanity to live up to, and I wish not to sink to the level of those who fall short.

  16. Stratofarius

    Chose everything.

    I want innovation. I want to be amazed. A mod that would go so far as to include rape in his story is well-deserved of being played.

    1. A mod that would go so far as to include rape in his story is well-deserved of being played.

      I wouldn’t say that but if it used rape to show a particularly disgusting aspect of an enemy that involved sensitive treatment of the victim then it would certainly be interesting. If the mod just included it for shock value then it would be a sad day for modding.

  17. Cameron

    i wouldn’t vote for any of those options mainly because they seem wrong to be implemented in an fps let alone hl2 where you play the good guy

  18. I clicked ’em all.

    In order to combat atrocities, we have to know that they are, and why they’re atrocities. Better to know this in a game than in reality.

  19. There was a lot of beating scenes in HL.. Probably easier to answer this as “what is NOT acceptable but I cast my two cents.. I think people really do make too much out of nudity and sexual situations..Especially here (USA).. PRUDE CITY!..lol

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