Slouching Toward Black Mesa

In The Escapist, Tom Rhodes takes a stab at W.B. Yeats/Gordon Freeman slash crit. It’s more of a nice try than a slam dunk; yes, it’s possible to make these connections, and the insights are, well, insightful… but what the article lacks is an argument for why this interpretation is necessary, why it offers a better solution than so many other possible comparisons.

Half-Life 2 is the antithesis to Yeats’ system, swapping the beast’s triumphant aristocracy for Freeman’s strive for equality and freedom. The name “Freeman” gives his mission more meaning than in the first game. In the original, he was a man trapped in extreme circumstances beyond his control, forced to fight not only extraterrestrial creatures but also contend with a military force dedicated to quashing the incident. In the sequel, he is so much more: a folk hero, a political icon, a quasi-religious figure, wielding his crowbar like God’s wrath. When resistance members greet him in the game, they speak to him as if he’s almost unreal, helping him in his cause, regardless of personal consequences. He has awakened after a “stony sleep,” bringing a nightmare to the Combine’s “rocking cradle” and its all too human figurehead. Both military commander and preacher, Freeman has come from “somewhere in the sands of the desert,” and he is “a shape with lion body and the head of a man.” His body is decked in orange and golden colors, much like a lion, but his head is that of a man, quietly contemplating his next move, your move, through the shadowy recesses of this ruined world in which he’s been dropped.

I welcome any literate analysis of a video game, so I was happy to come across this.

But how do we apply the lines “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity”?  Freeman is the best, but he doesn’t do anything unless the player directs him; is the player, who is full with “passionate intensity” for the game, really “the worst”?  The Combine hardly counts as the “Mere anarchy… loosed upon the world.”  Freeman seems to be the one sowing anarchy, since the surviving humans seem so willing to follow Freeman, but the game doesn’t give us any background information about Freeman that suggests he has any goal other than to survive.

The essay focuses on what the poem might possibly mean, but it quotes only selectively from the work; literary analysis is only partly about what a text might mean; it’s also about how the text communicates that meaning (word choice; form; use of or rejection of or modification of or creation of convention; ), and it needs to make an argument for why the author’s proposed interpretation is not merely possible, and not merely plausible, but necessary.

Someone, get his crowbar.