“We now have direct confirmation of a disruptor in our midst, one who has acquired an almost messianic reputation in the minds of certain citizens. His figure is synonymous with the darkest urges of instinct, ignorance and decay. Some of the worst excesses of the Black Mesa Incident have been laid directly at his feet. And yet unsophisticated minds continue to imbue him with romantic power, giving him such dangerous poetic labels as the One Free Man, the Opener of the Way.”
To start off the heroic icon voyage is Gordon Freeman, instead of analyzing the stories I’ll focus on the character portrayal (more game-play relevance). Like V for Vendetta, the main character in Half Life is a hero of the people, also like V, Gordon Freeman is only characterized by his actions. The actions Gordon Freeman takes are only the player’s actions. Therefore Gordon Freeman is only characterized by the player, unlike other games where the player is executing the protagonist’s will.
The exception is prior knowledge needed by the protagonist, to justify their presence in the plot. Faceless cannon-fodder wouldn’t be allowed inside a scientific laboratory, Gordon Freeman has to be a scientist. This is the major hole in the plot of Half Life, the fact that Gordon Freeman is a top notch scientist, but all he does as a scientist is move a bunch of crates. Everyone I know, who has played Half Life can’t help but criticize this, because it is just plain dodgy. Valve even made a joke of this in Half Life 2.
“Good job, Gordon. Throwing that switch and all. I can see your MIT education really pays for itself.” -Barney Calhoun
Need for prior knowledge is also the reason why most games only ever have amnesiacs, cannon-fodder and outsiders as their main characters. The good thing about this is that the knowledge level of both Gordon and the player are equal. Meaning game-play training is transmitted entirely in a diegetic sense by spatial elements in the scene. No HUD (except the crosshair), no tutorial levels, none of the burdens of a standard game design, which is why Half Life received great critical reception. Gordon Freeman also never talks, because they want the player to be the hero.
This method of hero portrayal (seen in V for Vendetta, Half Life and Call of Duty), suits games incredibly well. Next game up for inspection is Deus Ex, JC Denton has different means of being portrayed.