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It took me 17 years to play Halo — and now I love it

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Depriving ourselves of a good game because of a bad reason is rarely worth it

A screenshot from Halo: Combat Evolved Bungie/Microsoft Studios

“I will never play Halo.”

I made this promise to myself when I was 16, during my junior year of high school, with my face buried in my desk during another useless school newspaper meeting. I’d already written my column, and had finished the editing and layout. I was the only person done on time, and it was because of Halo.

Someone had downloaded the PC version of the game to our school’s shared drive, making it accessible to every student. The computers in the library were always occupied by guys shooting at each other or aliens or some combination of both; just trying to use one meant a fight. Anytime a clueless substitute took over for our Halo-weary teachers, you better believe the boys started a LAN party.

Listen to more of Allegra’s thoughts on Halo — as well as Dark Souls, Parasite Eve, and Killing Eve — in the latest episode of The Polygon Show. Available on Apple Podcasts, Art19, and everyone else podcasts are sold.

It took me years to realize this wasn’t Halo’s fault

My problem with the shooter was how it seemed to enable an aggressive maleness in this clique. I loved video games too, and I wanted them to know it; but only the boys could be Master Chief, who was always a man anyway. If I dared comment on a match, they side-eyed me warily; nothing I had to say mattered.

If people ignored me in general, trying to interact with anyone around this game caused them to turn a sort of malevolent attention in my direction.

Halo was the territory of guys, always guys, who had no shame in shouting at each other in libraries or pointedly shirking actual school-day responsibilities. Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War: All of these shooters felt off-limits to me during high school, and it was because of these lacrosse bros and D-tier football players who made me feel inferior.

It was far easier to leave those games out of my life in frustration than it was to shut my classmates out, unfortunately. And so from then on, if anyone ever asked me how I felt about Halo, my immediate response was, “I hate it.”

Being young made it easy to blame the game instead of the people themselves for their shitty behavior. Not being welcome in games of Halo turned into a feeling that playing the game would be some kind of betrayal of myself; that these behaviors were baked into Halo itself, and I would catch them if I learned how to use a plasma rifle.

And that’s the sort of attitude we often carry with us for way too long.

Which brings us here

A lot has changed in the years since, both with myself and with gaming as a hobby. It was never weird for girls to love games, and now we have stats to prove it. Here I am, an editor of a very good gaming website. And ... I don’t know where those dudes are. They might be good people or they might be bad people, but neither outcome has anything to do with Halo.

So when I recently had the chance to finally play Combat Evolved on a beat-up Xbox 360, I took it. Why continue to loathe something I’d never touched, just because of people who no longer mattered to me and were even less involved in my life now than in junior year?

My friend and I played the co-op campaign — and I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I loved switching between my rifle and my pistol to pick off the roster of alien enemies. I loved gunning down Covenant from the back of the Warthog as my friend drove. Storming the beach of an enemy base made me feel like I was playing the video game version of Apocalypse Now. And the music, no surprises here, is incredible. Everything we did, every corner we turned, every fight we won was scored by some brilliant new song or variations on the original theme.

And to the relief of the hidden, scared part of my brain that was still worried about such things: Halo didn’t turn me into a jerk. It was just a game I enjoyed playing.

It shouldn’t be surprising to me that a game this popular for this many years turns out to be good and fun, but it can take a long time to separate a thing itself from those around that thing who are hurtful or cruel. Halo is just my example of this issue; I’m guessing you can think of a few yourself.

People can hurt you for a long time after the fact when you feel like they’ve made it harder to enjoy something that could bring you joy. I felt denied the opportunity to explore this world for a long time, and it makes me happy that playing it makes me this happy. Halo is completely new to me, and I find something beautiful in that.

More importantly, I finally get why everyone was so obsessed with Halo all the way through high school. It only took me 17 years to do so.