We are a species comprised of various cultures, ideologies, political affiliations and many other factors. We draw borders to segregate ourselves from those who do not share our values, or identity. Often times, these borders are tested, and conflict becomes an inevitable reality. For thousands of years war has been ingrained into our DNA, our very civilization. When armed conflict breaks out, the brave men and women who fight under their identity's flags make the ultimate sacrifice so that their way of life can live on in perpetuity. As the years advance, so does technology. What was once rocks and spears are now magnetically accelerated munitions, what were once fur coats, now hardened battle fatigues.
One aspect of war will never change, however. The people who wage it. The chain of command, the footsloggers and the spotters. The elite operatives and the pilots, high above the clouds. War is an evil act, but soldiers are not. You may not respect their leaders, or their government. But you must at least respect those on the front lines. For they fight for you, for all of humanity. The hardest hit are often times not the soldiers themselves, but their commanders. Who know they possibly sent their most loyal friends, to die. This respect is often times transmuted into our popular media, for better or for worse. Many films such as Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridely Scott, do an admirable job at portraying the brutality and valor that is associated with war. Mr. Scott, as always, did his research and the cast was placed in SOCOM boot camp for weeks to prepare for their roles. Film has grown from a fringe aspect of literature, to a well respected and mature form of art. The games industry, is a mixed bag in this aspect. Some games go above and beyond, while others border on disrespectful and offensive.
Halo is a game which I see falling in-between those two descriptors. It attempts to portray military realism as well as it can, but for the most part the franchise rarely ever gives the player a chance to take in what it truly means to be a war-fighter. To give command of personnel, whom you care for. In Halo, you are never the one to command, but are commanded. There is a detachment from what is expected, and what you know is morally correct. It's time for Halo to give us, the players, the conn.
When ActiVision debuted the yearly Call of Duty entry at this years E3, I was skeptical. I speak for a lot of gamers when I echo that Call of Duty has more or less become stagnant. With a lack of clear franchise development and innovation, the series is in uncertain waters. Which is a shame, because the Modern Warfare series was incredibly well done, and amazingly paced. The trilogy's narrative was also on par with the likes of Black Hawk Down, in terms of respectful and realistic portrayal of war. Black Ops III, by Treyarch Studios, was an incredibly deep and meaningful narrative centered around technology, and how it can change us.
So again, when ActiVision showed off Infinite Warfare for the first time, I was skeptical they could continue their narrative successes. Mostly due to the fact that Infinity Ward had been carved up after the studio's heads left to form Respawn Entertainment. Ghosts was a tepid title, and arguably the least effective Call of Duty ever developed. While the narrative was tight and nicely paced, the characters lacked any kind of personality beyond "shoot this, kill that." I was expecting more of the same from Infinite Warfare.
However, Infinite Warfare not only shattered my skepticism, it became my most loved and praised narrative of the entire year. Perhaps of the last several years. Infinity Ward looked behind themselves at their previous works, and transitioned those successes into the setting of military science fiction. Through purposeful characterization, astounding level design and an almost inconceivably intricate process of world building, Infinite Warfare not only crafted a respectful narrative centered around war and war-fighters, but changed my opinion that Halo was the best the industry had to offer within the genre.
Which in hindsight, is a rather harsh critique. Being that Halo's narrative unfolds around a galaxy teaming with life, whereas Infinite Warfare spins a narrative centered around a single solar system, and a single species on the brink of all out solar conflict. After finishing the narrative of Infinite Warfare, I began to question myself as to why, within the context of a single game, I felt more for these few characters than I have for nearly every character in the Halo franchise. For me it came down to how well the character's were developed around the narrative Infinity Ward was telling. I cared for every single one of my crew, and watched them grow in extreme detail. One crew member began his journey disgusted with artificial intelligence, which one of my squad was. By the end of the journey, he not only respected my artificial crew member, but would have taken a round to the heart for him. Two characters so self contained within a linear narrative, to me, had more emotional depth than most Halo characters do within the franchise's lifetime.
All of this comes down to the fact I was commanding these people, they were my crew. Every mission I chose, I had no illusions as to who would make it back, and who would end up on my ship's memorial. Who would meet me back in the mess to watch the news (yes, that is actually something you as the player can do,) or who would be just a name etched in marble.
Halo is at its core a military space opera, tied together with the science fiction genre at its back. Although, I wouldn't truly consider it to be military science fiction for the most part. This is because the military aspects within Halo are little more that tidings and transitions to the player missions and equipment. Beyond the occasional mention of an "LZ" or "command sector" Halo is basically bare-bones when it comes to meaningful depiction of both military life and people who have experienced combat. Suffice it to say many, many other games depict this in a more impactful and true to life way than Halo, and that really shouldn't be the case for a franchise which is centered around the notion of conflict. I want to go into what this means, and how Halo can tighten up its narrative through properly characterization and depiction of the military, as well as conflict.
In 1993 the nation of Somalia was deep into civil war, ruthless warlords stole or held direct control of most of the country's food, water and supplies. The racket grew so large that the United Nations and U.S. Military were called upon to relieve the city of Mogadishu, which was suffering from famine and a death count that became sickening. The operation was simple, raid the safehouse of the local warlord and eliminate him. However, in the process two United States BlackHawk helicopters were shot down, and marooned deep within the combat zone. Units from various army battalions and SOCOM fought their way through the city, desperately fighting street to street to reach their fallen comrades. At the end of the conflict, over seventeen American soldiers lost their lives attempting to save the injured or dead pilots and crew. At no point did they contemplate retreat, nor accept that their friends would be left to their fates. Men lay next to their dearest family, and watched them slowly die from their wounds. Waiting for a rescue that would only come much later. 
In 1999 journalist Mark Boden would write the novel Black Hawk Down, retelling these soldiers valiant efforts and sacrifices. He did extensive research including delving deep into United States military records, he wanted at every moment in time, to be sure everything was done right, and respectfully. For years, he learned the language, the mentality and the life behind this way of life. What he found out after he published the novel, is that these men did not do what they did for their country or the mission. They threw themselves against walls of lead and fire, instead, for the man next to them. He would later recall, while interviewing a SOCOM operative, that he kept saying "You don't do anything for anyone else other than the guy standing next to you." 
I have met Mr. Boden, and I remember walking away from our chat at a local coffee shop after a book signing back to my car to sob. What he told me, what I read within those few hundred pages struck me as the most human actions I have ever witnessed. I still cannot read his book, or watch Ridely Scott's incredible film, without shedding several tears.
It's far passed time, the gaming industry grew up, and depicted these acts with the same level of research, respectability and effort as Mr. Boden, Mr. Scott and Infinity Ward have done. To be quite frank, I find a lot of Halo's military content to be quite offensive and shallow, as if the notion of war and conflict is something without character or a humanizing element. Thus, we step into Infinite Warfare. Where a single ship and its crew, have turned the gaming industry onto itss head. The tragic fact, is that no news outlet, review site, or gamer will affirm this.
"You have the Conn "Gator.""
"Sir with all due respect, the captain's place is on the bridge, not the battlefield."
"Not this captain."
Aboard The Retribution, I walk by crew after every mission. Some are not there in their usual places when I return. The lanky man who could always be found near the recreation area is absent. And he always will be. Every time I enter the bridge, my XO looks a bit more weary than when we last saw each other. We are all that's left. Throughout the several hours long single player story, I've lost entire fleets, systems and planets. I've lost more than that, I've lost characters who I had grown attached to. Every mission without their audio pinging in my ear is another reminded that their journey had come to an end. The astounding thing about this, is that I remember every single one of them in context to the narrative, as each had their own unique personality and method to deal with the crushing realities of war. Nothing was rushed in this narrative, nothing left to stride by. Everything was deliberately paced and after every missions you would return to your ship to interact with those still aboard, and remember those who were not.
Infinite Warfare achieves this stellar (no pun intended) level of detail and authenticity by way of allowing you, the player, to slowly interact with the characters around you. There are no loading screens, mission to mission skips, and cutscenes are sparsely utilized. Instead, after each mission you return to The Retribution, a massive carrier class vessel complimented by over a thousand crew members. All of them, you can interact with on some level. All decks are accessible throughout the narrative, and you always have access to the bridge, lounge, and your personal quarters. Your personal quarters are arguably the most important area of the narrative outside of the missions. At any time you can use your personal commuter to listen to crew member logs, learning more about them outside of gameplay. It was quite the experience to have my personal quarter's door ajar, listening to the bridge crew's banter while I caught up on my missed logs.
Those crew who I lost would leave messages to their family or friends. Every one of them a painful reminder. A recollection that these people helped me, at some points even saved me. But I couldn't help, or save them.
Without those moments in-between, the small reposes of calm before the storm, Infinite Warfare's characters would be as shallow as they would be disrespectful. Yet, I came away from the narrative not only surprised, but longing for my favorite series to follow in these successful footsteps. Every story we as a civilization tell, is a reflection of our experiences, knowledge and respect to the content we pen.
It's time 343 Industries stop winging the military jargon, and instead indulge their minds into the research of a thousand men and women before them. Men and women, who journeyed to the furthest reaches of this planet, and never set foot upon the soil of home again. Whether it be in a science fiction setting, or a re-telling of actual conflict. Every warrior, even those who are fictional, deserve proper representation.
We will one day, as president John F. Kennedy once said, "reach for the heavens, and never contemplate looking back." Generations from now, we will live and bathe in the light of foreign stars, on planets far from our cradle. With this, we will surely bring our culture, ideologies and traditional with us. Like so many other events throughout history, war will shadow us.
There will be conflict. As there always has been. As there always will be.
We now look to our fiction; the media blockbusters who function by way of sales, revenue, and projected analytics. Rooting for the rebellion, or the UNSC, do we truly believe in such heroics?
There are no parades, no speeches after the fact. The toll of war is not the flashes of plasma or the crack of gunfire. It is about the loneliness of walking down a dark corridor, absent of familiar faces. The silence, as you sit at a desk wondering what you could have done differently. If a an alternate choice, would have saved lives. Or simply taken more. When you complete a Halo campaign, you will surely feel the loss of characters such as Johnson, or Cortana. However, you will never feel helplessness. Their deaths were unchangeable, written in linear stone within the word processor that penned their narratives. Even though the same could be said of Infinite Warfare's own journey, I still feel helpless. These characters were not only ones I fought along side, but ones I shared my quarters with, or a chat in the break room.
It is said that in war, one's true personality is revealed. If that is true, then a person's true humanity, must be revealed while sitting in a lounge, wondering what comes next. War isn't always conflict, it's not always on a battlefield. The most inhumane and atrocious side effect of war, is felt far away, in the silence of our own thoughts. To tap into that within a fictional narrative is not only powerful, but necessary.
You have the conn 343 Industries.
This article is written and dedicated to the countless men, women and children who find, or once found themselves in the midst of conflict. Whether you now lay in a foreign field, currently find yourself at war, or rest at home.
Thank you, for representing the human spirit in all its spectrum.
May we as an industry always look to you with the greatest of respect, and tell the narratives of war in a fashion which not only represents your spirit, but carriers it forward throughout all time.
- Synth Samurai
Sources Utilized Within This Article
Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1999. Print.
Haldeman, Joe W. The Forever War. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2009. Print.
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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