Girl in the Machine
Monday, March 3, 2008
I Left my Heart in Nova Prospekt.

Warning! Half-Life series spoilers follow.


I think we can all agree that 2004's Half-Life 2 came as a huge surprise to fans of the original game. Valve Software took us from the isolated, alien-infested corridors of Black Mesa to a full-blown apocalyptic Dystopia rife with new locales, vehicle portions, a very prominent physics engine, and scores of NPCs both old and new. Alyx Vance is one of the newcomers to the series, joining Gordon as part of the rebel forces that oppose Earth's new rulers, the Combine. She was just a child during the events at Black Mesa in the first game, and grew up under the Combine's reign. As players battle through armies of manhacks and headcrab zombies, Alyx is often along for the ride.

Alyx is the daughter of Dr. Eli Vance, who briefly appears at Black Mesa in the original Half-Life. She's a proficient hacker, adept with both machines and firearms, and wields a unique automatic pistol when fighting alongside Gordon. Her "pet" robot, Dog, also helps out with a lot of the heavy lifting. Awesomely enough, and something that's definitely not seen often in games, she's not only a woman of color but of mixed race as well: Dr. Vance is black, and his late wife was East Asian.

I adore Alyx Vance. She's another rare (but appreciated) example of an awesome female character. Her presence is neither forced nor stereotypical: she plays a major role in the plot, has a scientific mind, and doesn't fall into the pitfall of being of The Girl. She actually has a fleshed-out, fully-realized personality, with a sense of humor and everything! Seriously, though, she often provides a "voice" (both literal and figurative) to play off of Gordon's trademark silence, and she's also a source of comic relief to complement the tension of the plot. Though she sometimes finds herself in a pickle and needs a hand, she also rescues Gordon more than once, making her more capable companion than damsel in distress.

Alyx also has a great relationship with her father. Having well-written, fully-realized characters in a video game is a rarity, and both women and minorities are often underrepresented and stereotyped in an unfortunately typical fashion. However, such is not the case here. Alyx resembles an actual, you know, person, with emotions and relationships and stuff. Her interactions with her father are natural and sweet, making it even more heartbreaking when she witnesses his death at the end of Episode Two. And though she is the series's Love Interest, her connection with Gordon isn't shoehorned or condescending in a "Hey, she's a chick and he's a dude, they totally hook up at the end" sort of way. She even interacts with another woman, the perfidious Dr. Judith Mossman, who betrays the rebel forces in favor of the Combine. However, when Mossman has a change of heart and aids humanity once again, the two reconcile. It's not much, but it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, and with the state of games today that's good enough for me.

I'm as eager as anyone to see what becomes of Alyx in the concluding Episode Three. Both the prescient Vortigaunts and the G-man insinuate that Alyx and Gordon are somehow fundamentally linked, and I'm waiting for Episode Three to blow us all out of the water. Perhaps there will be a Half-Life 3 at some point, but I have a feeling that this final episode will be the last we see Alyx in such a significant role, and I can't wait for Valve Software to wow me at least one more time.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:49 AM + Link to this post
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