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Playing Halo For the First Time: On Preconceptions and Growing Up

The original Xbox released here in North America on November 15, 2001, bringing with it a game called Halo: Combat Evolved.

This game about shooting aliens would go on to be a huge hit, paving the way for sequels, and live action web series, and books, and a parody series, and, and, and…

And I nearly missed the boat.


It’s a game about a human toaster—or so I assumed.

I was in high school when the Xbox, PS2, and GameCube released. We had the latter two systems; we skipped the Xbox as it seemed like overkill, and at the time, I didn’t think it had a whole lot to offer me.

(I would find out years later that the original Xbox had the kind of library one would find on the Sega Dreamcast, and I’m still a little upset that I never had one.)

Not having an Xbox meant I missed the game all the bros were talking about: Halo. My only experience with it was a brief, five-minute split screen match at my cousin’s house. It wasn’t quite enough time to form an opinion of the game.


But form an opinion I did. Over time, I grew to believe Halo was nothing more than a dumb online shooter. This feeling was reinforced by a variety of factors; suffice it to say I was not a fan of this game I did not play. My younger brother bought a copy of Halo 3—he bought the Legendary Edition, in fact, with a big Master Chief Helmet that you couldn’t wear. Which made me roll my eyes at the series yet again.

I watched my brother play some rounds of Halo 3 online, and watched as he screamed his head off while those online screamed back. It didn’t seem like fun. For the record, I’m not much of an online gamer; I play games like Call of Duty for the campaign. I’ll dabble in online play (I am very good at NHL, FIFA, and Smash Bros), but generally I’m a single player guy, unless we can play on the same TV.


Later on, as the years went by, my taste in games evolved. I’d discovered what was then known as the indie market, thanks in large part to Xbox Live Arcade on 360, and also Steam. And so a couple of years ago, I made an attempt to try out Halo; maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, I figured. Or at least, I’d try to find out. I purchased the Anniversary Edition for Xbox 360, and…well, I made it like ten minutes through, enough to make it off the Pillar of Autumn and onto Halo.

I stopped playing after that; I wasn’t really in the mood for it.



Last June, I bought an Xbox One, and it came with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, something I was indifferent to. I wasn’t a fan of this series. And now I owned four of them. I figured, whatever, it was free, and maybe my brother would be into it; he had bought Halo 3, ODST, and Reach, after all.


I found myself at a weird crossroads, though, when I got home: the only game I had bought along with the One was Rare Replay, which is fantastic, but it was the only game I had for my spiffy new console.

Except it wasn’t. I had another game—four of them, to be exact.

So I booted up Halo. Let’s try this again, I thought.

I found myself tearing through the game. And then I tore through Halo 2, which is now my favorite of the series. Then 3, and I bought ODST as DLC. As of this writing, I am halfway through Halo 4 (please don’t spoil it for me). And then I bought Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike, thanks to a well-timed Steam sale.


I found that Halo was not quite as dumb as I thought it was. Quite the contrary; there’s so much lore, and great weapon and level design. And oh my God the music.

I realized then, about halfway through the first game, that something weird (to me) happened: I became a Halo fan.


The best part being this handsome devil.

I had expected Master Chief to be a big, dumb, macho character, but instead, he’s a quiet one, there mostly as a player surrogate in order for us to see this world. The Arbiter’s story of redemption in Halo 2 was engaging; he’s the best character in the series by far, and I defy you to name a better one.


But really, the point of all this is: I tried a game I had preconceptions about, and found those preconceptions to be almost completely incorrect. That’s because you can’t possibly know how a game is, how you’ll like (or dislike) it until you try it for yourself. You can watch all the gameplay trailers and Let’s Play’s you want, but games are the single most interactive form of media we have, and you’ll never be able to accurately judge a game by just watching it, or hearing about it. Twitch is great, but in the end you’re still watching someone else’s experience, instead of playing it yourself.

The thing is, I used to be like that. I’d immediately judge a game based on…I actually don’t really know what I judged Halo on. Maybe, at the time, I hated things I couldn’t have. That’s a really immature attitude, I’d realize later in life. Maybe I figured shooters are for dummies (this despite my ability to destroy you in Perfect Dark).


But discarding that belief was part of growing up as a gamer, and as a person. Calling Halo, Call of Duty, and their ilk “stupid” when you haven’t touched them is pretty shortsighted—not to mention exclusionary; it perpetuates the belief that people who play shooters are somehow less cultured than you. Somehow less of a gamer than you. That’s ridiculous, because anyone who plays games is a gamer. You don’t really get to decide otherwise, because nobody put you in charge.

I guess my point is that I’m happy I put my preconceptions of Halo aside in order to actually try the game. And that immediately dismissing a game based on trailers, Twitch streams, or even genre is a close-minded thing to do. Basically, what I’m saying is: try new things. Don’t confine yourself to one genre or theme. You never know what you might like.


Brian White is a writer who thinks about games a lot. He owns about 2000 of them in every genre imaginable. He writes Game of the Week every Tuesday here on TAY (for over two years now!), and writes occasionally at Current Digital. He tries to respond to every Tweet @TheWhyOfBri.

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