Beat­down

In­side the op­pres­sive world of Half-Life2 Role­play­ing.

PC GAMER (UK) - - COVER FEATURE - by Steven Mess­ner

y name is Pri­tus Jenk­ins, Ci­ti­zen #00670. I know this num­ber by heart be­cause in the last few hours I’ve had to re­cite it around five times. Such is life as a ci­ti­zen in City 17, where the alien Com­bine which pa­trol the streets love noth­ing more than to stop and ha­rass me. I’m play­ing on a mul­ti­player Garry’s Mod server, role­play­ing Half-Life 2. but the role I play isn’t that of a hero. I am no Gor­don Free­man. I am Pri­tus Jenk­ins, a 55-year-old man with a limp. And I’m hun­gry.

MIf Half-Life 2’ s role­play­ing com­mu­nity were a food, it’d be the bland, mushy packet of ra­tions I re­ceive hourly from the dis­pen­sary lo­cated just off the cen­tral square of the dystopian city. This isn’t a place for grand ad­ven­tures and brav­ery, but a com­mu­nity of hun­dreds ded­i­cated to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the hope­less op­pres­sion of a so­ci­ety crushed un­der au­thor­i­tar­ian alien rule.

Half-Life 2 role­play­ers are a hard­core bunch. Even the Com­bine sol­diers, tot­ing weapons and bu­reau­cratic power, are hope­lessly chained by their ded­i­ca­tion to be­liev­able role­play. When it’s my turn to re­ceive my ra­tions, which are handed out by Com­bine play­ers ev­ery hour, I’m asked to ‘ap­ply’ – to state my name and Ci­ti­zen ID. The Com­bine sol­dier uses emotes to in­form me that they’re look­ing up my file in the tablet they’re hold­ing. I stand there, silent, for an un­com­fort­ably long num­ber of sec­onds. Then the Com­bine sol­dier turns around, grabs a unit of ra­tions, and shoves them into my char­ac­ter’s hands. That player will do this count­less times as other cit­i­zens, like me, stop by to get their food.

As I walk around and ex­plore the ru­ined al­leys and di­lap­i­dated streets of this City 17 dis­trict, I can see the other cit­i­zens look­ing at me. Some talk amongst one an­other in whis­pers, while oth­ers lean against walls us­ing in-game emotes to smoke imag­i­nary cig­a­rettes. It’s an al­most per­fect recre­ation of the mood of Half-Life 2’ s open­ing hour, only with real play­ers in­stead of com­puter ac­tors play­ing out the mun­dane min­utes of their point­less lives.

Af­ter a few min­utes, one player ap­proaches me but just as he’s about to say some­thing, a Com­bine sol­dier comes around the cor­ner. He turns away. When the Com­bine sol­dier passes, the man im­me­di­ately turns back and heads back my way. “Ugly,” he says.

“What did you just call me?” I type back. There is no voice chat, so ev­ery ex­change is writ­ten in a text box on the lower left of my screen.

The man turns and walks away. Hes­i­tant about what I should do, I de­cide to pur­sue him at a dis­tance. I don’t know these streets, I don’t know these peo­ple. But maybe if I fol­low this man to his des­ti­na­tion, he’ll do some­thing sus­pi­cious and I can re­port him to a Com­bine sol­dier and get him ar­rested.

Af­ter a few min­utes of stalk­ing him, the man stands be­fore a locked gate. I crouch be­hind a piece of cor­ru­gated steel, watch­ing and hop­ing he’ll do some­thing dumb. “Ci­ti­zen, ap­ply!”

I turn around to find a Com­bine sol­dier right be­hind me. With­out com­plaint, I tell him my name and Ci­ti­zen ID.

“Face the wall,” the sol­dier com­mands, and I won­der if the few min­utes I spent on this server are about to come to a de­press­ing end. “What were you do­ing?”

“N-noth­ing, sir,” I say. “I thought I dropped some­thing.”

With­out an­other ques­tion, the Com­bine places a zip tie around my hands, bind­ing them so that I can’t at­tack him – not that I’d be able put up a fight any­way. Out of the cor­ner of my eye I see the ci­ti­zen I was fol­low­ing scoff at me.

“I’ve been watch­ing you for a while,” the Com­bine sol­dier tells me. “You’re act­ing pretty sus­pi­cious. I’m go­ing to take you in for ques­tion­ing. Fol­low me.”

Not sure what to do – or even what I could do – I turn around and be­gin to fol­low the sol­dier. “Ugly.”

I turn around and see the other ci­ti­zen star­ing at me. His char­ac­ter wears a blank ex­pres­sion, but there’s a smug­ness about it too. I’ve been role­play­ing in Garry’s Mod for maybe 20 min­utes now, and al­ready I’ve come face to face with the cru­elty of its world. Some­where, far from here, Gor­don Free­man and the Re­sis­tance might be fight­ing to lib­er­ate the peo­ple of City 17, I imag­ine. But as the Com­bine sol­dier leads me to the ebony black doors of the Com­bine head­quar­ters in this area, I fear I won’t be one of them.

Half-Life 2 role­play­ers are hard­core

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