A long and rambling piece on why a particular first-person shooter makes me cry
I don’t remember how I first heard about Halo. It was 10½ years ago. All I know for sure is that despite my already well-developed hatred for Microsoft, I went out and bought an XBox just to play this game.
That machine lasted a good 8 years before giving up the ghost (or, in this case, its hard drive.) I had had it modded by a friend, and ended up with a collection of at least a hundred games. But honestly, I didn’t play it very often. I don’t think I even played the original Halo all the way through to the end. I’m certain I never played Halo 2 all the way through. I would have remembered that.
I have to admit, I have not been taking my antidepressants consistently lately. The only real downside has been occasional headaches, and a general irritability. A short temper. HULK SMASH.
The upside, though, is I’ve been feeling. Feeling feelings. Feeling them strongly. And that’s only an upside because I’ve been exposed lately to inspirational tales of heroism. Things like The Avengers. And the Halo saga. And so, I get easily moved to tears, and that is a fine and wonderful experience of humanity, and pride, and hope.
I used to play games with my son on the old Xbox, but they were things like “Frogger 3D”. He was 5 or 6. I may have showed him a little of the beginning of Halo, but it didn’t seem like something he should be playing at that age. And then the Xbox died, life was crazy, money was tight, and we did without. We did fine. We survived.
Orion’s mom got an XBox 360 for him two Christmases ago. And half a year ago Halo: Combat Evolved, Anniversary Edition came out. It may seem odd, but things are such that I could go over to her place and play it with him.
It’s still debatable whether he should be playing it at his age. But I justify it on the basis that we are shooting aliens, not humans. And he doesn’t get to play any real war games. I hear kids his age talking about Call of Duty or something similar and I cringe. But still, he and I play Halo.
Things are better for us financially right now. So, when I saw an Xbox 360 package at Costco for over $100 off, I snapped it up. Hid it away in my closet. It was weeks before I surprised him with it.
Now we’ve played through Halo, Halo 2 and Halo 3, in order. Mostly together. It’ll be one of those things he remembers about his ole dad when he looks back on his childhood. Some dads take their sons fishing.
There’s something that’s hinted at in the games, but it may not be obvious to everyone—especially those who finish the last level and walk away without watching the final cutscenes of Halo 2 or 3.
In Halo 2, Master Chief has to leave his Artificial Intelligence unit, Cortana, behind while he goes back to Earth to save humanity. He tells her he’s going to come back for her, but she interrupts “Don’t make a girl a promise…” Don’t make a girl a promise you can’t keep.
All through the first two games, Cortana has been a figure of strength. In this one utterance, there is a devastatingly tender sadness and longing in her voice.
He saves her, of course. And she saves him. As they have saved each other, in effect, over and over throughout these games.
At the end of Halo 3, there’s a cutscene, then the credits roll. We are left thinking Master Chief is among the fallen at the end of this bitter war. I don’t know what happens if you try to skip the credits. I waited. I watched.
Master Chief and Cortana are alive, the only ones on a now derelict ship. She sets a distress beacon, but it could be years before they are found. They are talking as he is entering a cryogenic chamber to go to sleep until he is needed. In the midst of that conversation, it’s easy not to notice her saying “I’ll miss…” Again, there’s that vulnerability in her voice. I’ll miss you while you’re sleeping. I’ll stand guard over you until we’re found. But I’ll miss you.
She’s just an AI, right? Even so…
I don’t know. Maybe I should take pills every day so that I don’t feel so deeply. Maybe I just see love stories everywhere.
Or maybe they’re really there.