I thought I could hold off on buying Halo: Reach.
I was wrong.
There is something about the Halo franchise that has a bit of a hold on my heart; I’ve been playing it since my brother and I picked up the original Halo: Combat Evolved way back in the days of the original Xbox. Back then, he and I lived in the same house. We even had two consoles set up with a long Ethernet cable hooking them up so that we could plasma-burn each other for hours in what was, to us, the pinnacle of conceivable gaming technology.
We lived in the country back then. Our internet was a dodgy dial-up connection that ran at roughly four bits per second. We had a single vehicle between three drivers for quite a while. You couldn’t walk anywhere, and unless you regularly competed in the Tour de France, you couldn’t bike anywhere either. It was easy to go a bit stir crazy some days.
As with any other set of siblings, there were times when my brother and I couldn’t stand each other. We saw eye to eye on so little in life that communication was best restricted to sitting on the couch, controllers in hand, perforating each other’s avatars with the biggest guns we could find. (Bashing each other with twelve-move kick combos was also acceptable, as was ramming each other’s vehicles into walls and off of cliffs.)
To me, then, gaming was more than just sitting in front of a TV. Gaming became a safe place to interact, a mutual celebration of nerdiness, a common ground at a time when home sometimes felt like a warzone. It wasn’t always each other that my brother and I were avoiding when we donned our metaphorical suits of power armour; sometimes it was an escape from parents both near and far, breakups, or drama with our friends. Sometimes it was a just a crappy day that needed to be topped off with a round of Goldeneye to give us the motivation to wake up the next morning.
Thankfully my life is a whole lot less drama-filled these days, I can count my brother as one of my best friends, and games in general have become much prettier than the blocky-polygon-headed days of the original Perfect Dark on the N64.
But on Friday night, as I sat down in my living room with controller in hand, anxiously anticipating another (and perhaps final) chapter in the Halo franchise, I was pleasantly surprised. My character had just joined his squad of stereotyped soldiers (deep-voiced heavy with chain gun, psycho with a knife, by-the-books commanding officer, fatherly veteran, angry chick with scars), when I turned to notice my brother standing by me, machine gun in hand.
I plugged in my headset and found out from my brother that Bungie (the game’s developers) had set up this new Halo with the ability to hop into your friend’s single player games. Suddenly we were kids again, flush with excitement about our new game, sitting side by side and marveling at the lovingly rendered detail of a twitching alien corpse that we had just successfully flanked and shot to death. 100 km apart, we could still meet up to blow stuff up and drive stuff over, because that’s what good siblings are there for.