Young Americans

An alien’s-eye view of the world: My latest Slate gaming column

Spoiler alert! This entry contains a few plot points to the game Halo 2 — so stop reading now if you don’t want to have any surprises ruined.

Slate has published my latest video-game column — and this one is about the curiously nuanced politics of Halo 2. In the original Halo, you played as a human fighting The Covenant, an alien army. In the new one, you do pretty much the same thing … until about two hours into the game, where you suddenly find yourself playing as an alien. The perspective flips back and forth throughout the game, and it neatly queers the usual black-and-white simplicity of the average first-person shooter. As I note:

This inverted perspective extends, brilliantly, to the manual that comes along with the game’s “Limited Collector’s Edition.” While the game’s plain-jane $45 version comes with a guide written from the human perspective, the bulked-up $55 edition (it also comes with a DVD) has the exact same handbook written from the alien perspective. Both books cover the same material—the weapons, the combatants, the Byzantine back story—but with hilariously different interpretations. The human guide calls the littlest aliens “Grunts” and says that “they will often panic when faced with superior forces.” The alien guide calls them by their actual name, Unggoy, and purrs that they “will as ever fight well with their comrades.” More pointedly yet, the aliens refer to their defeat in the first game as “The Atrocity at Halo.” Who wrote this thing, Noam Chomsky?

Of course, you could argue just as easily that Paul Wolfowitz wrote the humans’ guide. The narrative seems awfully familiar: a “good” force, convinced of its moral superiority, hacking through a faceless, undeterred horde that’s driven by religious fervor. Ahem.

You can read the rest of the review for free online at Slate! And, as always, if you have any thoughts to share on the subject, feel free to post ‘em in The Fray, Slate’s discussion area, where intelligent comments are always welcome.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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