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"
What makes us, as a species, so successful and unique within Earth's long and storied biological history? Most would say it is due to our cranial lobes being slightly larger than other mammals, and in turn being able to hold more complex brains. After all, this biological evolution led to our species being the first to settle down and invent agriculture. No longer did our species need to hunt and gather, now we could stay in one place and develop language, culture, art and society. Most folks I ask this question to say it is that, or our technology which has led us to build an entire society around the notion of the betterment of all mankind.
I don't think that is what makes us so unique, and while I certainly find the above an indicator as to why we are so successful, I do not see it as the set of traits which makes us, human. Instead, I see our ability to develop abstract thoughts and emotions such as compassion, intellectualism, philosophy and to realize self change. Yes, these things can all be attributed to a larger cranium, but the choice to come to a self realization and act on that notion is not something an electrically operated biological organ can do on its own.
To see something, react and change your entire person around that realization is something unique to humans. The ability to change who we are, psychologically, is at the apex of our achievement.
And this leads to one of the least talked about characters within the Halo universe. Which is ironic, being that he is perhaps the most staggeringly accurate representation of what is truly means to be human, within the entirety of the franchise.
There are ghosts among us, not in the ethereal sense but in the physical sense. The events we experience, and which are stored as memories directly influence who we are as individuals. That person you saw walking down the street today may have looked normal, but perhaps in his or her mind he or she was dying. The human condition of depression, anxiety and stress are tangible things which change us emotionally and physically. In World War 1 they used to call it "shellshock." Soldiers who had seen, the worst of humanity, battlefields laid bare with the bodies of blown apart friends. The wail of shells, endless shells as they fell like metal rain. They returned home, ghosts. Some went mad, others developed physical ailments which could not be explained with the medical science at the time. But a scant few became ghosts. Continuing their lives, appearing to be normal. But inside their minds, the war replayed on an endless loop.
It doesn't have to be war which effects us, people can develop chemical depression in which the neurological chemicals of the brain are not properly balanced. Thankfully, medication is now available to correct that imbalance. But again, the reason can be much more explainable.
Think about your own life, of an event which changed you, completely. Why did it change you, and how were you impacted? More importantly, did you want to change, or did you just want to live with the realization within your own mind to attempt to forget? Those who choose to accept their change, the event in one's life which challenges you to become more than you thought you could or bring you down to your lowest point to have to crawl back up. Those moments define us, they make us human. Whether it is an act of compassion, a fight to the bitter end or a struggle of the self. To accept those events, and change with them, is to be human.
We all have difficult lives, even the more successful of our species suffers under the constant fear of illness and the inevitability of death. The fear or thought that one day we will wake up and those around us we care so much about will no longer be there. To overcome fear, whether of death, loss or other matters, is to be a hero. If you stand up time and time again after life knocks you down, you are a hero. An inspiring example of what it means to be a human being. To never take life's certainties as, certainties. To rebuke what cannot be done, and instead do what needs to be done. For yourself, or for those around you.
The ghosts around you are the heroes of our entire species.
Halo Legends was, polarizing, to say the least. Some of us Halo fans loved it, other's not so much. I'm of the mindset that there was the good, and there was the bad. One episode within Legends, however, was a magnum opus and what I can only describe as an unmitigated masterpiece of narrative brilliance. Prototype managed to sum up every positive aspect of the franchise, and left no emotional or moral aspect untouched. It was subtle, engaging and most of all deeply moving. It remains one the universe's few accurate depictions of war, in all its horrors. What makes Prototype all the more brilliant, all the more thought provoking is that it isn't told through the eyes of a super soldier or multiple soldiers, but instead through the eyes of a psychologically traumatized marine by the name of "Ghost." A man who, for all intents and purposes, has lost everything which once made him human. His humanity is gone, and what is left is a shadow-less ghost of a character.
The episode begins with Ghost comforting a dying UNSC Marine, as she slowly passes away from her injuries. What is striking is that, Ghost has seen so much loss of life that he is completely numb to the Marine's passing. He applies medi-gel, and looks into her eyes silently. She quietly whispers to him, that for once he should try and "be human," referring to his inhuman method for emotional comfort. Ghost doesn't say a word, and the Marine he held in his arms soon dies. Perhaps out of rage, fatigue or the breaking of the last psychological thread holding his shellshock in check, he screams, vowing to avenge the Marine's death.
The human mind, no matter how disciplined, can only take a certain amount of pain, loss and trauma before sanity finally gives way to a cold, calculated madness.
The battle for Algolis, a top secret weapons research facility, should have been an all out slaughter at the hands of The Covenant. The base had been embattled for days, and among the mud soaked spires of rocks and trenches, the UNSC garrison was being overrun in a blood soaked massacre. Algolis held critical information on weapons prototypes, deployments and most importantly, the location of Earth. If it fell, The Covenant would know, everything. A company of elite UNSC marines known as "Hades Company" was deployed to deny access to the facility, but even they were soon cut down by the numerically superior Covenant. All but one Marine, Ghost. Ghost refused to leave the Marines at the facility, not to mention the numerous civilian transports. He had already lost too much, he wasn't going to loose anyone else.
Breaking into the facility and defying orders, Ghost commandeered a HRUNTING/YGGDRASIL Mark I ADS power armor prototype to defend the facility. In a fantastic display of carnage and berserk fury, Ghost used the suit to completely demolish the entire Covenant assault force and level their armored battalions. More and more reinforcements came, yet he held. The Covenant managed to take out the suits mobility systems, yet he held, arming the suits arm mounted chaingun. More and more Covenant came, and eventually the suit began to fail, system by system.
Ghost had lost so much, for so long. If he was going to loose anything else, it would be on his terms. As the Covenant approached the suit, Ghost armed its auto-nuclear detonation systems by uttering the voice arm command. "Be Human."
The resulting explosion vaporized the entire Covenant invasion force and the weapons facility. Thus, denying The Covenant critical information. His actions saved Earth, and the remaining personnel at Algolis. It wasn't a Spartan who saved a planet, it was a single Marine, who finally realized what it meant to be human.
We face a precipice, the edge of a great conundrum for the Halo franchise. By humanizing John-117 in Halo 4, the franchise took a turn in humanizing the entire universe. It was no longer about the large scale of mindless conflict, or saving a billion people's lives. It was about saving each other, saving those you care for and understanding what it meant to be not a machine of war, but a human being. We now face the prospect of looking down a road in which the progress of meaningful characterization within the series we so deeply care about, regresses into a deep pit of generic and uninspired characterization. More concerning still, the fandom is slowly seeing the heroes it has followed for so long, transformed into walking stereotypes. In Halo 5, we never got to see what impact loosing Cortana had on John, what was his humanizing realization? Where was his ghost?
Imagine for a moment, the length of all of the Halo games combined, think back to their narrative's and their character's. Now, imagine the length of Prototype and its narrative, its characters. Specifically Ghost. I dare you, from an academically inclined narrative design viewpoint, that the entirety of the series depicted the human tragedy of war, the human reaction to loss and the psychological breakdown of an entire person more effectively than the twenty eight minute Prototype.
We can sweep this under the rug, we can fool ourselves as much as our hearts desire but there is no rational reason why a Halo game installment, which has a much longer pacing and narrative arc to work with, cannot write just as an engaging and meaningful story as Prototype. There is a reason why this has not happened yet, why we continue to wait for Halo's moment of narrative triumph in the form of a game.
It takes years, decades of academic experience and psychological awareness of how a human character is meaningfully developed. It doesn't just happen, it is a process of finding what makes a human being, human. To write an engaging narrative with meaningful characters is to learn from the thousands of texts before your own, to experience the joy, pain and triumph of those brave creators of fiction whose works have been passed down to a new generation of imaginations. It is, to know humanity.
Just as a forge requires its smith to create superior metal, the worlds within the minds of those brave creators, require their author to craft superior fiction.
“I need you to be strong - strong enough to do what you've never done in your life. Can you be strong enough to allow yourself to be... can you just be human?”
***NUCLEAR PAYLOAD ARMED***
“And for one last instant, I'm human again.”
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.