Almost surviving Halo 3

By Char Easter

Ask a couple how they first met, and they usually have a good story. The same could be said about my introduction to the Halo universe. My first game-play moment was a Halo fan’s dream come true. I was surrounded by the Halo creators at the Bungie headquarters in Kirkland, Washington. It was Halo ground zero. Along with the Bungie staff, I was playing among world-class gamers who were there as reporters for an exclusive sneak peak at Halo 3. I was directed to an empty console and decided to play it cool and not let on that I was a first-time gamer.

I glanced around the room and noticed the reporters lost in the game. Except for their darting eyes and deftly moving fingers, they had left the physical world for the one the Bungie developers had so meticulously crafted. Occasionally, one of the gamer’s monitors would signal that he’d achieved a new level. I could barely log in. The contrast between the other gamers’ skill level and mine was laughable. Regardless, I put on my headphones to begin the fight. Master Chief Junior was on the move.

The first thing I noticed was the music. It was rich and tribal and had a tempo that inspired hunting and killing. I imagined a military vehicle in Iraq with a sound system. Then I noticed the barrel of a gun. “That would be mine,” I thought. This basic and seemingly obvious realization was my genesis of self-awareness. I am not me with a gun; I am Master Chief, hope for humanity. I wondered about the gender — is there a female Master Chief in the works? How could gender matter? It’s not like there is a lot of social interaction involved. My agenda is fairly focused: Get guns. Find enemy. Shoot enemy. Besides, I’m role-playing. I’ll be a boy.

Looking around, I checked my “20” — a military term for location. I was in a large dark stone cavern with soldiers running about and shouting orders. I think one of them said something to me, but the interaction was stilted. The fact that he was a computer-programmed comrade made him all the more efficient, so my slow response forced him to move on. What if I had been wounded?

I sized up the soldiers’ appearance. After all the hype, just how lifelike were they? Without having played other games, I had no frame of reference. My next question was who were they — friend or foe? I had assumed they were Marines and I was one of them. Good, Char. What now? “Try moving,” I thought.

I ventured out, hearing only the sound of my footsteps until I encountered something with which I would become all too familiar: my worst enemy, my motor skills. Suddenly everything was dark and my progress was stymied. I was stuck in a corner. My fingers fumbled with the controls, trying to make the connection between the buttons on the console and Master Chief’s choreography. It is something we take for granted, this brain-body connection, but now, I had to learn how to walk again. I wheeled around like a caged wild boar, or more like a bumbling giant in cement shoes. My point of view was disoriented, and then I saw part of my leg. I couldn’t shoot, which was another problem. Where was the shoot button? I let it go, reasoning that people like me should not have guns. Not only did my lack of motor skills put me at a disadvantage with the enemy, but I was a menace to myself.

Eventually I found my way out of the corner, clumsily exiting the garage and entering the light of a Halo day. I took in the landscape. After my extended moment in the corner of the cavern, the view was breathtaking. There was still the problem of not being able to shoot, but just walking was a challenge, so I decided to explore. No shooting. I’d just meander around and check out the scenery — maybe get oriented, practice walking, learn the basics. Boot camp if you will. I realized I had managed to turn Halo 3, the testosterone-driven war game, into a recreational outing. I fantasized a flower sticking out of the barrel of my gun. It’s Master Chief the pacifist, in search of the Halo 3 hippie commune.
During my nature walk, I encountered evil aliens who yelled insults at me. I tried all combinations of the buttons, but I couldn’t shoot. By now, asking someone for help would be total humiliation. Chris from Bungie didn’t even laugh when I asked. The Bungie staff pulled everyone out of the game for a break and a demonstration. Then it was on to multiplayer. Mercifully, one of the staffers assigned me to a group, so I did not have to suffer the humiliation of being left out. Mercilessly, everyone on my team was an ace gamer, skilled in the art of multiplayer. The term “out of your league” comes to mind — I really don’t know how I died so fast. For some reason, masochistic no doubt, multiplayer was fun for a while, but eventually I grew bored with death
Round 2
The next time I played Halo was with my friend Daz. To warm me up on Xbox, he downloaded some old-school games like Capture the Crystal. Its rave music and twinkly, glowing things that filled the screen reminded me of Burning Man at night. It was fun but it was not Halo. We moved on to our destination.
First we played together. He claimed to be a novice but, as he’d soon come to realize, it’s hard to beat me at being the worst player in the world. He killed me every time, so we swtched to me playing solo. I found myself in a jungle this time. To move forward I had to jump, but how? I must have been testing the low end of the performance spectrum, because a prompt came on the screen indicating how to jump. The Halo interface is thoughtfully designed to include on-screen user assistance for people who don’t have a clue, like me.
Daz watched while I played. I came upon a battle and opened fire on the aliens.
“You need to align the curser with the target,” instructed Daz.
“What curser?” I asked.
“You mean that red bull’s-eye thing?”
“Look toward where the bullets are coming from,” Daz warned.  He slumped back in his chair, adding sarcastically, “This is going to be fun to watch.”
Daz took a new tack and inquired, “You’ve never been shot at in real life? Rubber bands, a wad of paper … snowballs?” I pondered this question and realized that no, I hadn’t.
In the final analysis, every first-time gamer has a unique experience based on what he or she brings to the game. If you’ve played other games, your coordination will be intact. If you’ve played war games — even with spit wads — you’re going to have an innate sense of how to act. The attention to detail and advanced features that go into Halo 3 offer experienced gamers a challenge and a great ride, and if you are a first-time gamer, start with single-player — the button used to fire the gun is on the upper right.



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