Oh gaming. You are the wind beneath my wings; the sunshine in my days and the moonlight in my nights; my precious treasure. Time and time again, I’ve been able to rely on you to pick me up when I’m feeling down, and take me to another place when I’ve grown tired of this world. You’re the one, you know me the best. I lean on you when I’m stressed. As the great Lil Uzi Vert so profoundly says, “I’m committed, not addicted” to you, and I always will be.
We all love gaming; there’s no doubt about that. However, can we all pinpoint that exact moment where our hearts were captured by this interactive medium? Did it happen when you first stepped onto Halo? How about when you first pulled the Master Sword from the stone in the Temple of Time? Or was it the first time you were baffled by how much Psycho Mantis knew about your gaming history?
After thinking long and hard about it, I’m confident to say I can. It was about 13 years ago. I had just turned 14, an age where I started the process of discovering who I really am. Gaming was always an interest of mine, but I didn’t quite have the love for it that I do today, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t appreciate it as an art form. Of course, that eventually changed, and it’s all thanks to one game.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon in the bright, sunlit living room of my good friend’s house. We were watching something on TV when he asked “wanna play Half-Life 2?” At this point in my life, I had just started getting into gaming media, so I knew that this game was all the rage. I accepted the offer, moved over to his computer, and sat beside him as he booted up Steam. Within moments, we were seeing the world through the eyes of Gordon Freeman, blasting Combine soldiers to bits with a vast array of firearms and explosives.
I had played the first one a few years prior, but it soon became clear to me that Half-Life 2 was superior in every way. The crisp sounds of gunshots and explosions, lifelike ragdoll physics, and stunning visuals powered by the Source engine blew my mind. On top of all of that, the story had me on the edge of my seat and begging for more. Until that moment, I had never experienced a gaming narrative as emotionally gripping and thought provoking. All I wanted was to see what was going to happen next.
After about an hour, it was time to shut it down and go home. That night, all I could think about was how Gordon Freeman was going to take down that scumbag Dr. Wallace Breen and those Combine bastards. So I did what any 14-year-old with a gaming obsession would do: Begged my mom for money to buy the game. She was never an easy one to persuade, but making my entire house spotless was enough to convince her to hand over the cash. A few weeks later, I was sitting in front of my own computer, anxiously waiting for Half-Life 2 to download and install.
On the brink of exploding from anticipation, I quickly slid my cursor over the play button and clicked. Within moments, the title screen appeared, displaying an eerily silent City 17 with a lone Combine soldier patrolling the streets and birds soaring across the skies. I clicked New Game to begin my journey, only to be immediately taken back by a familiar face: G-Man. Each sentence spoken in his freakish, inhuman speech pattern made my skin crawl, but none resonated with me as much as his closing line: “Wake up Mr. Freeman. Wake up and smell the ashes.”
Stupefied and a bit frightened, yet eager to get started, I waited for the train car to reach its destination. The doors spread apart and two morose looking passengers begrudgingly sauntered their way out. I reluctantly followed. Turning the camera to the left, my attention was grabbed by a large screen projecting the talking head of a distinguished, white-haired older man. I didn’t know who he was, but it was obvious that he was important to the story, and I knew I would eventually encounter him.
I continued on, slowly making my way through the desolate, trash-filled station as humanoid guards in masks commanded me where to go. Never a big fan of authority, I decided not to listen and explore my surroundings. Bad move. My screen flashed red and a zapping noise buzzed through my ears. I turned around, only to see one of the masked guards holding their stun baton up, ready to strike me again. To avoid dying in the first 5 minutes of the game, I complied and stayed on track.
I walked until I approached a gated off area with several Combine soldiers surrounding it. Still following instructions, I passed through the first gate, only to have the second one slammed shut in my face. My stomach dropped and my fight or flight instincts kicked in. The only problem was I had nothing to fight with and nowhere to run. Moments later, a Combine soldier walked through a security door and told me to follow him.
We took a short stroll down a dimly lit hallway until we reached our destination: An interrogation room with a chair and a puddle of blood beneath it. A chill went down my spine. Was I about to experience some fucked up torture scene? My anxiety soon dissipated once the Combine soldier who escorted me dismissed his colleague whom was already in the room. Seconds later, he popped off his mask to reveal the friendly face of Barney Calhoun. What a relief. Soon after, Dr. Kleiner appeared on a screen behind him, and together they briefed me on their rebellion against the Combine.
How exciting? A human rebellion against an oppressive alien race. I was all in. After instructing me to head towards Dr. Kleiner’s lab, Barney opened the door and I made my way on foot. Exiting the station, I feasted my eyes on the sunlit cobblestone streets of City 17. For a miserable police state, it looked pretty damn good. I walked the vacant streets and alleys, turning my back to a few acts of police brutality and doing my best to keep my distance from the long-legged Striders that marched through the city. My only thought was, “Dear god… am I going to have to fight one of those things?” I would later find out that the answer to my question was a resounding “Yes.”
Eventually, I entered a dilapidated building and rushed upstairs, only to find a group of scared civilians and a task force of Combine soldiers breaching an apartment. Trying to stay inconspicuous, I crept by and made a break for the next staircase. Muscles tensed and senses on high alert, I continued my ascension, eventually being spotted by a group of Combine soldiers ready to shock me to hell with their stun batons.
My heart was a jackhammer, rhythmically pounding in my chest with extreme velocity and force. Was I about to die from cardiac arrest at age 14? I had no time to concern myself with such thoughts. I dashed upstairs and through the attic, vaulting through an opening and landing on the roof. I was greeted by the cracking and popping of gunshots. Still in full sprint, I swiftly traversed the rooftops as bullets whizzed by my body, clanking off the aluminum walls behind me. I jumped through the first open window I could find, getting tagged by a bullet in the process.
Once inside, I ran downstairs, only to find out that I had walked right into a Combine ambush. “How am I going to get out of this one?” I thought as the guards closed in. Defenseless, I stood still and waited for my beating. With a few hard blows to the head, my screen turned completely white. Certain I was either dead or knocked out, I heard the voice of a female and the sounds of a fight. Regaining my consciousness, I saw the face of a woman whom I would later learn is named Alyx Vance, and it appeared she had opened a large can of whoop ass on several Combine soldiers. After following her for a few minutes, I arrived at my destination of Dr. Kleiner’s lab, and the rest is history.
Never in my life had I experienced such an emotional roller coaster from a video game, especially within the first several minutes of playing it. And it only got better from there. From the eerie, zombie-infested wasteland of Ravenholm to siccing Antlion allies on Combine soldiers at Nova Prospekt there are many highlights in Half-Life 2 that still leave me awestruck to this day. Perhaps my favorite of all, making Combine soldiers ragdoll into oblivion with the supercharged Gravity Gun. It’s just so amusing to pick them up and send them flying off into the distance.
And so began my love affair with gaming. To date, I have played through Half-Life 2 eight times, and I still consider it one of my favorite games. After playing that masterpiece, gaming evolved from a hobby to a passion for me. I made it my goal to work in the games industry one day, and even took up journalism with hopes of becoming a games journalist. No, I haven’t accomplished this goal, but it doesn’t stop me from loving gaming any more. Even if that dream never comes true, I will always have a strong passion for video games, and it’s all thanks to the team at Valve for making Half-Life 2.
Can you recall the moment you fell in love with gaming? What were you playing? Do you still love that game? Share your stories in the comment section below!