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Slouching Toward Black Mesa 67

The Escapist this week is themed around stories and storytelling. The article that resonates the most with me is a Tom Rhodes piece called Slouching Toward Black Mesa. It explores the connection between the journey of Gordon Freeman and literary explorations of similar end-of-the-world themes. "Freeman isn't slouching toward Black Mesa, he's converging on the great citadel in the middle of City 17, the Bethlehem of our story. Bethlehem is a holy place in Christian theology, which makes it the perfect location for the beast of Yeats' poem to encroach upon. In City 17, that ideal is flipped on its head, replaced with a center of darkness and powe ... In an even more direct rejection of Yeats, however, the forces in Half-Life 2 are non-supernatural. It continues the series' theme, man as a force in this world; whether for good or ill is his choice. It is this choice, this need to carve out our own destiny and define ourselves based on our own hopes, dreams and fears that makes us human. So what is slouching toward Bethlehem? We are." The issue also features an article entitled The Ending Has Not Yet Been Written, about the never-ending story of Massively Multiplayer Online Games.
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Slouching Toward Black Mesa

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  • I don't buy it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:40PM (#21260393) Homepage Journal
    The tie to Yeats is so loose it isn't funny. Yeats was working with themes common to humanity and so of course there will be some overlap - but the entire thing seems to argue against itself at least half the time. And the end? Didn't even make sense. So I'll give it points for bringing attention to great poetry - but that's about it.
    • Re:I don't buy it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) * on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @08:23PM (#21261483)
      Yeah, the essay tries way too hard to shoehorn Gordon Freeman into the notion of the "rough beast" of "The Second Coming." Now, one nice thing about a silent protagonist in a video game is that all manner of feelings and motivation can be projected onto Freeman by the player. Perhaps Freeman is a bit bemused and cynical about the adoration heaped on him by the human resistance, knowing himself to be the puppet of larger forces. Comparing Freeman to the sphinx-like juggernaut of "The Second Coming" is stretching it a bit though.

      If anything, the point of this essay would have been made far more effectively by comparing Freeman to a more traditional heroic/messianic figure. The apocalyse Yeats describes is not about the final triumph of good over evil, but the end and beginning of historical eras, punctuated by a moment of destruction and revelation. The "rough beast" isn't interested in saving anyone, as evidenced by its "gaze blank and pitiless as the sun." It is a god of destruction, one that could be described as great and terrible, but not evil as Yeats saw it, since the annihiliation would precipitate rebirth. If there is a character in the Half-Life series that resembles this, it might be the G-Man, who is clearly willing to spread chaos and destruction to achieve his (or his employers') mysterious goals.

      Gordon Freeman, on the other hand, hews more closely to the epic hero type in literature- a comparison to Beowulf, whose story is more about saving innocent people from monsters, would have been fitting. YIt unfortunately seems though that the author of this essay got fixated somehow on comparing Half-Life 2 to this Yeats poem, and instead of abandoning the notion, decided to keep trying to make it work.

      • Starting at about the second paragraph, I started "hearing" your post as if it were being spoken by the G-man. Funny but creepy!
    • The tie to Yeats is so loose it isn't funny.
      You know you've been reading Slashdot too long when... you read a quote like that and think "lose, idiot, it's... oh bother."
  • The guy who writes the story in an MMO is kind of like the guy who decides what color plastic to use for motherboards. Somewhat compulsory, but ultimately inconsequential.
  • Ugh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fallingcow ( 213461 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:50PM (#21260505) Homepage
    This sounds like the kind of crap I might come up with were I to use my knowledge of lit-crit terminology and thinking to make up deliberately-stupid but syntactically- and factually-correct bunch of bullshit for my own amusement.

    Want me to write something like this holding up K-Fed's song "PopoZão" as an intelligent bit of verse, in the vein of, say, Lindsay's "Congo"? I can. It won't be true, but it'll sound as good as this crap.

    (don't get me wrong--I think that the Half-Life series has given us a damned-good balance of action and story, and is probably the best "pure" FPS series in existence. This article, however, is stupid.)
    • You sir, win a cupie doll.
    • "Want me to write something like this holding up K-Fed's song "PopoZão" as an intelligent bit of verse, in the vein of, say, Lindsay's "Congo"? I can. It won't be true, but it'll sound as good as this crap."

      I'd actually like to see that.
      • by Fallingcow ( 213461 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @09:49PM (#21262165) Homepage
        Artist Keven Federline's hit song "Popozao" is a refreshing change from the literarily-ignorant tunes of his contemporaries, which thoroughly fail to speak to a modern world while retaining ties to the important sense of rich history that exists in the medium of verse--lyrical or otherwise. Federline's use of sound is plainly meant to be evocative of those of Vachel Lindsay's "The Congo", and may be equally offensive if one fails to grasp the significance beyond the words themselves. The message of this tour-de-force is many-layered, and worthy of closer analysis.

        It quickly becomes plain to the listener that the setting of the scene is a dance floor, painting for us a picture full of moving bodies and light that well-fits this song's rhythmic and sometimes chaotic flow. We have a narrator who appears, on the surface, to be calling to a fellow dancer of the opposite sex. Following a Lindsayesque bit of primal noise, we are greeted with the line, "Toy all your thing on me, baby." Now, through this request for openness ("all your thing") and the use of the second person possessive, it is clear that the narrator desires a dialog with the listener, inviting us to explore and speak to the verses that follow, and to release our inhibitions. The deep, drum-like rhythm of this line, repeated four times for emphasis, ties it to the preceding noises, letting us know that the narrator speaks to us from--or on behalf of--that primal chaos.

        A bit of Portuguese follows, chanted with a tone that is both menacing and enticing, reminding the listener in a few well-chosen syllables of the emotional rollercoaster that is Lindsay's "The Congo". The next two verses are particularly interesting, and inform us that a literal, superficial reading of these verses is, indeed, incorrect. The first gives us the meaning of some of the previous Portuguese speech, which we are told means "bring your ass". We'll come back to that in a moment. Later in the same verse, we are told that the narrator wants to see our "kitty and a little bit of titty". All-in-all, this is an overtly and even offensively sexual bit of lyric.

        The next verse, however, reveals that this was merely a light-hearted play, as was foreshadowed with the laughter accompanying the songs introductory sounds. Federline deliberately breaks one's natural association of "kitty" with another synonym for "cat" which may also mean "vagina" with the lines "Girl, don't you worry about all the dough/because a cat is coming straight out of the know". With our earlier images shattered and replaced by the narrator himself, it is revealed that this pair of verses is really a statement on how we cheapen not only others, but ourselves by degrading sexuality in this way. This and other evidence in Federline's ouvre may indicate that he has a dislike for modern, sexually vulgar poetry, in the vein of Charles Bukowski. His overt references to Lindsay, who wrote in the very early 19th century, may even give us a glimpse into Federline's ideals. Further, the self-association of this deep-voiced male narrator with the feminine may have deeper implications.

        (OK, I'll stop there. I was thinking about tying him in to the Beats and even Andy Kaufman [via their both having had amateur experiences with "professional" wrestling], but I think I've spent enough time on this already. I rest my case.)
        • This reminds me of the Huey Lewis and the News, Genesis, and Whitney Houston chapters in American Psycho. I can just picture Christian Bale reciting this as he's preparing to kill someone.

          "I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself."
    • I once compared Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls to The Fellowship of the Ring for a lit class and got an A+, it was all pure horseshit, I knew it then and know it now.

      You can compare anything to anything in an english lit class, and get an A+ so long as it sounds pompous enough when read aloud.
  • Is this for real? (Score:3, Informative)

    by KrazeeEyezKilla ( 955150 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @06:55PM (#21260553)
    This is the most overwrought load of crap I have ever read.
  • Pretentious (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) *
    Ugh, this kind of pretentious clap-trap illustrates perfectly what I found objectionable about Half-Life 2.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I still think the original Half-Life was one of the greatest fpses ever made. Sure, it's not aged all that well and feels a little primative now, but compared to the competition at the time (basically Unreal and Quake 2), it was superb. It had a plot that made sense, an environment that actually felt plausible and AI which, while relying heavily on scripting, *felt* convincing
    • Wing Commander 3 kicked ass. I bought a new PC for that game.
    • I get the feeling, from reading your posts, that you've forgotten that games are meant to be played for fun. Of course, it's possible you over-intellectualize everything in your life as well.
      • Hold on... you're accusing *me* of over-intellectualizing? Have you even Read the Fucking Article?
        • No, it looked pretty bad. But you didn't talk about the article - you wrote six paragraphs about what you thought about Half-Life 2. Plus I read your other posts.
          • Right... so the AC who beat me to replying to you was right then. Just checking :)
            • Ah, so you over-intellectualize, then attempt to deflect as a defense. Interesting. Ineffective, but that's not really the issue I suppose.
    • Have you even considered that Gordon may be mute? Perhaps he has a disability preventing him from speaking, and he can't use sign language since his hands generally are carrying tools. In any case, The odds of a Headcrab knowing ASL is pretty darn slim.

      Black Mesa is an Equal Opportunity Employer after all, you insensitive jerk.
      • you know how absent minded those black mesa scientists were... they forgot to put a mic/speaker on the environment suit.
        • by yuriks ( 1089091 )
          Nitpicking: The suit has a speaker, Alyx uses it to talk to you at the final parts of HL2 and other places.
          • by flitty ( 981864 )
            Ah, which was the problem, the Mic is on the Outside of the suit, and the speaker is on the inside of the suit. Gordon must listen to all the pretentious blathering about the story, but has no ability to talk back to the morons who are talking down to Mr. MIT graduate.

            "Yes, it is a good think i have this suit on. Yes, I think that I have to place wooden spools in radioactive waste is a pretty annoying way to spend 15 minutes, thanks for reminding me. When that zombie pops out of the radioactive waste,
    • Doom 3? Was it the same Doom 3 where every third room involved the lights going out and a panel opening up behind you? The Doom 3 where you couldn't hold a flashlight and a gun at the same time? Let me know, because if so I need to exchange the copy I got because my copy had an utterly derivative story that was barely worth bothering with.
    • Re:Pretentious (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <<megazzt> <at> <>> on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @08:12PM (#21261375) Homepage

      Valve could have made Gordon speak in 1997 with the original Half-Life if they had wanted to. I like to think they chose to keep Gordon's character largely vague to improve immersion... you ARE Gordon Freeman. If they had better defined Gordon's character and given him a voice, he's just another character who you happen to control.

      I'm not sure how you came to that conclusion about Alyx. The only weird parts I see about it are that Gordon used to work with Eli, and Eli has aged 10 years but Gordon hasn't since GMan did some trickery to seemingly move him 10 years into the future without aging. Maybe she has a crush on him, I dunno, but it's not quite like you're implying. Have you tried HL2 Episodes 1 and 2? One of the things Valve said they didn't like about HL2 was that you didn't get to fight alongside an NPC partner much. In Episodes 1 and 2 you do this a lot (and mostly with Alyx) so they had the opportunity to flesh out her character more. You should at least give the episodes a try. I enjoyed them. And if you don't like the idea of spending so much time with Alyx, it's not for the whole of each episode, and they are short games.

      The mechanic where the player is always in control and there are never out-of-body cutscenes or cutscenes which remove player control (unless it's plausible, IE the teleporter cutscene in HL2) was an important one to Valve. If you would rather have a cutscene where the game takes control away, you are welcome to remove your hands from your keyboard and mouse... but really, some exposition is needed in the world of Half-Life.

      There aren't many out of the way plot details hidden in HL2, and I'm again surprised that you think they would be essential. All of the essential plot details are conveyed via cutscene / expository dialog. When I was playing through HL2 for the first time I don't recall ever feeling confused or not knowing why I was supposed to do something. Any out of the way bits (such as newspaper clippings) are merely extras designed to reward players who take the time to look for such things.

      I suppose recording of plot dialog might have been helpful (Valve, there's still time to put a new feature in the HEV Suit!) but the plot isn't THAT complex. You have three factions... resistance, combine, and xen aliens. They all try to kill each other. You have to make sure the resistance comes out on top. See that tall spire? That's where you're going eventually. Other than this, HL2 is largely linear. You just push forward until you find your objective.

      I actually am surprised with all your nitpicking at Half-Life 2 you don't seem to point out one of the more unbelievable aspects in both it and the prequel... how the hell is a PhD guy better with such a wide array of weapons than the US Army? Here is a case where there's a tradeoff of plausibility for fun. Half-Life would have been a short game if you couldn't use weapons well.

      • The only weird parts I see about it are that Gordon used to work with Eli, and Eli has aged 10 years but Gordon hasn't since GMan did some trickery to seemingly move him 10 years into the future without aging.

        It's not at all obvious that Gordon was similar in age to Eli; in fact, I think it's more likely that Gordon was one of Eli's (and Dr. Kleiner's) assistants. (This explains why Gordon was the one doing the "dirty work" in the test chamber in the first place...) Gordon could, in fact, be only slightly

    • I found HL2's contemporary, Doom 3, did this whole business much better, with the audio-logs system.

      1) The audio-logs system is ripped-off from System Shock 2. (You can also see it at work in Bioshock.)

      2) Doom 3 sucked, man. Seriously, hard-core sucked ass. PSA: If you're going to cite a game that does storytelling better than Half-Life using a game mechanic from System Shock 2, cite System Shock 2.
    • Re:Pretentious (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ZorbaTHut ( 126196 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @09:10PM (#21261883) Homepage
      I always figured Gordon Freeman a bit differently.

      He doesn't talk, and he never does anything particularly scientific. He's mute out of confusion. He's been dropped into this world, completely out of nowhere, and while there are people claiming to know him, people claiming to have been friends with him for decades, he, like us, has absolutely no memory of any of it.

      He doesn't know who he is. He doesn't know what he's doing here. All he knows is that he's trying to survive, and things try to kill him, and . . . well, he could just walk away, right? But he never had a chance to get out during the events of Half-Life 1, and in some ways this entire mess is his fault, and, well, these people are relying on him.

      So he soldiers on. But he still doesn't know any of the people, events, or places that this is happening in. So if he opens his mouth one time, people might realize he's not actually the person they think he is. So he keeps his mouth shut, and somehow things seem to work out, everyone always knows where he has to go next, and nobody suspects a thing.

      Except, of course, for the G-Man, who knows everything that's happened, and knows where Gordon came from, and knows what Gordon is sent to do.

      Is that all really subtle enough that people are missing it? It seems pretty clear from the beginning and ending of most of the games that, whatever Gordon is, he's certainly not just some random dude with a PhD. The sheer existence of the G-Man proves that. I'm honestly rather impressed that Valve's kept it up this long without spilling the beans. I honestly think that Gordon is just as in-the-dark about the world of Half-Life as we are.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) *

        I'm honestly rather impressed that Valve's kept it up this long without spilling the beans.

        Everything you said made perfect sense except for that line. Not only do we and Gordon not know who Gordon is, but Valve doesn't either! This makes it rather easy for them not to "spill the beans" -- there aren't any to spill in the first place!

        • by fbjon ( 692006 )
          Makes no difference, the concept works anyway. Valve can figure those things out later on, if it's ever needed.
    • Thank you (Score:2, Interesting)

      by caitsith01 ( 606117 )
      You have expressed what I've always thought about Half Life 2. I played through it with all of those "greatest game of all time" reviews in the back of my mind, and as with you it left me strangely cold. The scripted sequences were a little too scripted, the characters seemed to be relying on a whole range of history and interaction which happened 'off camera' so to speak, and the most interesting aspects of it (such as the mysterious gentleman who gives you your initial mission, and the excellent house-t
      • Yes, I think Deus Ex was what, for me, ruined Half-Life 2. Up to that point, fps protagonists had either been completely mute, or else they'd been... well... Duke Nukem. Deus Ex demonstrated that you could work dialogue into an fps that actually improved the experience and added to the atmosphere. Most other plot-heavy fpses since then have gone down that route and, had HL2 or Bioshock chosen to go down that route, both would have been massively enhanced.
    • Agreed.
      I rarely post here, but this got my attention:

      I only recently purchased the orange box, mostly because I wanted to play/buy Portal and got tricked to buy the whole package (You know the situation: You don't need it, but somehow the mere existence of something makes you want it. Right now).

      I didn't finish HL2 yet. That's odd for me, because usually I even have to remind myself to eat during play-sessions. But HL2 is really, really disappointing. So far there really _IS_ no story. I'd say "Spoiler ahea
  • take the opportunity to click on Zero Punctuation: The Orange Box []
    • he heee - that was funny :-) Definitely worth a watch that (weird!) review. I don't agree with him on ep2 though, but then again: he did say if you loved hl2 you would love ep2 and I did love hl2 (and ep2).
  • I'll file this in the "interesting but completely coincidental" section.
  • I was kinda hoping this was an article on the mod Black Mesa: Source that has been delayed so long instead of a pretentious Escapist piece.
  • Heh. I liked the Uru article a lot more. As a staunch Myst fan and a D'ni (Pronounced Dunny) fanatic, I thought it was a great writeup. I've been playing Uru since the beta in 2003. I've got notebooks full of D'ni writings, translations and thoughts. It's a really in-depth game, and a hugely different MMORPG experience from WoW or Everquest.

    If you like Math, Logic, languages and an extremely deep storyline, Uru might be for you. Just be aware that it's not a leveling game. Experience is measured by p
    • I've been trying to plug Uru for ages, pun not intended. Sadly, most people I talk to just don't get it. "There's nothing to kill? You just talk and solve puzzles? I don't get it; what do you do?"

      But I've managed to bring my brother down, and he's mostly a Team Fortress-esque player, with occasional forays into more tradition FPS territory. He found he liked it (particularly Kadish Tolesa - can't wait to show him Ahnonay, now that it's out).

      See you in-cavern. (:
    • D'ni (Pronounced Dunny)

      Pronounced "Dunny" by Rand Miller as Atrus in the supposed-to-be-games games, but pronounced "d-NEE" by the actual, English-speaking D'ni Yeesha in the supposed-to-be-real Uru. And also pronounced something close to "d-NEE" by the actual D'ni Esher in Myst V.

      In short, all the cool kids say "d-NEE" these days. :)

  • The issue also features an article entitled The Ending Has Not Yet Been Written, about the never-ending story of Massively Multiplayer Online Games.

    Many game story lines (HL2, for example) don't end anymore, not just Massively Multiplayer Online Games. Game companies have apparently taken a cue from TV writers and refuse to actually end anything. Every "ending's" a cliffhanger or leads to one. This may actually be a part of the business model, but I think it also comes from sloppy writing. Don't get me wrong, I think HL2 has an enjoyable set of characters with a cool setting. There is even some good dialogue. However, I think many recent writers

  • Lame (Score:4, Informative)

    by ildon ( 413912 ) on Tuesday November 06, 2007 @09:28PM (#21262019)
    This reads like someone's college English thesis that started with the concept of "how can I pass off a video game as literature and make my teacher buy it without realizing I'm completely bullshitting the entire thing because I don't feel like researching a real work of fiction and would rather just reference a video game I played".

    In other words, the last ditch effort written the night of the deadline just to get some kind of grade.
    • " . . . I don't feel like researching a real work of fiction and would rather just reference a video game I played".

      Obviously I can't get into the author's head, but...

      Are games excluded from being art? What about HL2 makes it "fake fiction"? There are those (myself included) that feel that games could (and more narrowly, should) be considered art. What makes a story written in 500 pages more worthy than one written in 500 megabytes?

      If we're going to invite people to look at games as art, naturally, we'll get some essays over symbolism and parallels and the same kind of analysis we subject other art to.

    • Well, considering that most of the things English professors say about "classic literature" is bullshit as well, he's just proven himself.
  • The absolute funniest thing about Gordon was that back at M.I.T, he was such a joker. Seriously. Always kidding around, cracking wise, doing funny tricks with crowbars. We could never get the guy to shut up for more than ten minutes at a time!
  • Admittedly the two stories have nothing substantial in common, and the author could have easily chosen one that did. He should have left the reference at the poetic similarity of the opening statement and moved on. However, when I look at what he's trying to do, I appreciate it. When people started gushing over BioShock I though "Holy crap, if the same people who only gave HL2's awesome story a passing mention are taking the time to go nuts over this, then it must be life-altering." But in reality, BioS

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