Angry Robot

2 Years of Halo 2

For the uninitiated: there are basically two ways of playing a game like Halo online. One is “matchmaking”, joining a game with a bunch of strangers, typically fag- and bitch-hating teens and children from the southern US. The other, as I discovered, is to assemble a group of friends and play private games only with them. So: first option bad, second option extremely good.

Most of my friends don’t play videogames, so I found fellow players in the workplace. Since we all have day jobs and families and various other commitments – my passion for “breakfast wrestling” keeps me busy most nights – we made a set weekly time that we would all play. Turnout has varied from three to maybe 12 on a good night. And it has been a rotating cast, not always the same people. Friends of friends are welcome.

What is most important, if never actually discussed, is that we established a culture. Maybe that’s not the right term. What I mean is that we had a good sense of how we wanted to play: friendly, not super-competitive, no need for trash talk. Bragging is frowned upon. We’ve had people play with us who couldn’t fit in, and it got awkward sometimes. Yeah, but more importantly, we kept finding new people who did fit in.

Online Halo can be a very pleasant way to hang out with friends. You all have headsets and can communicate freely. You feel a sense of presence, albeit a strange one where you see your coworkers firing rockets at you or jumping off the ledge in Lockout to their temporary deaths. It can actually feel nice playing on the big, outdoor sunny maps like Coagulation. And all this from your couch, with your favourite beverage, Guinness, in front of you. It’s like playing sports, without all that exercise!

It’s a great way to keep up with old friends. It’s also a pretty good way to get to know people you don’t know that well in real life. It’s odd: you can work alongside someone for years, saying hi, talking about the weather, but it’s not until you both defend your flag from the onslaught of the Red Team that you learn about their girlfriend, their hobbies, their life outside, what makes ‘em get up in the morning.

So it has become something more than the game, I suppose, and could in fact be any game. But I need to stress that Halo is well-made, and that many of the good decisions its designers made make it more pleasant to spend time in than many other games. It is versatile, allowing for many different styles of player, and many different kinds of game – we’ve tried a number of weird custom gametypes. The maps are excellent and well-balanced. Halo gets knocked as a “jock game” but – let me get into my old man slacks and quilted vest – I’ve been playing Bungie games since you were in short pants, n00b! I played through Marathon 1 & 2 and both Myths. And these are all, quite simply, excellent games, no matter what their genre. That I can find such depth and complexity in simply the online component of the game, that such effort and artistry went into something so utilitarian, speaks to just how complicated the ‘video games as art’ discussion can get, and how foreign it can be from the criticism of older, more established forms. Gaming is the bastard child of sports and architecture…

OK I’m waaay off-topic.

The point of this is basically to celebrate the milestone. And to reflect that my first experience of the metaverse is a surprisingly pleasant one.

So here’s to you, Halo 2, and to my clan, Nerds Unite. As the ninja says, “I look forward to killing you soon.”