A More Complete Look At The Halo Franchise
Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
Always A Stranger, In A Strange Land
Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs,
Exiled for ever, let me mourn
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings
Some of you may know what the title of this post references, it's from the composition by John Dowland. More importantly, it was the title of Phillip K. Dicks novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said which deals with a man waking up only to find that the world has no memory of his existence. Phillip K. Dick was fascinated by the loss of identity, possibly because of his drug addiction and loss of himself due to said drug's effects. We live in a culture and society that has thrived on the recollection of countless generations before us and we will pass along our memories to countless generations after. The loss of memory, collectively, as a species would be the most tragic fate to befall our kind. Memory is what makes us, who we are. Take away that, and we are nothing.
Perhaps that is why franchises' such as Star Wars and Star Trek have such a large following. Both series actually had very small budgets early on, and little to no marketing to speak of. However, the narratives of characters either exploring (Star Trek) or reclaiming new or lost memories respectively, are what made them such a pop culture phenomenon. A lot of fans fell in love with those universes, those characters, and created their own memories to carry on the franchises legacy.
This post, as of yet, has not mentioned the Halo franchise once and you're all probably wondering what the purpose of that first paragraph was. Let me tell you, as someone who has worked in the games industry and the science fiction publishing industry, Halo has the potential to rival or even surpass the most established sci fi franchises to date. By the end of this post, I hope you will better understand why. More importantly, I hope that Microsoft and 343i realize what they have. Halo, has immense potential that is lying dormant. I see glimpses of this potential here and there with the Forerunner Trilogy of novels penned by the fantastic Greg Bear, or in the terminals of Halo:CEA and Halo 4. What Halo offers us that no other franchise in the games industry, or even the film industry (besides possibly Remember Me by DotNod Studios) is a look at what happens when an entire galaxy is ripped of its collective memories. Let me begin with a quick story from within the Halo universe.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a species called the Precursors seeding our galaxy with life. Two of these species raised under their care were the Forerunners and Humanity. They grew quickly, advanced in their technology at a staggering rate and soon had immense stellar empires. The Precursors held the belief that those worthy of their role, should be tasked with The Mantel of Responsibility. To tend to the galaxy they had seeded, and so Humanity was chosen. The Forerunners, angered by their dismissal lashed out and destroyed the Precursors entirely. Wiping away their legacy and their memories. Save for a Precursor construct, The Domain, which held the collective knowledge of their entire species. Something the Forerunners, centuries later, would take advantage of. The Precursors were not defeated however, some survived in the cold sleep of space, while others purposefully disintegrated into a fine powder. This powder, would later become known as, The Flood.
Humanity continued to advance, destroying Forerunner controlled worlds in the process. What was thought by the Forerunners to be an act of aggression, was actually an act of mercy. These planets had been infected by The Flood. The Forerunners and Humanity nonetheless fought a long and costly war. The Forerunners finally stood victorious, devolving Humanity into a primitive state, destroying their memories in the process. This proved a killing blow for both Humanity, and the Forerunners. Who were not prepared to combat The Flood on their own. And so, they too suffered the same fate. Erased from history, their memories lost. All that remained was their technology, their constructs and their messages. And because of their loss of identity, we now sit in the present day Halo universe. Where the galaxy once again, is not prepared for either the rise of AI, or the return of The Flood.
Halo functions on one main, key motif. How the loss of past generation's memories, leads to an endless cycle of conflict. Because future species cannot learn from the previous' mistakes, the same endless cycle will repeat. Are we, in our own non-fictional society any different? World War One lead to World War 2 due to a poor handling of post war reconstruction. We stood on the endless abyss of the Cold War, where ten nuclear weapons were not enough, but instead tens of thousands were built. The Deep Water Horizon, one of the worst environmental disasters in history was followed by the lax preparedness and handling of the Fukushima meltdown. In Halo, every time I play the games, I see "us." I see a fictional universe that is content to make mistakes, and never learn from them. The boogeyman in the room is The Flood. And in our real life world, we are The Flood.
The Flood in Halo are terrifying on so many levels. The fact you are fighting fallen comrades who are being manipulated against their will, deformed. The brutal way in which they infect and transform other species. But to me, The Flood are terrifying because when they infect, they take everything from you. They take your body, your weapons, your knowledge, you will and your memory. Perhaps the most impact scene in all of the Halo series was found in a terminal in Halo:CEA. It depicts Captain Jacob Keys slowly loosing all of his memories and identity to the Proto-Gravemind. What is even more chilling is the fact he knowingly gave these memories up, in order to hide the origins of Earth. He even says "Oh god, you don't want me, you want everything! You want Earth!" That is why The Flood are so horrific, they take everything from you. Your history, your culture and your essence.
How many species in the Halo universe have succumbed to The Flood on some level? The Forerunners, Ancient Humanity, The Covenant, Present Day Humanity. All the species in the galaxy have been effected by The Flood's existence. The Precursors are really the only species whose legacy has passed on, ironically AS The Flood. So here is a question. When the last White Rhino is killed or goes extinct, will their memory and essence continue? Well sure, through us. We are in a sense that Precursor Domain. We collect the essence of the species we have destroyed into our own history told through our eyes. So if the Great Barrier Reef does collapse, I suppose that too will be remembered not by the species which inhabited it, but by those who knowingly destroyed and consumed it.
Within Halo, just as with our own real world, there are heroes who are willing to give up everything to see our collective species move forward. To the three brave men of Apollo One whose deaths helped us reach for the stars, to the firefighters and police officers during 9/11 who selfishly rushed into the World Trade Centers and never returned. Halo shows us that the memory of a hero lives on, and inspires the entire species. There is no better example than the Halo 3 BELIEVE marketing campaign. How one man, John 117, inspired an entire species to fight to the bitter end against all hope. His lasting memory is what drives the Halo universe forward, because as the BELIEVE trailers stated "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him." And it's not just John 117's legacy that inspires, but others who are not clad in power armor. Edward Buck, a normal non-augmented human who through all the most horrific battles of the war kept fighting on not because he had to survive but because humanity HAD to survive.
Just as humanity in 2016 is The Flood, we are also the Bucks and John 117s. We can make each other Believe, moving the species forward. We can look to those like the Apollo One and become inspired by their sacrifice, and perhaps become the astronauts that first step on the red soil of Mars. We can become fearless at the courageous actions of those who as Lord Hood in Halo 3 states "Go into the howling dark and never return." Or as John F. Kennedy said. "We choose to do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard!"*
To the Spartan 2's, who forcibly lost their childhoods, their memories and their lives only to go on to save the entire galaxy. Heroes in the Halo universe do not only save the species, they save the memories of those who still are living as well. And in the Halo universe, what better way to combat something like The Flood. The only way to beat something that consumes every last bit of your essence, if to inspire those after you to remember your sacrifice and to keep on fighting for the memories yet to come.
So I stand here, confused, as to why 343i has not taken advantage of this hidden narrative. It has all the pieces in place, an imaginative setting, memorable characters who inspire us (I am where I am now, because of Halo's impact on me) and a universe so rich in discovery every inch of it begs to be explored. 343i and Microsoft have a franchise that can inspire an entire generation as Star Wars and Star Trek have. In monetary terms, which I know is important to a multi-billion dollar corporation like Microsoft, Halo has the potential to make not a few billion dollars, but tens of billions. Perhaps even hundreds of billions.
The games industry is at a point in its life when grand narratives can be told, which are more enthralling and entertaining than movies because you experience them interactively. What better way to inspire a person, not by showing them but by letting them experience it first hand for themselves. Why then, has their not been a Halo game that does what the Forerunner Trilogy of books has done. Unmask Halo's deeper meaning, it's pillars of collective memory and the importance of perpetuating knowledge forward? Those novels were so well written, that authors I have talked with and worked alongside cite them as Hugo and Nebula award winning materials. I have been to conventions where that trilogy of novels was spoken of in such reverence not by Halo fans, but by people who didn't even realize Halo was a video game. THAT is the power and potential of what lies beneath Halo's narrative. So why not unleash it?
I urge 343i to hire more writers. Hire writers who know how to unhinge this potential from the shackles it is currently bound by. You can hire as many designers, coders and artists you like but unless they know how to unleash the imagination of what lines behind the designs, C++ and illustrations then they will sit on the whiteboard, screen and page untapped.
I'm looking at a custom print of the Master Chief I had done, which hangs above my bed and wake up to every morning. My bed sits next to a glass display case with dozens of Halo collectibles, which lies under a wall of signed Halo art prints and lithographs. My shelves full of Halo novels, art books and graphic novels. Because of my academic background I could see these hidden themes and motifs, and was inspired by the franchise To do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard. How many more millions people could 343i and Microsoft inspire, as they have me, if these themes and motifs were more plainly written?
Thanks for staying for the long haul. Halo Nation, once again you all rock and reaffirm why I am where I am.
A Halo fan since the beginning, 2001. Also a games industry consultant, writer, and educator. These are my thoughts, praise and advice concerning the past, present and future narrative of the Halo franchise.
Halo, all assets within, characters and merchandise are property of the Microsoft Corporation and is developed by its subsidiary 343 Industries.
I do not own, claim to own or retain any rights to the Halo franchise. This is a fan based work, and is strictly non-profit.
All other images, articles linked, materials and franchises that are not strictly specified as my own are property of their respective owners.