Published on April 6th, 2013 | by Andy Astruc2
First: The one where I cooperate with my family
I’m not the most social person. When I was younger, I would close my curtains to make sure if we had guests they thought I was sleeping. My parents would stretch the bounds of ham acting whenever I came out of my bedroom, expressing pantomime levels of shock that I had emerged. In high school, I “won” an award for being the least attention-seeking person. And today, if my wife tells me that we’re going to a party I can feel a certain piece of my brain calculating the risks of deliberately contracting a horrible disease to avoid getting stuck in a conversation about other people’s holiday anecdotes.
Video games were always a bit different, because we’re all a little more open when it’s something we’re passionate about. I’d gladly invite friends over to play games on the weekend or after school. I set up a Tekken station at our Year 10 formal after-party, and even made sure that I lost at appropriate moments to keep the less nerdy people happy. I remember playing Eternal Darkness with three other friends jammed on one futon couch, all of us following the standard “pass the controller left when you die” rule. My friend Matthew — who would stay at my place after school while waiting for his train — spent months watching me gradually play through Final Fantasy VIII. I made offers to change activities or for him to take over, but he seemed happy to simply absorb the tale of intrigue and teen angst.
This was all single player shenanigans and competitive face punching, of course; any working together was the result of real world collusion and general politeness. But then one day I found co-op gaming.
The first Xbox came out on March 14th, 2002 in PAL territories. My birthday is March 13th. This means I had to wait a whole day before getting the birthday present I absolutely deserved and definitely didn’t beg out of my very generous parents. After we cleared enough space for the gigantic black and green box — and for the affordable family cars masquerading as controllers — I managed to hook the monstrosity up to the family TV. And then it was straight into the games!
No, of course it wasn’t. First I had to play with the menu system for an hour or so, meticulously cataloguing the available settings, testing the music player with a copy of the latest album from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, fixing the clock as if it matters at all. Eventually I got to the gaming part, unwrapping my shiny new copy of Halo: Combat Evolved and wasting another 10 minutes reading every page of the manual, before calling my sister over and telling her excitedly that the game had a co-op mode. We could play through it together! She seemed skeptical, but I assured her that we WOULD play through it together.
Nothing bad would have happened to her if she hadn’t played, it was only the implication that something might.
We careened into a pile of pillows near the TV, put the game inside the box and woke up on the Pillar of Autumn. There we were, Master Chief side by side with Doctor Chief, ready to repel the Covenant from the best damn ship in the vicinity. Boldly stepping in as protectors of humanity and fighters for justice. Okay, so it’s not a great look when a highly-trained cyborg super soldier can’t tell up from down, or when he can’t figure out how to duck without his partner pointing it out, but by gum we made it out of that tutorial section with our heads held high. Too high, in my sister’s case, as she kept staring at the ceiling.
The important thing is we managed to kill a lot of aliens. And if there’s one thing that brings a family together it’s war, bloodshed and laughing at other cultures. Seriously, those little grunts are hilarious when they’re fleeing for their lives. I bet they have families. Had, I mean.
At one point Suzy asks me what the glowing things are, and before I can answer with “those are plasma grenades” I explode, my limp corpse flying gracefully over a barricade and into a group of enemies, who snicker and drop teabags onto my head. Suzy promises to be more careful with her grenade tosses in the future. A few minutes later, she sticks another to my face and we both get caught in the blast. Back to the checkpoint.
It’s tough, but we soldier on. Both of us begin getting better, but continue to die constantly. The game becomes less about pushing forward into the fray and more about watching your partner to stop them from getting you both impaled on purple crystal death. We travel across the Halo ring and meet up with the Guilty Spark. We fuck up and release the most annoying enemies in the history of forever. We accidentally launch a Warthog jeep off a cliff, then deliberately launch it another six times. We freak out when one of the NPC soldiers has an Australian accent. People die, battles rage and emotions run hot. Sometimes we stop and eat sandwiches. Sometimes dad tells us to go outside because dirt and snakes are way better than fighting alien zealots if you were born in 1942.
I don’t honestly remember if we finished the whole game, it’s possible. But I do remember that experience every time someone brings up the Halo franchise. Even though the story has only one Master Chief, for me the first game will always be about two bumbling cyborg rookies who somehow save the galaxy. It’s one of those magical moments where video games and real life converged and both sides were better for it. And it’s one of my fondest memories of my sister.
And yet, she only ever brings up the time I almost broke her neck with a trampoline.