Gordon Freeman should stay silent and deadly

Opinion: TechRadar editor Patrick Goss on the benefits of a mute hero...

The opening of Half Life is, for me, one of the turning points of video gaming's history. The journey into Black Mesa on the mono-rail, the hunt for your suit and the wheeling of a sample into the beam to rip open the dimension (possibly after exploding someone's lunch in a microwave) should forever more be considered a defining moment.

What makes it all the more remarkable is that, aside from a few lines of text, all of the exposition about our hero Gordon Freeman comes from snatches of conversation with harassed scientists.

If Half Life had been made by any other gaming studio, and if it had been made in any other era, I'm almost certain that we would have been subjected to a lengthy cut-scene where Gordon waxes lyrical about his work in a cutting-edge physics laboratory and why he has doubts about the ethics of his day job and the potential repercussions of messing with dimensions.


But Gordon doesn't wax, and he certainly doesn't wane. Because MIT's favourite ever physicist-turned-action-hero does not utter a single word. And remarkably this hasn't prevented him from becoming one of the most iconic gaming characters of all time.

I'm still not entirely sure if you can navigate your way through a degree from MIT with just a crowbar and silence, but Freeman is gaming's Chuck Norris (without all the jibber jabber) and he has no need for words.

Deciding that the main protagonist of their game should be silent was a masterstroke from the Valve developers - and by no means their only one.

By giving us a hero that doesn't speak, we are handed a powerful tool of entry into the world of Half Life. There are no awkward cut scenes where we laugh at Gordon's funny accent or get frustrated with how slowly he gets to the point.

Instead we are given a blank sheet to fill in ourselves. -and that's far more powerful than being able to scan in your own face and create your own avatar to live out its zombiefied life in the uncanny valley.

So when CVG outlined what they wanted to see in Half Life (episode) 3, I was with them right up to the point they suggested that it was about time that Freeman uttered his first words.

No, no, and thrice no.

Giving Gordon Freeman a voice would be like giving Space Invaders back stories, giving Mario angst or giving Pac Man an inflamed liver from eating all those pills.

Not only would it threaten our immersion in the whole Half Life world, but it would remove one of the most notable and discussed character traits from a gaming icon.


Gabe Newell himself has suggested in the past that then company are 'not philosophically opposed' to giving Gordon Freeman a voice - but they should be.

Freeman embodies the strong but silent type; he is a cipher and should remain one. The moment he starts chatting with Alyx (shudder); the moment he starts hurling Duke Nukem witticisms or Lara Croft grunts he becomes just another gaming hero.

And it doesn't take an MIT graduate - taciturn or otherwise - to realise that this would be a very bad thing indeed.