On the evening October 20th of 1917, German and Canadian soldiers rose to peer over their respective trenches. The landscape, devastated for several months before this time, was now a cratered wasteland. The rain, steadily falling pooled in these craters and turned the entire battlefield into a barbed wire and muddy hell. Indeed, as the flare on both sides went up to pierce the darkness...It must have appeared as though you were peering into the very depths of hell itself.
The battle lasted for three days, three days of endless fighting and endless dying. The amount of carnage unimaginable, as soldiers were cut literally in half by machine gun fire and tripped only to drown in the thick muddy slime. Every morning before a charge, each side would again peer over their trench lines. An endless sea of arms and legs protruding from the thick mud. At some points, bubbles would be seen beneath the mud from those who had not yet died.
After the battle, thousands upon thousands who had given their lives for what? For only several hundred yards leading to a Belgium town, known as Passchendaele.
War is romanticize in our culture, the heroes of war, the few who stood up and gloriously rode into battle for flag and country! Even in Halo, glory to the Spartan IIs! To the ODSTs who stood to the last and held the line, and cheers for the UNSC grunts who fought a thousand Covenant and survived! Tell this romanticized version of war we all seem to love so much, to the survivors of Passchenadaele. Those who saw their friends, their brothers, sink into the thick slime never to be seen again. Whose gas mask lenses were distorted by the liquid blood which fell like the rain, and who were forever changed by what they had witnessed.
I have said it before, and I will say it again. If Halo as a franchise wants to move forward in a positive and narrative driven direction, as the developers have stated time and time again. Then let us, if only for a game or two, see this universe's own "Great War" as it really was.
Glass to glass.
The Short & Quick:
I've rarely ever thought about what I have done in a game, really, thought about it. I never once have stepped back and looked at myself after playing a game and reevaluated myself as a human being. Not until that is, I played Spec Ops: THE LINE. I wont go into too much detail, but every gamer should play the title. I have never seriously questioned myself as much as after finishing the last mission of that game. So much so, that I stopped playing games altogether for a good week.
To convey a war as brutal, destructive and horribly horrific as the war against the Covenant, you have to move past the dainty blood splatter and bodies which stay intact after exposure to massive amounts of ordinance. I understand that the Halo is a franchise that isn't, really, about horrific depictions. I truly do, and many people will say "why make Halo into that?" I agree, I don't think Halo should fully transition into a gritty "horrors of war" series. What I am saying is, what is the harm in just one title, or a spin off series, in which gives those of us who are not deluded by the notion that war is clean a narrative worth telling.
I think back to the marketing trailers for Halo:ODST, or the BELIEVE marketing camping of Halo 3. Those resonated within me deeper and more thoughtfully than any of the actual games, and that is a narrative crime. To downplay those horrors, those moments by creating a deep and thoughtful marketing campaign, only to belittle those efforts by failing to even come remotely close to that level of impact. The face of the ODST recruit in the* Halo:ODST* love action trailer, as he stands over the grave of one of his fallen friends, that blank stare. It says more, than the entire narrative of that game. And while ODST had a fantastic story, it wasn't as impactful as its trailers. Or the crying soldiers in the BELIEVE trailer, clinging to each other in fear while their friends around them were mercilessly killed. It's haunting, and I think this is NEEDED.
Propaganda War Machine:
War sells, it sells well. Long as you sugar coat it, and romanticize it. Show the true horrors, and it wont sell at all. It will only disgust. Perhaps that is why, Spec Ops: THE LINE, did not sell well at all. The people have spoken, they want a nice clean version of war. They want Call of Duty: Kill a million people and still feel like a winner! I am not that jaded, not that childish. I don't want to be patronized anymore about what I know to be war. And I would respectful say, neither are any of you reading this post right now. You are intelligent enough, more so than Microsoft or ActiVision give you credit for.
Sure, I like games which are a bit lighter when it comes to war. The Battlefield series I love to play, it's a fun time and relaxing. But the difference is, that series knows it's odd. Electronic Arts posts videos of players jumping out of fighter jets only to rocket the jet which was chasing them and then miraculously jump back in their own before flying away. I can get behind that, it knows what it is. Now look at the Call of Duty and Halo trailers, from those, would you say to yourself they know what they are? Truly? I feel, off, I feel like I am being talked down to when I see these trailers and then play the games. Or at the very least, lied to.
Lied to, not because I feel some great disservice to myself or feel as though I have been belittled. But instead, as though the notion that anyone, anywhere who has fought in a war is made to feel somehow better about their experiences. To prey on the horrors of war with such intense and gritty marketing campaigns, then turn around and give us the spectacle of colorful plasma bolts and soldiers softly laying down seemingly unharmed after being stuck by a plasma grenade to lay motionless. I don't know how I should feel, or what the developers intended me to "feel." Because I don't feel anything.
At best, I can say I feel. Indifferent. At worst, offended.
If you intend to show us the horrors of war, the merciless jaws which chew on human flesh until it is grinded into a sort of putty...Then follow through with your depiction. Never show us these horrors, only to backtrack and give us a watered down and sterile version of death.
It belittles not only the deep and thoughtful narrative you created, but it also the intelligence of the player, and the sacrifices of the dead.
I'm not going to stand on a podium and rant about how Halo fails to depict true war. I understand that Halo is a grand science fiction opera about exploration and alien technologies. I understand it's entertainment and it isn't meant to be a heavy handed lesson in the horrors of battle. I truly do. I want to continue to enjoy the series without feeling the depression of thought provoking horrors in the back of my mind. I want the core Halo series to continue to be what it has always been, science fiction entertainment.
But I also know that thoughtful narratives, in which make us as a collective culture think, if only for a moment, about what it means to pick up a rifle, a knife or a club, and in the most inhumane way possible take the life of another human being or creature. To reflect for a moment, upon that most heavy of sufferings. If only for a game, or even a short film like Forward unto Dawn.
We tend to loose ourselves in our entertainment, as escape from the world around us. But it is healthy from time to time to reflect back on reality both past and present. Be it through a history text book, or a fictional game. Loose yourself too much in the prettied up version of war, and you become numb to it. unaffected by it. And as a culture can we truly not say that that leaders of nations have not fallen to this mentality and become numb to death? Look up and learn about the history of the Russian high command during both World War 1 and World War 2.
Does Halo need to be a lesson in war and brutality? No. Does it need to be heavy handed, and depress us with constant depictions of mutilated bodies? Definitely not. All I'm saying is perhaps, every series and franchise that has war as the core of it's mantra. Just step back for once, through some means. A novel, a film or another game even and let us all know that this is war.
It may not sell as many copies as you want (but it will sell,) it may not have a high player retention. But it will make the player think, it will make him stop if only for a moment and realize something very profound.
Like Spec Ops: THE LINE, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and All Quiet on the Western Front.* Halo* too, can help our society slowly come to realize that which the true soldier already knows. War isn't clean, it isn't romantic and it isn't Call of Duty.
Maybe if our media and fiction would, just for a brief moment, plant that seed of thought within us...Perhaps actual war, wouldn't be so enticing anymore.
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.
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Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
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