The lone gunman rounds the hill, keeping his enemy in the crosshairs. As a band of mercenaries encircles him, he tosses a plasma grenade their way, killing two of them on impact. Then he raises his rocket launcher and shoots his nemesis right between the eyes. But this battle is not totally without compassion. Turning to his left, the gunman asks, “You all right, Wildfire? Your head looks kind of caved in!”
On the virtual killing fields of the blockbuster video game “HALO,” blood sport is mingled with an odd form of good sportsmanship and basic concern for one’s fellow man. HALO, for those readers who are not males between the ages of 16 and 22, is a James Bond-style shoot-’em-up game for Microsoft’s Xbox video game system that is set in a distant galaxy at the center of which is a gaseous ring formation called “HALO.” Since its release in the fall of 2001, HALO has exploded in popularity among male college students, and the Harvard campus is not immune. Part of its popularity is the versatility of play it allows: you can play distant friends over a network or even hook up multiple Xboxes to increase the number of players. FM assembled a dozen or so of the most HALO-obsessed at Harvard to create an all-star game of sorts—and we couldn’t resist joining in on the action.
“We’re about to get rowdy,” warns The GoldenChild (Christopher P. Lambert ’03). Tony Montana (Clinton L. Graham ’04) seconds him, shouting, “About to explode!” As game organizer Sinner Man (Matthew H. Espy ’03) blasts his own personal HALO theme song, the players assemble on two couches, gleefully talking trash.
“Talking shit is as much a part of playing HALO as actually playing HALO is,” explained Olugbenga T. Okusanya ’05 in one of the many pre-game e-mails the group exchanged. Despite helpful advice from the other players (“Aim for the head” from Graham and the widely advocated “Just keep shooting”), FM fails miserably. After noting the results of the match-up: “Threw grenades at self, shot self in foot, etc.,” it’s time for FM to sit back and observe HALO at its best. For Espy and his compadres, HALO has become a way of life. At one point, the game was left on for two straight years.
Another advantage of HALO is that it gives them an excuse not to attend class. But, Espy notes, this might be deceptive. “We never went to class before. [HALO] gave us more incentive,” he says. In a childlike voice, Graham admits he has had dreams about HALO. The players’ aliases even carry over to real life. Okusanya says he’s entered as “Azazel” on Lambert’s phone, for example. Caleb I. Franklin ’05 chooses more historically inspired names, one of his favorites being “Dred Scott.”
In the love life of a HALO fanatic, the game has been known to be an obstacle. Okusanya orders everyone to “raise your hand if you have NOT lied to a girl about HALO.” No one is able to.
Forgoing successful relationships, classes and interaction with the human race may just be worth it, however, for that sweet taste of victory. When they group into teams, Espy’s side loses, and his opponents burst into cheers. “They’re in shock,” Espy insists. “It doesn’t happen often.”
For the players, many well into their senior spring, HALO is a way of momentarily escaping their stuffy Harvard lives and relaxing, in a semi-hostile way, with friends. The pressure is off, an equation that can only result in more HALO. As Lambert says wearily, “I’m just trying to graduate.”