My life through Halo

The first videogame I remember loving was Halo for the Xbox. My brothers and I got Halo for Christmas when I was 8 years old. Before then, the only videogames we played were simplistic Gameboy games, educational games like Math Blaster or Freddy Fish, and whatever Flash games we could find on dialup Internet1. The last of these we played on our parents’ computers, occasionally giving them viruses. This was annoying enough to my dad that when he heard that Microsoft was coming out with a games console, he decided to get it for us for Christmas2. If a games console was good enough for Bill Gates, then, by golly, it was good enough for my proudly America-centric, value-investing Dad.

Halo Title Screen : r/nostalgia
The soundtrack to this loading screen is burned into my brain. We also played through all of the game demos repeatedly, to the point where I sometimes randomly remember Zack from Fusion Frenzy saying, Zack attack in the ack ack ack, win again!”

Halo was the system seller for the Xbox. It was the flagship title and boy did it know it. The opening moments are still etched in my brain: the swelling orchestral music, the invasion of the alien Covenant, the scene in which Captain Keyes hands you your first pistol, the way in which a squadron of invincible Marines swarms you if you then use that pistol to shoot Captain Keyes, the dramatic last minute escape from the Pillar of Autumn as it explodes under enemy fire.

I played through that entire story (or campaign, as they call it) with my older brother Justin. We played on easy mode, as we were both new and rather bad at shoot-em-up videogames, although I was worse. Together, we rescued Captain Keyes from the Covenant ship that held him, lost him again to the zombie-like parasitic Flood, got so terrified of the Flood that we stopped playing for a week, then eventually recovered enough to destroy the installation that housed the Flood. 

This last part was particularly dramatic. Or, at least, it was supposed to be. We were supposed to escape the self-destruction of the facility in a futuristic Jeep (the “Warthog”), with Justin driving and me shooting a machine gun turret off the back. But I didn’t realize that I was supposed to do that, so I got off the Warthog to fight the Covenant by hand. Then Justin drove off too fast for me to follow, and I got stuck further and further behind, until eventually I convinced him to let me kill myself and respawn closer to his Warthog so I could get back in the gunner’s seat. The facility politely paused its self-destruction long enough for me to do this, but at that point the dramatic tension was lost.

Then, 3 years later, came Halo 2. It was the first videogame I researched. In fact, I think it was the first anything I researched. I read about it obsessively. I read the forums, the websites, the magazines. I kept track of the release date and the “alternate reality game”, I Love Bees (although I was too weirded out by it to participate).  And so, when I asked my dad to buy the game for me, and he accused me of only wanting it because of the hype, I was ready. “Actually, Dad,” I said, “not only will Halo 2 be much larger than Halo 1 with a much broader arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and enemies, but players will also be able to dual wield weapons, providing them with greater strategic options than ever before. Also, we will be able to fight in space.” My Dad was sufficiently impressed to buy me a copy on release day: November 9, 2004, a date I still remember.

I know I played through Halo 2 with Justin as well, but I actually don’t remember the story that well. What I remember more than anything was the online multiplayer. Halo 2 was the first game I ever played with strangers online through Xbox Live. Later on, Xbox Live would become infamous as a place where you could hear a 10 year old call you a racial slur, but, back then, it was friendlier. I spent hours upon hours playing with strangers, talking on the headset, making casual friends, fielding questions about why our gamertag was “enemyconnected” (it was from Xbox’s random name generator and, yes, it did suggest that I was actively a traitor to whatever team I was part of).

Halo 2 was my obsession until Halo 3 came out in another 3 years. By this point I was 14 and Justin was just about 17. He was busy enough with girls, sports, and preparing to go to college that it was a struggle to get him to sit down long enough to play through the campaign with me. We did eventually save the galaxy together, but that was the last videogame I ever played through with Justin. It was me and my friends from there on out, although I’d soon lose their interest to Call of Duty 4. Then I started playing Call of Duty 4, too, and that was all any of us really wanted to play, and both Halo 2 and Halo 3 were left to sit in their cases.

I hadn’t planned to play Halo 3: Reach. It came out my junior year of high school. I didn’t play Halo any more. All of the games I’d play with my friends were gritty and “realistic” or else just Smash Bros. But my friend Dan had a copy, and he came by one day on a Friday after school. We both had our licenses by this point so the ability for us to hang out without parental transportation logistics was already pretty novel. He convinced me to go on a nostalgia trip (it was already a vice of mine back then).

We pulled an all-nighter that night. According to the Internet, the main campaign takes 8.5 hours to complete, so, assuming he came over at like 4 pm, we must have played straight through until 2 am, accounting for breaks. Needless to say, this whole night is a blur for me now. I only have the vaguest recollections of the story, and also that Dan insisted we play through the campaign on Heroic, the second hardest difficulty. He would have preferred Legendary, the hardest, but I persuaded him down.

And then Halo mostly disappeared from my life. Halo 4 came out when I was in college, and I remember playing a bit of it when I was bored one afternoon and then dropping it. Halo 5 came out right after I graduated, but that one I only saw a friend play a couple times. 

I did try playing through the campaigns again on my own, recently. Microsoft came out with the “Master Chief collection”, a collection of the original games, remastered for their latest hardware. I started with Halo 1, escaped the exploding Pillar of Autumn, explored the Ringworld, rescued Captain Keyes, and then, once again, found myself faced with the unenviable position of fighting the Flood in all their disgusting, squelching, swarming glory. And…I couldn’t. It was bad enough facing the Flood at age 8 with my brother by my side, but to face them alone at age 29? I lacked the courage.

So, instead, I quit playing Halo and decided to play a different game. I had already saved the world once. It wouldn’t be the same saving it again.


My older brothers also played Street Fighter at our neighbor’s house, but I wasn’t allowed to play.


Don’t I mean Hanukkah? Nope! Not only are my parents mixed faith, but, in proud Reform tradition, my mother had grown up celebrating Christmas anyways. That aggressively secular German Jewishness is largely gone from the world now. I think it was always kind of a self-defeating sort of “faith” anyways.