Halo Effect: A Gaming Today Book Review
Halo 3 is upon us. In less than a week, scores of gamers will sit down to bask in the biggest game release of all time. Microsoft has spent months trying to saturate us with marketing and hype for this game, and it’s already reached an annoying fever pitch. So in the midst of all this, it’s nice to take a look at just what the Halo series means to people, why it is so popular, and how it got that way. For this, one need simply turn to the pages of the book, Halo Effect, edited by Glenn Yeffeth.
Halo Effect is essentially a collection of essays written by diverse array of authors from varying backgrounds. Game critics, science fiction authors, scientists, and even gamers were tasked with putting their thoughts on the Halo series into words. The result was this collection of writings, which has its good moments and not so good moments, which differ depending on your affinity to Halo. In this regard though, there really is something for everyone here. This book seems to cover almost every view you could even think to have on a video game.
Personally, I’m not a die-hard Halo fan. It’s a good series and all, but it doesn’t even rank on my Top Ten list of favorite games. As you can imagine then, the swelling of hype surrounding the upcoming Halo 3 has practically driven me mad. That said, this book is somewhat of a mixed bag for me. There are a few essays that explore such things as the science behind Halo — where it works and where it doesn’t — as well as compare it to religion, ethics, and poetry. While interesting of note, they’re still the sort of thing that will only appeal to the serious fans. For the rest of us, these essays are kind of fluff reading and not much more informative than the Sunday funnies. The rest of the essays can generally be grouped into two categories: those that praise the game as a huge cultural phenomenon and those that don’t. Again, the ones that discuss at length the intricacies of Halo’s world and how it’s the greatest thing in video game history will really only appeal to the die-hard fans. That’s not to say these essays are without substance. It’s just that trying to pick through the almost blind adoration to get to a valid point can become mind-numbing after a time. After you’ve finally found an interesting bit of insight, you have trouble caring because of how much inexplicable worship seemed to surround it.
Ironically, one essay in the book seemed to capture my thoughts on this quite well. In Kieron Gillen’s piece, “Planetary Objects in the Rear View Mirror,” he describes the scene at E3 2003 where thousands of game journalists begin shouting and going crazy after it is revealed that Halo 2 will feature dual-wielding weapons. “It’s the sort of reaction that would be a tad extreme for the announcement of world peace,” he says. His essay particularly intrigued me as he delved into the history of how Halo came about. This interested me mostly because I still do remember when the game was first announced…on PC. I even remember when it was being touted as an open-world, non-linear game; much like GTA III, only that game was still a couple years away. I also remember my strong disappointment when I learned Microsoft had acquired the license exclusively for their fledgling new console, which few people really had any faith in at the time. Gillen doesn’t go into the details about who worked on what and who had which ideas (that information’s given in a different essay), but instead he divulges how some of Halo’s popularity came about because of basic good luck.
My favorite essay of the whole book though, is the one titled “Gun on a Bun,” by David Thomas. In this essay, Thomas comes across as something that seems unfortunately rare in both gaming and literary circles: a realist. For an essay explicitly put into a book about Halo, he doesn’t slather the game with praise or attempt to bolster it as a cultural marvel. He simply tries to understand for himself why the game is so popular. I don’t know if he ever really reaches a conclusion, but his verbal pondering of it — scatterbrained though it may be — is still an interesting read. As a person who isn’t supremely devoted to Halo one way or another, this piece just appealed to me the most. His essay also contains my favorite passage from the whole book:
“Somewhere, someone has to straighten on the difference between “popular” and “important.” Worst of all, if there’s one thing a critic knows, it’s that sooner or later, popular and important are the same stupid thing.”
In essence, that’s really what Halo is. It’s important enough to have books written about it because it is so popular. It may not be changing the world the way Microsoft’s marketing machine would like us to believe, but what piece of entertainment really does? Like it or not though, Halo is changing the gaming industry in ways that do affect all gamers. In essence, by collecting all these essays, this book seems to cover all views on the game; from the realistic to the analyzing to the ridiculous. Like I said, there’s something for everyone.