By Guest Contributor Daniel Bullard-Bates
Daniel Bullard-Bates is a straight, white male with a liberal arts degree. He works at the American Civil Liberties Union by day and writes fiction at night, and aspires to use his life and privilege to promote equality, protect freedom, and open minds. He started Press Pause to Reflect, a blog about the social and artistic merits of video games, about a year ago.
It was a trap. The ruthless Combine soldiers have captured you before you could even start to bring their culture of oppression down. This is the end of your mission, and likely the end of your life. You hear gunshots and the sounds of a scuffle. You hear a voice. Are you being rescued? And then there she is, leaning down to help you up, the Combine soldiers lying dead or senseless nearby. Alyx Vance, computer expert, athlete, and revolutionary, smiles and helps you to your feet.
Alyx Vance is, in many ways, the truly ideal person. She is not what advertising and patriarchal society want us to believe is the ideal; she does not wear makeup and her clothing is practical, not revealing. It is impossible to know for sure, but I would bet good money that she doesn’t shave her armpits. Why would she? She is ideal in the sense that she embodies everything that is valuable in a human being. She is intelligent, kind, and reliable.
These traits would be less noteworthy if she were not also realistic: in extraordinary circumstances like the totalitarian dystopia of Half-Life 2, a person would have to stay healthy and aware to stay alive. She is highly educated because her mother and father, both eminent scientists, encouraged her to cultivate a love of learning. She possesses a drive and a personal understanding of the dangers of the Combine regime; her mother died at Black Mesa, and there is no doubt that many friends and allies have perished in her time with the resistance.
She is physically beautiful, but she does not flaunt it or even seem to consider it. Her genes are good, and she stays healthy and active. She keeps her hair short and wears a headband to keep it out of her eyes. The people she works with may find her attractive, and she may have a romantic history with some of them, but concepts like beauty and dating are far from her everyday concerns. This is a time of war and resistance. The sex life of a revolutionary is a footnote, not an all-consuming drive.
From all directions we are being told what to find attractive, by our peers, by movies, by magazines, and by the arts. In most cases, the ideas that are being presented are socially and psychologically unhealthy and unhelpful. Valve’s 2004 masterpiece presents a more subversive ideal in the form of Alyx Vance. She reminds us that close friendships can be more valuable than romantic relationships. She reminds us that someone who is smart, capable, and independent is the best kind of person to have on your side. Even better, she reminds us to stand up for truth, justice, and freedom in our everyday lives.
Alyx Vance is not just an example of a great character in a video game; Alyx Vance is an inspirational figure worthy of admiration and emulation.