About Gordon Freeman and other Silent Protagonists in terms of their relationship with the player

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While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

Are they rushing into combat? Then their Gordon Freeman is reckless and agressive.
Are they hiding behind cover and hoarding tons of items? Then their Gorden is a cautious man who chooses to be prepared.

How about players who yell in fustration with the enemies they fight as opposed to just thinking through the situation. Then that particular Gordon Freeman is also venting those same fustrations.

The beauty of this type of story telling is that it shapes the context of the events that take place around the player. Why can Gordon Freeman and other silent protagonist survivie, it is because of the player and how they react to his challenges. Thus making each play experience different from player to player.

G-Force:
While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

Are they rushing into combat? Then their Gordon Freeman is reckless and agressive.
Are they hiding behind cover and hoarding tons of items? Then their Gorden is a cautious man who chooses to be prepared.

How about players who yell in fustration with the enemies they fight as opposed to just thinking through the situation. Then that particular Gordon Freeman is also venting those same fustrations.

The beauty of this type of story telling is that it shapes the context of the events that take place around the player. Why can Gordon Freeman and other silent protagonist survivie, it is because of the player and how they react to his challenges. Thus making each play experience different from player to player.

I thought about this before. I think a silent protagonist is the best kind of protagonist a game could have. Why? Because you yourself are playing the role of the character. If the character had a set personality you would be detached from him or her. You would feel more like a passive outsider instead of an active participant.

In some games, especially ones where you don't have direct control over the pc, such as JRPG's and some CRPG's, its nice to have a character who is fleshed out for you, as you won't project as much onto that character. This is why Zidane is my very favourite protagonist ever. In games where the pc is controlled directly, especially from 1st person, its nice to be able to have them take on your personality. However, having a personality-less character in a JRPG doesn't work as well, (see persona 3's main character) and having a character that is fully fleshed out for you doesn't work well in a game like skyrim or half life. I mean, imagine skyrim where your pc had a fixed personality.
What this does mean that when people say gordan freeman is a good character, all they are really saying is that they are a good character. Which is kind of big headed, if you ask me.

G-Force:
While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

"Here is a lump of clay, imagine that it is a beautiful statue."

While being imaginative with characters is fun for some people, I'd prefer something more tangible.

Fractral:
In some games, especially ones where you don't have direct control over the pc, such as JRPG's and some CRPG's, its nice to have a character who is fleshed out for you, as you won't project as much onto that character. This is why Zidane is my very favourite protagonist ever. In games where the pc is controlled directly, especially from 1st person, its nice to be able to have them take on your personality. However, having a personality-less character in a JRPG doesn't work as well, (see persona 3's main character) and having a character that is fully fleshed out for you doesn't work well in a game like skyrim or half life. I mean, imagine skyrim where your pc had a fixed personality.
What this does mean that when people say gordan freeman is a good character, all they are really saying is that they are a good character. Which is kind of big headed, if you ask me.

I don't think when people praise Gordon Freeman as a character they are essentially praising themselves but how the game gives them the capacity and flexibility to insert themselves into the world and holding those thoughts consistantly.

skywolfblue:

G-Force:
While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

"Here is a lump of clay, imagine that it is a beautiful statue."

While being imaginative with characters is fun for some people, I'd prefer something more tangible.

There is something there. The way people react to Gordon. He is revered as a messianic figure. So you can imagine him as someone who genuinely embraces his title, or as a reluctant hero forced into the role of savior or a partially insane kleptomaniac who uses the invasion as an excuse to go crazy ( Freeman's mind)

The issue I have with this perspective is that, in Freeman's case, he very clearly does have a set character. Sure you can imagine he's seething inside with some sort of inner rage, but that doesn't change the fact that, from appearance to how others in the game world react to and interact at him, he is Freeman as designed by Valve.

Mute protagonists aren't always bad as a rule, but Freeman is really an example of a mute protagonist done wrong. He is no empty vessel for a player to fully inhabit, he's just a defined character that for some unexplained reason never talks.

It's just a facet of preference over just how much would you rather have shown to you.

Example: some people want to read a book. In the book, the descriptions are vivid, the characters are defined, and the action is set in stone.
On the other side, there are people who play with Legos and create their own stories. Their imagination fuels them to create the perfect scenario, one that gets all the details perfectly in a way that a book never could.

Games have the property of dealing with both of these mentalities through the way they're built, but only one at a time.

I've never really understood the whole "mute protagonists are great because they can be anyone you want" thing. For me, I've never seen a mute protagonist as anything but a tool with which to interact with the game. Gordon Freeman is no more a "character" in my mind[1] than the mouse cursor is in an RTS. About the only time I really consider it characterization is when a mute character expresses him/herself through body language, ala Tom and Jerry, but that's not usually what happens in videogames that go the silent protagonist route.

[1] in as much as a character has a personality, motivations, etc. I recognize the physical design of the character model as the mascot of Half Life, but I don't recognize Gordon Freeman as a character in the usual sense of the word. He's more like a logo.

Sometimes I think people mistakenly praise Freeman as a character when what they really want to do is praise the games' narrative, storytelling and, in particular, the excellent support characters that lead you through it.

What was really superb about HL2 was how the game flowed without the use of cutscenes, or ever removing you from the first person perspective. Anyone who enjoyed Children of Men will know how powerful a tool the single shot scene can be, well this is 10 hours worth.

Overall I was completely immersed in it, but I never felt like Freeman was a 'character' (not in the way that other narrative actions games have them, Nathan Drake et al), more a pair of eyes to watch Valve's story unfold.

Alyx is the real hero.

skywolfblue:

G-Force:
While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

"Here is a lump of clay, imagine that it is a beautiful statue."

While being imaginative with characters is fun for some people, I'd prefer something more tangible.

But a lump of clay has more potential than any statue!

Yeah but seriously there's a difference between letting the player be able to insert themselves somewhat in the character's place and having a no -personality husk of a character.

T0ad 0f Truth:

skywolfblue:

G-Force:
While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

"Here is a lump of clay, imagine that it is a beautiful statue."

While being imaginative with characters is fun for some people, I'd prefer something more tangible.

But a lump of clay has more potential than any statue!

Yeah but seriously there's a difference between letting the player be able to insert themselves somewhat in the character's place and having a no -personality husk of a character.

Surely mentioning great silent characters and lumps of clay ties in nicely to the greatest silent character of all time... Gromit.

Well, see, silent protagonists kind of serve a totally different purpose than a developed character. As is pretty clear, a silent protagonist isn't a character so much as a vehicle for the player's granular choices and persona. It allows the developer to put the player in a situation where their actions do the speaking- that is, where the player's interaction with the world is primarily physical. There's plenty of narratives that can be structured around a player with no voice, and many are done really well- but I'm hesitant to label them "protagonists" as such. Silent players can drive the action of a plot, but they can't really act as emotional focal points as effectively as a person can, unless you pull off some really clever stuff with your design. When was the last time Mario fell into a bottomless pit, and you were heartbroken over his death and the end of his journey?

on the other hand a character with a voice suffers from the drawbacks of being someone the player has to identify with while still being in every scene and saying and doing important things that the player doesn't always have control over, see
that can totally freak people out when their character does or says something they didn't expect them to say, like That Part in every bioware game where you pick a dialogue option that says something totally other than what you wanted, and you get really mad about it
a narrative focus is something that's really hard for a game to pull off well, since most of it has to take place from the player's point of view. there's games like fire emblem 7 that pull stuff like making the player character a marginalized battle tactician instead of a plot-relevant dude, which can work- but you need a really good understanding of narrative structure and how it plays into your mechanics and viewpoint in order to make it work well, which lots of developers don't spend time on- so you get serious narratives where the protagonist is mute for no reason because they want the player to "identify" better. bluhhhh

They're the most non-enjoyable characters in a game for me. You're given a shell of a human but given no freedom of expression and, usually, feel nothing more than a robot being told what I'm supposed to do without choice or reason.

"Hello silent person. Go over there and pick up that item and place it over here. What? You don't want to? Well fuck you! I told you to, without question, and this game won't continue until you've done what you're told!"

A lot of these games I'm not given any motivation. If you have a character that talks, lives, breathes, and feels, even if you may not agree with the characters actions, you may at least be able to understand or emphasis with them depending on their circumstance, agenda or mentality.

At also means character progression is possible.

The only time it's ever worked for me is the Myst series, as you don't even see what your character looks like. You're not given a name. You are literally able to imagine yourself as whoever you want to be. The game is also not about the main character (yourself) but you're simply working as a catalyst for the other characters in the stories.

If Gordon Freeman is just a blank slate to project the player's personality on, then he isnt himself a full character. He's a RPG character without the customization.

Silent protagonists are suppose to be vechicals that just lead you through the action. It's usually the rookie solider in most cases. A guy who wouldnt really stand out. Or some kind of agent who is sapped of individuality because ut makes him a better killing machine.

Gordon however, is treated like a really important guy. Alex and her father treat him as if he's they're best friend. But if Gordon just reflects the player, then why would they act so friendly to me if the player think's Alex is an asshole?

That's where the logic comes down. If Gordon is a man to be respected by everyone he meets, should his personality not be written to reflect that?

Terramax:
They're the most non-enjoyable characters in a game for me. You're given a shell of a human but given no freedom of expression and, usually, feel nothing more than a robot being told what I'm supposed to do without choice or reason.

"Hello silent person. Go over there and pick up that item and place it over here. What? You don't want to? Well fuck you! I told you to, without question, and this game won't continue until you've done what you're told!"

A lot of these games I'm not given any motivation. If you have a character that talks, lives, breathes, and feels, even if you may not agree with the characters actions, you may at least be able to understand or emphasis with them depending on their circumstance, agenda or mentality.

At also means character progression is possible.

The only time it's ever worked for me is the Myst series, as you don't even see what your character looks like. You're not given a name. You are literally able to imagine yourself as whoever you want to be. The game is also not about the main character (yourself) but you're simply working as a catalyst for the other characters in the stories.

I would have to disagree that character progression with silent characters is impossible. I offer an example I use a lot in these discussions.

Half Life was my first PC shooter and as a result I was getting very used to the controls, I was overly cautious, took things very slow and panicked during firefights. As I grew used to the game and the controls so did my skills and attitude. I was way bolder in fights and take crazy risks for the sake of staying alive. Gordon Freeman in my narrative of Half Life evolved from an cautious inexperienced survivor to a confident combat veteran. I went from dreading firefights to waiting for them in antsipation as my confidence grew.

skywolfblue:
"Here is a lump of clay, imagine that it is a beautiful statue."

While being imaginative with characters is fun for some people, I'd prefer something more tangible.

But you're not supposed to have anything tangible, otherwise Valve would have introduced it. Gordon Freeman's personality is completely irrelevant to HL.

Some like to pretend they are Freeman, I don't. I live his experience without thinking. In HL1 Gordon is fighting for his survival, the last thing he would be doing would be making "Freeman's Mind"-style monologues.

Gaming has a load of really ugly statues. Rather have the lump of clay that I don't need to touch than be forced to look at ugly art.

G-Force:

I would have to disagree that character progression with silent characters is impossible. I offer an example I use a lot in these discussions.

Half Life was my first PC shooter and as a result I was getting very used to the controls, I was overly cautious, took things very slow and panicked during firefights. As I grew used to the game and the controls so did my skills and attitude. I was way bolder in fights and take crazy risks for the sake of staying alive. Gordon Freeman in my narrative of Half Life evolved from an cautious inexperienced survivor to a confident combat veteran. I went from dreading firefights to waiting for them in antsipation as my confidence grew.

So is that Freeman progressing in the narrative of the game, or yourself personally?

Of course Freeman has an outside personality to the player.

There is never total freedom in a videogame ever, only the illusion of it, and Half Life is very constricting. You can't choose to completely ignore the bad guys and go sun yourself on a beach, you can't commit suicide and have it stick (other than switching off the console of course) and you can't go the way you want to go. For example I might want to spend the entire game sneaking through abandoned houses, using crawl-spaces and cellars to avoid any and all confrontation, but instead I have to go through streets littered with enemies and fight them. There may be some variance in the way that I fight them, utilising tactics or brute strength or science, but I'm always capable of winning and I always end up fighting.

So all you can really do as a player is decide what Freeman's thinking as he completes the exact same set of actions. Is he killing because he's insane? Is he killing because it's just and righteous? Is he killing because he wants to survive? One way or the other, he's still the sort of person who finds himself in a situation where he has to kill, and that is a pretty damn defined personality to me, and that's why silent protagonists are no better than any other protagonist, because once you really examine their games they're exactly the same.

My favorite part of Freemen's Mind is early on when he leaves a scientist behind and says, "Fuck it, I'm not coming back for him. I'm not coming back for anyone."

also my favorite part from the first Half Life is when you get into that big elevator to head for the surface and the rock music starts playing and you realize shit's about to go DOWN.

The problem I had with Gordan being silent is it made the conversations play out really weirdly as soon as they got through saying several character just seem to straight up ignore you, silent protagonists work but not so much when support characters are so prevalent and engaging in conversation with you.

I haven't played HL so I can't really comment on Mr. Freeman.

Silent protagonists have their place in gaming, how it's implemented is the key.

It's perfect for a game like skyrim because you really can shape the character how you want. Go where you want, do and say what you want, make choices based on what you would do or RP as a totally different person. Giving the character a voice or set personality would actually be detrimental.

In a game like Chrono Trigger however, the character is defined, the story is fixed, there are no real choices in the game, Crono just happens to be a mute with no explanation for it. It's still one of my favorite games of all time, but his silence never really sat well with me and he was the least interesting character. At least he was able to express a handful of emotions through body language though.

So the moral is, if you're trying to tell a story, give the character a personality. If you want the player to create their own story, them the main character should shut the hell up.

I agree that the player defines the personality of the silent protagonist, just as much as the first-person-view is there to point out that this is your eyes viewing this world.

Besides, everyone knows that Freeman has a personality. See?

I like to think of Freeman as basically yahtzee, Chell as slightly psychotic, and all other silent characters I basically voice myself. I actually do find it easier to relate with silent protagonists, because you really are them, even if there are no aspects of choice.

Yeah, and that's exactly why he has no personality. He's not a character. He's a shell. He's hollow. He's fucking Bella Swan. Characters have goals, motivations, mannerisms, history, etc. Gordon Freeman has nothing of a character. Nobody knows anything about him besides the fact that he has a degree from MIT and one story from MIT. Within the realm of writing, he's the worse possible character ever. He's the character that you don't say anything about to let the reader flesh out, a mistake for any writer. Luckily, he's in a game. Games have a different relationship with there audience. So they can get away with Mr. no-character. You can make all kinds of arguments over whether that's good or bad, but its quiet clear he doesn't have a personality. Saying he does is like saying a brick has a personality because I pick it up, move it around, and give it a voice.

I did not like Gordon being a silent protagonist. I remember gordon having to do things I wouldn't have. I don't remember which scene it was exactly, since it's been a long time since I played half life but Alex or Eli said something to Gordon and I immediately though "Np, let's not do that. My idea's better." However, since Gordon Freeman apparently had a personality for a moment, he decided to agree with them and do exactly what I didn't want him to.

Another example was any of the times I had to shoot down those stupid Combine helicopter/airship things. I didn't want to. It was boring as hell. Given the chance I'd have gone right past them.

How the hell am I supposed to project myself onto someone who does things I don't?

Terramax:

G-Force:

I would have to disagree that character progression with silent characters is impossible. I offer an example I use a lot in these discussions.

Half Life was my first PC shooter and as a result I was getting very used to the controls, I was overly cautious, took things very slow and panicked during firefights. As I grew used to the game and the controls so did my skills and attitude. I was way bolder in fights and take crazy risks for the sake of staying alive. Gordon Freeman in my narrative of Half Life evolved from an cautious inexperienced survivor to a confident combat veteran. I went from dreading firefights to waiting for them in antsipation as my confidence grew.

So is that Freeman progressing in the narrative of the game, or yourself personally?

If Freeman is meant to represent the player's skillset and mental state than my progress is Freeman's progression.

....I actually think there's a reason why Gordon never says anything. Like an actual-in-universe reason behind it. Not because Valve forgot to write any lines for him. I dunno, I think Gordon being unable to communicate yet able accomplish EVERYTHING is a mystery with an answer that Valve isn't telling us.

OT: silent protagonists aren't bad. They can work well if done right. In my opinion, a speaking protagonist isn't always an improvement over a silent one. Case in point: Dead Space.

I liked Isaac alot in Dead Space 1 when he never said anything.
And I thought Isaac was an annoying tit in Dead Space 2.

Perhaps you can blame it on the way he was written. He never had anything worthwhile to say beyond "Diana? Diana!? FUCK!" and his tone of voice/reaction to things sometimes goes completely against what I'd expect an average human being to do. There's lots of reasons why I thought Dead Space 2 was nowhere near as scary as the first, and one of the major reasons is Isaac himself. Him talking was a ruination of the scariness. Talking protagonists isn't ALWAYS a ruination of Scary, but in this case, it was done all wrong and really screwed up the atmosphere.

Then there's the 'missed opportunities'. When creators had a chance to allow a protagonist to express himself, but didn't, and for no reason. For example: The Master Chief.

Master Chief = Not a silent protagonist right? Cause he casually jabbers on and on in cutscenes. Yet, he says NOTHING. NOTHING during gameplay. And that sucks.
Sure Cortana was the one who did all the remarking on everything going on around you. But that also raises the question of why the chief never responds to Cortana during gameplay, yet casually banters with her in cutscenes. The disconnect here is incredible, and is really one of the major reasons I always thought of the Chief as a huge bore. By comparison, Gordon - who says nothing - Is a far more interesting character.

Remember Tommy from Prey? How the game never forced a cutscene on you in order to allow Tommy a chance to talk? How he'd react to things and remark on them as you saw them during gameplay? That's what I'm talking about.

eggy32:
I did not like Gordon being a silent protagonist. I remember gordon having to do things I wouldn't have. I don't remember which scene it was exactly, since it's been a long time since I played half life but Alex or Eli said something to Gordon and I immediately though "Np, let's not do that. My idea's better." However, since Gordon Freeman apparently had a personality for a moment, he decided to agree with them and do exactly what I didn't want him to.

Another example was any of the times I had to shoot down those stupid Combine helicopter/airship things. I didn't want to. It was boring as hell. Given the chance I'd have gone right past them.

How the hell am I supposed to project myself onto someone who does things I don't?

You didn't want to shoot down the helicopters because you saw it as a chore. Your patricular Gordon Freeman is a shows a man who's acting against his own motivations and out of simple motivation. Your disdain for the conflict and enemies you encountered are his own so even when there are clashes those just add another layer to his character in your Half Life experience

Others have touched upon this, but I'll say it anyways. Silent protagonists work best, I think, in [semi/mostly] non-linear games where you have multiple choices in what to do, and presumably, you're given choices that make some sort of sense but individually appeal to different sorts of people. When you're in a linear game like Half-Life, yes, a lot of your actions are representing what the protagonist is...but at times, especially in Half-Life, some of them aren't, due to the game railroading you in whatever direction it wants to go. This is why I prefer a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., where you're given a mission by someone else, and you can choose to do it or completely ignore it - or even sabotage it if you so wish. Sometimes, when you ignore it, you don't do as well as you could've if you'd listened - or flat-out lose - but it makes sense within the game that what happens does happen. Generally speaking, you want to do what the game is telling you to do, because it appears to be the most sensible course of action at the time - but if for whatever reason, it doesn't appeal to you, well, you can also choose to do something else.

There's nothing worse in a game where you're presented a course of action that seems stupid - or something that you just don't want to do for whatever reasons - and you have no choice but to do it anyways. Half-Life (2) is most certainly guilty of this a few times, particularly when dealing with some of the side-characters.

skywolfblue:

G-Force:
While reading a lot of threads about Half Life 2 I'm a bit surprised about how players simply say Gordon Freeman "has no personality." I'm always quick to let players know that their personality/playing habbits are what shape the character.

"Here is a lump of clay, imagine that it is a beautiful statue."

While being imaginative with characters is fun for some people, I'd prefer something more tangible.

agreed. I don't like not having any input on the actual game itself, which is what bugged me about it.

silent protagonists are fine, but when you are shoehorned into doing things without any input yourself, it kind of feels like a letdown.

still, opinions are opinions, i'd never tell someone they aren't allowed to have fun with it if that's what they are looking for.

It's good having games with silent protagonists. I wouldn't like it if all games were like that, but it is fun to have a silent protagonist once in a while. It also makes it a lot more fun to stream those games, because you can use your voice as the character's voice. Also, there wouldn't be funny series on YouTube like Freeman's Mind if Freeman wasn't silent.

Well silent protagonists aren't characters, they are only a glory hole, your extension into the game.
Obviously this means that a character is missing, but at the same time it means that you don't haveto wrestle a designers image when you find it faulty.

Everything has it's ups and downs.

The reason for Freeman lacking vocal cords is simply that the Half-Life games are First Person and have no cutscenes.

You are always in control of his movements, and adding a voice to that would only interfer with your own interpretation of the world around you. Most of the narrative is given to you via the surroundings, and your mind reacting to that is what breaths it to life.
A voice would only call attention to itself and defuse the experience of having these events play out in front of you.

Remember Ravenholm, Nova Prospect, and the Citadel? Image a voice floating in mid air, constantly reflecting on what's happening and what your current goal is;....Sucks, doesn't it?

eggy32:
I don't remember which scene it was exactly, since it's been a long time since I played half life but Alex or Eli said something to Gordon and I immediately though "Np, let's not do that. My idea's better." However, since Gordon Freeman apparently had a personality for a moment, he decided to agree with them and do exactly what I didn't want him to.

And why is that different from any other game with scripted events? In Mass Effect 3 you can't say "Nope, let's just ditch everyone and GTFO" and skip the whole "having to fight a war" thing.

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