I’m seven years old, and I’m waiting for my fate to be decided. You see, something very important is happening in the very near future: Halo 2 is coming out. In preparation for such a momentous event, my dad wants to introduce my brother and I to the series. My mom is not convinced this is a good use of our adolescent time, what with all the shooting and the violence. Valiantly, my father points out that the blood isn’t even red. It’s fun colors! It’s aliens they’re fighting, not people! Looking into our big, pleading eyes (and having made the mistake of already gifting us the Gameboy Advance), my mom relents.
Turns out, I love Halo.
To my young mind, the now blocky graphics of Halo are as close as I’ll ever come to setting foot in another world. The difficulty setting is all the way down, my little hands are clumsy on the controls, I miss most of the nuance of the plot, and I’m not allowed to watch the scene with the Flood at all. But none of that matters. What matters is my little brother sitting next to me, holding my fictional life in his pixel hands and me holding his. To this day, I not only have key musical cues, lines, and scenes permanently etched into my brain — as I’m sure countless people do — I also have the unique reactions, in-jokes, and struggles of my brother alongside me.
When Halo 2 comes out, Dad takes us to the release of the game. This is incredible for me — it’s the first launch I ever attend in my life. To see the origin of something, to feel the excitement in the air; I didn’t even know that it was an option to be one of the first people to get a video game. They had always just appeared for me before, Dad conjuring them up from whatever magical place kids think technology comes from. That night, I was in the magical place myself: the mall. At a GameStop. And even though I was the only eight-year old girl there, I felt a sense of camaraderie. After all, we were all going to go home and do the same thing immediately after we left, and we might even see each other on multiplayer later, even if none of us knew it.
That night, as late as it is, we’re granted special parental dispensation to stay up and start the game. (Clearly out of kindness alone, and not so that Dad can also play it.) Wow, we all say, a sentiment that will be echoed across every single release, look at how amazing these graphics are! And then, that’s it for me. I’m hooked. I’d played a number of games before, but I had never played a game that was evolving in front of my eyes. A game that grew up alongside me. A game that gave me permission to stay up late. A game that even let me even hear my parent’s swear. As long as there’s new Halo games, I think, I can sit here forever with my brother, slowly increasing the difficulty, slowly building up our strategies. Halo 2 doesn’t feel like a game to me then. It feels like a promise.
Halo 3 releases in September 2007. I’m eleven years old. It’s cold enough to need a jacket, especially since night has fallen, and my whole family has gathered around to stand in a line outside of the GameStop. In front of us, some people in line get into a dispute about who was where. Halo is important business, after all.
Halo 3 is my favorite game; at the time it’s hard to tell if that’s just the thrill of having a new game, but in retrospect I can confirm it. Maybe it’s because Halo 3 is a game I stay up with that New Year’s Eve, from sunset to sunrise, playing with my brother and my dad: I don’t even feel tired. And, though my hot pink spartan is not doing nearly as well as Dad’s steel gray version, I feel invincible.
ODST releases in 2009, and my brother and I clamor for new content. More importantly, Halo: Reach releases 2010. This is where I spend by far the most time in multiplayer, and this is where my brother and I venture into playing through the various maps people have made with just our friends — no longer needing my dad to wear the headset for us, to spare our young ears from the slings and arrows of online gameplay.
I spend more time with my brother, hunting for clues about the release of the next game, than I do actually playing Halo 4.
After everything, Halo 5 does not support local couch co-op. So I never play it. Turns out the point for me wasn’t the love of franchise. It wasn’t the novelty of watching graphics improve by leaps and bounds every handful of years. It wasn’t even the ability to slowly work my way up to just mediocre in every other version of multiplayer but lone wolf.
The point is that I was never Master Chief. My brother and I are Master Chief.
He doesn’t exist for me outside of that.