Games as Lit. 101 – Literary Analysis: Halo 2



hello I'm the game professor and welcome to Games's Lit 101 I'm so sorry to have kept you all waiting for so long but at long last let's look at halo 2 I did my analysis of halo combat Evolved still hate that stupid subtitle by the way nearly three years ago when my channel was still small well you know smaller than it is now I've gotten a ton of requests since then to give the same treatment to the sequel so here we are sorry about the wait now you can start bugging me about halo 3 while I try to get ICO and BioShock Infinite taken care of I kid I kid I've wanted to do this one too since as I've mentioned in previous videos the halo trilogy was fairly formative for me as a young gamer so I'm just as excited to get into this one as you are it can be easy to forget now in an age where the modern entries are kinda so-so and Call of Duty effectively hijacks the role of popular shooter all the other shooters want to be like just how popular and influential Halo was it revolutionized console shooters set game design trends that are still being largely followed to this day and practically carried the original Xbox on its shoulders for the first while of the system's life a sequel was inevitable and highly anticipated when it finally arrived in 2004 it was met with resounding praise and it's multiplayer became the driving force behind Microsoft's fledgling Xbox Live service the lasting legacy of Halo 2 may go to its multiplayer in a lot of ways but it's campaign is also rather well known and beloved it expanded the scope of the previous game digging into the religion and society of the Covenant to give us a decidedly more complex story than the first game in a number of ways all with bungees signature tight gunplay excellent atmospheric design and incredible soundtrack written by Martin O'Donnell so today that's what we're looking at as usual this is a full literary analysis so I'm going to be summarizing the game's story in its entirety before digging deep into its thematic premise and delivery so if you haven't already played halo 2 I'd highly recommend doing so before watching this video because there will be plenty of spoilers so without further ado let's dig into halo 2 the game opens not on earth or a human ship but the spacefaring city of High Charity the holy city of the Covenant where an elite is giving testimony to the events of the first game yet the humans were able to evade land on the secret tree and desecrated with their filthy footsteps Noble High Rocks surely you understand that once the parasite remember the Covenant viewed halo with a degree of spiritual significance so its destruction was a major blow this unnamed elite was the one in charge of the fleet that followed the pillar of autumn to halo and thus he is being blamed for its destruction and branded as a heretic from this point we actually cut back and forth between two different ceremonies one the shaming of the elite on high charity and the other in orbit above earth where the Master Chief and Sergeant Johnson are receiving commendations for their actions on halo along with captain Miranda Keyes receiving her father's commendations since he was killed by the flood in the first game it's a neat juxtaposition seeing how the Covenant are punishing this elite for what happened in halo while Humanity is honoring the Master Chief for the same events and it's worth noting that this is actually the first time we see a lot of things in the Halo universe that is to say it's the first time we're seeing humanity outside of any immediate threat of conflict and it's the first time we're seeing anything at all from the perspective of the Covenant the juxtaposition of these two events is an effective way to start off this story and we can see a lot of differences between humanity and the Covenant right off the bat the rigidity of the UNSC compared to the religious fervor of the Covenant as both essentially brand someone for their role in the same events but whereas humanity is making a show of honoring someone the Covenant is making a show of shaming them and that's going to be important but all this has cut short when covenant troops arrive unexpectedly at earth now remember as of the events of the first game the Covenant didn't actually know earth existed they had no idea what or where the human homeworld was and in fact a lot of the purpose of sending the chief down to the surface of the ring in the first game with Cortana was to keep the Covenant from getting their hands on her and subsequently finding out about earth so they're just suddenly showing up here is a really big deal that said it's kind of a strange invasion in that it's sizable and absolutely a threat but not as big as it seems like it should be complete that destroyed reach was 50 times this size so the chief joins the other UNSC forces and repelling the invasion on the space station Cairo we can see here the same kind of in-game storytelling that made the first game work so well we see one of the other space stations explode and notice that the Covenant will invade one of the station's evacuate at Mass and the station will go up in flames with that Cortana surmises that they've been bringing explosives with them so the chief finds the one they brought on board deactivates it then freaking jumps out an airlock with it floats through the space battle to a gigantic covenant ship reactivates the bomb and jumps back out to land on his own space station while the Covenant ship goes up in flames okay I'm here to talk about the story but I can appreciate some awesome heroics – and that was awesome and that actually brings us to one of the major differences between this game in the first one it has a very different tone halo was all about mystery aw and impending danger halo 2 is largely about heroics war and pursuing victory while Master Chief's aside of the story in the least and that difference is felt in a variety of ways especially at this early point of the game we're starting off in a relatively familiar setting and going from here down to earth the feeling of being an alien on a strange world is gone replaced with the feeling of familiarity and a need to drive away the creatures who threaten it and remember how the soundtrack of the first game consisted almost entirely of strings and percussion to set an urgent but mysterious mood not anymore I mean it's still an incredible soundtrack don't get me wrong and there's still plenty of strings and percussion to go around but the tone has definitely changed a bit in a way this does make me kind of sad because this shift to less atmosphere and more action is pretty common in this genre it's practically a science fiction tradition at this point with both the alien and terminator series making this switch with their sequels to great effect I talked in my Gears of War analysis about how this happened in that series and even though the story telling him gears 2 was vastly improved I still think the game suffered for it a bit it happened to Dead Space 2 and I don't even like those games the first one didn't scare me in the first place but I still mourn the loss of the dark atmosphere over time halo 2 does abandon some of what made the first game feel like a little more than just your average power fantasy sci fi military action shoot them up but I can't say it doesn't do so without at least some degree of purpose we'll be getting to it in more detail later on but suffice it to say it makes a level of sense in this story for these sections with the chief to feel a little more traditional familiar and heroic compared to some of the stuff we'll be getting to later on Cortana does however intercept some covenant messages it appears that one of the Covenant religious leaders the prophet of regret is on one of these flag ships and the Covenant is actually kind of scrambling like they hadn't actually expected humanity to be here and after a while of battle they simply bug out the Covenant remains and continues fighting but the flagship with the prophet of regret just decides to leave via slipspace rupture which will cause immense damage to the city there's no time sir soaky's the chief and Johnson all follow with Keyes's frigate and amber clad just before the slipspace rupture it wreaks havoc on the city of new Mombasa this destruction is actually part of the plot set up for the underrated spin-off halo ODST but I'm still trying to keep myself mostly to this specific game for the sake of this video so go play ODST it doesn't get enough love anyway it's here that we actually cut back to the Covenant that elite from before rather than just being executed he's brought to the prophets it's here that we're introduced to the one who seems to be responsible for the elites punishment Tartarus aptly named for the abyss of torment for the wicked from Greek mythology Tartarus is a leader figure of a race we didn't see in the first game colloquially referred to as brutes and technically referred to that way since the Covenant uses the human nicknames for their races in this game for some reason anyway he's the one who chuckled at the elites shame during the trial and he's now taking a good deal of joy in doing the prophets bidding at the expense of this disgraced commanders dignity you may leave Tartarus r4 and take your brutes with you the council decided to have you hung by your entrails and your corpse paraded through the city but ultimately the terms of your execution are up to me the prophets offer him a way out becoming the arbiter a suicidal warrior who exists for the explicit purpose of taking on the impossible in times of crisis it's as good as a death warrant but gives him an opportunity to do some more work for the Covenant first what would you have your arbiter there's a whole lot to talk about regarding the arbiter and his character as a whole as his perspective is the one through which we get most of the game's commentary on organized religion as well as quite frankly just about everything of substance this game has to offer on a thematic level so expect this scene to come up again later the arbiters first mission is to accompany a small group of elites and grunts on a mission to kill a heretic who's claiming that the great journey the religious end goal of the Covenant that they believe will be set in motion by activating the Rings is a lie and this is the moment that the game puts the player into the role of the arbiter this is a pretty big shift obviously and one that has been alluded to by the game following the perspective of this elite as much as it has but still surprising nonetheless it's not too often that a videogame asks us to empathize with the enemies of the game and when they do it's usually because it's a real-time strategy game that wants to provide us with various factions to play for the sake of having diverse mechanical options I deposit this is likely a fairly meaningful parallel considering the original concept for Halo was an RTS but I have no confirmation for that just a hunch anyway playing as the arbiter is kind of jarring at first when you're trained to shoot covenant on sight it can be hard to tell which ones you're supposed to be killing when some of the on your side now even though they do look different for the purposes of letting you know which ones you're supposed to be attacking it's the first time in the series you can use the covenants energy sword and the eerily inhuman hand holding it is weird to see as well the whole premise of this perspective switch is really great but also intentionally offsetting that said it's still familiar in one important way we're still fighting the Covenant but this time is an instrument of propaganda sent to silence dissenting voices and violently maintained the prophets control over the Covenant The Heretic keeps retreating further into the facility so the arbiter does what any suicidal holy warrior would do in desperate times cuts the cables to keep the facility of float to force the heretic to flee before the entire thing falls into the core of a gas planet like you do but when he finally catches up guess who this heretic got all these blasphemous ideas from yes because we didn't get enough of this little floating potato in the first game thanks Bungie anyway it appears that Guilty Spark is considered to be an oracle by the covenant a holy source of information on the Rings and of course since he's an ancient artificial intelligence made for the express purpose of managing the forerunners galaxy ending final resort super weapons one can see why the heretics faith would be shaken once actually listening to him that's the Oracle about halo how they would sacrifice us all for nothing more I would be happy to assist him but of course the heretic is still aware that he's being hunted and attacks the arbiter then we kill him it's super easy with the one shining exception of the Scarab halo 2 isn't all that great at bosses early once Tartarus shows up he rather unceremoniously takes Guilty Spark much to the arbiters offense that and they returned to hi charity back with the chief turns out the place that the prophet of regret jumped to was in fact another halo it was implied in the first game that others existed but this is the first one to be seen so the chief is sent down to pursue the prophet of regret and we find out some troubling news so while the chief keeps on going after her gret commander Keyes and sergeant Johnson try to locate the cartographer so they can get to the library and nab the index before the Covenant can get to it basically they try to do the same thing we did in the first game kind of cool actually how the game relegated the same plot beats from before to the background instead of taking the easy way out and making us do the same thing over again to pad out the game and save on resources the rest of the segment is basically just the chief making his way to the prophet of regret but there are a few important developments we should take note of along the way most notably regret sends an apology to high charity saying there was no indication of any human presence on earth which explains why the invasion fleet was relatively small compared to previous covenant invasions that explains why there were so few ships in his fleet but it's odd a prophet would have such bad Intel about his enemies homeworld when the prophet of truth responds he's very harsh your haste has jeopardized the fulfillment of our covenant threatened our grand design that you shall be spared a public display of our contempt is thanks only to Mercy and his council truth mercy regret three profit hierarchs killing regret shake up the covenant leadership but frankly it sounds like you might be doing truth of a favor then hi charity itself actually shows up above the ring just in time for the chief to find regret kill him and end up falling into the lake when the Covenant tries to glass the place at this point we cut back to the arbiter as it appears a major upheaval is taking place in the ranks of the Covenant recommissioning the God was a radical step but recent events have made it abundantly clear that the elites can no longer guarantee our safety this doesn't seem to be going over well but the prophets have a more important issue for the arbiter to deal with retrieving the index before the humans do there's a lot going on with the Covenant at this point mostly regarding the way their religion is being used to fuel social change and justify an exchange in power we'll be getting more into that when we have the full picture so the arbiter heads down to the ring apparently trying to force the idea of revenge out of his mind the demon is here were retrieving the icon is my only concern of course the flood is there so we spend a few levels fighting through them to get to the index along the way there are a few interesting notes first we see a distinct difference in how Tartarus operates compared to the elites Tartarus spends the whole time in a ship occasionally shooting at some enemies but mostly just kind of hanging around and barking orders he even bugs out at one point just because he comes across a type of Sentinel that we kill multiple times throughout the level alone with just guns and grenades the elites on the other hand stand with the arbiter and help him out and this being halo basically all of them die if only because the Friendly AI is not the greatest this is pretty normal for the franchise but the game calls attention to it with this brief scene as you embark on a lift on your way office I'll deal with these ghosts and calls even more attention to it with Tartarus this response part of this whole arrangement is a game design thing it can be confusing to suddenly be allies with the creatures that you've spent the whole first game and a good chunk of this one shooting so so as not to complicate things any further the brutes are kept specially as enemies you fight a lot of brutes in Halo 2 but you never fight alongside them but this is a narrative decision as well Tartarus and it's implied the Brutes as a whole value power and prestige over any particular virtue we see during the exchange of power that they take things by force rather than granting rank based on worth and accomplishment they act with loyalty and dependability toward the authorities that can grant them more power but act underhandedly and maliciously toward their own brethren that they see as competition they may be pious but it's only for the sake of status within the power structure of the Covenant there's little that we can distinguish as highly held values for the brutes aside from gaining power and when combined with religious fervor it's not good the arbiter comes across the remains of battles between the humans and the flood and arrives just in time to try to take the index from Kees and Johnson overpowering them handily on account of being a giant alien monster but then Tartarus shows up apparently happy to follow the arbiter inside once all the work has been done for him and takes keys in Johnson take your head a lot of things are coming to a head at this point in the story the Covenant is deeply divided the Prophet seemed to be using the Brutes to work on some kind of power grab and both of our protagonists seem to be out of commission which means it's time for something to come along and shake things up a bit what is that this is the grave mind basically he's the flood it's central intelligence the being behind all the parasitical thralls there's a lot to talk about regarding this thing and I'm only gonna get to so much of it I have a policy on this show to stick to the game I'm talking about not get too sidetracked by DLC or books or spin-offs or anything like that and things like this are the reason why the Halo universe gets infinitely more convoluted once you branch off from the games themselves but going into the details provided by such material would basically just give us a long sidetrack that does little to actually help our interpretation of the game especially since a lot of it was created after Halo 2 and we don't really have much of a way of knowing how much of it was actually involved in the writing of this story so I could be making a whole deal about how Miranda Keys is actually the daughter of captain Jacob Keyes and dr. Katherine Halsey who created the Spartan super soldier program into something of a mother figure to John the Master Chief and also the source of Cortana's mind and personality or talking about how sergeant Johnson escaped the destruction of the first Halo since the game made it seem like the chief was the only survivor or how the forerunners are actually tied to the humans in weird ways that the post of Bungie Halo games actually kind of pulled out of their asses but I'm not going to for reasons that should be pretty obvious after that absurd run-on sentence this doesn't mean I'm not gonna draw from these materials at all but it does mean that I'm not gonna take any deep dives into them or base anything addict interpretations on them we're just talking about Halo 2 here as it's presented to us so we don't really know much about the grave mind this is the only time we actually see it in this game and it speaks in a rather riddling fashion so we don't actually learn too much about it there is much talk and I have listened through time you know what I don't actually do this but I'm curious what does this thing look like in the remastered version oh no no no put it back put it back get that thing out of here wow they made the original version look like a freaking teddy bear in comparison jeez anyway and basically it tells the arbiter in the chief that it wants to help them stop the Covenant from activating the Rings because that is obviously in everyone's best interest it also has this installations monitor to 4:01 penitent tangent and the prophet of regret not entirely sure how that last one works since I thought that we punched him to death but this thing does seem to have a long reach and plenty of unknown power so I'll just go with it these two argue for a bit worthless is these Oracle's know nothing of the great journey and you know nothing about containment just so the grave mind can make the point that the great journey and containment are the same thing the activation of the Rings to rid the galaxy of all life and starve the flood which we knew of course but the Covenant has misinterpreted it as a religious end goal the arbiter is skeptical your anyones already destroyed one of the city rings deep so the grave mind sends them out to see for themselves teleporting the chief and the arbiter to two different locations to try and find the index before the ring is activated the chief ends up on high charity and the arbiter ends up near the control room where the index would be used to activate the ring the prophets do indeed have the index on high charity and the master chief starts out trying to find it Cortana has the chief footer in the systems of high charity so she can track the prophets but things quickly get complicated first as tensions on high charity come to a head to the changing of the guard and shame of the elites becomes an all-out Civil War all while the prophet of truth broadcast to the entire city about the help provided by the Brutes end of the strength of the Covenant Regis side eyes and that's not even the worst of it turns out the grave mind was also using the chief in the arbiter as a distraction well the flood took over in amber clad and slipspace jumped it into High Charity with untold number of flood on board it may not register naturally right now since the Covenant has the index and is trying to activate the ring and that that is really bad but they're super screwed right now hi charity is basically their homeworld the seat of their government and not only is the organization itself ripping apart from the inside out an entire UNSC frigate full of flood has landed in their holy city there's still a threat right now but one way or another this is kind of the writing on the wall for the Covenant the flood show up where the prophets are and one manages to jump on mercy and truth well truth is a real jerk let him be the break journey where the chief comes across mercy he explains the truth we'll be leaving on the forerunner ship in the middle of the city to go to earth and finish what they started since he told the truth about truth master chief doesn't mercy for mercy I'm sorry I had to do that at some point I only regret that I couldn't have gotten regret in there as well okay I'm done I'm done for reals now the chief tries to take Cortana back before leaving on the ship but she insists she has to stay in case the flood infestation gets bad enough the chains to detonate in amber cloud and destroy high charity and halo just like in the first game original work so the chief gets onto the ship right before it takes off leaving Cortana behind on the covenants holy city if you know you can't keep it meanwhile the arbiter shows up outside the control room just in time to see what happened when the Civil War kicked off and the brutes started killing elites the betrayal is not taken well of course and the arbiter fights his way through the brutes that have been killing his brethren but he meets up with some other elites and have the opportunity to get into the control room he takes it this does seem kind of abrupt I have to admit the arbiters decision to stop the ring from firing essentially amounts to him denouncing his religious beliefs and then actively working against them which last we saw he wasn't really ready to do your anyone's already destroyed one of the city rings Dean there's not a scene of him seeing and recognizing and accepting that the prophets have been lying to him nor is there a scene of him finding out any more information about the ring and becoming convinced he just kind of sees what has to be done and does it which does seem a little bit jarring but also legitimately make some real sense in relation to the game's critique of organized religion and seeing as we're nearing the end of the summary we'll be getting to that very soon the arbiter tries to get a Scarab to break through the doors into the control room but sergeant Johnson gets there first and you don't like me and I don't like you but if we don't do something small hops gonna activate this ring we're all gonna die come on know what coming well okay good this of course marks the first instance of human covenant cooperation which sets an important precedent Tartarus is trying to convince commander keys to activate the ring since as the first game established humans are reclaim errs and none of the Covenant races are able to do this disobey the higher-ups there are things about him even the hierarchy under the sacred rings what are they weapons of last resort you buy the whole run is to be limited potential blog posts thereby rendering the parasite apartness those who made the Rings what happened to the foreigners after exhausting every other strategic option my creators activated the reason they ignored additional sentient life in free radio the galactic center died that's plan would you like to see the relevant data between us the Tartarus rejects this truth forces the context into the control panel to activate the ring and dies like I said halo 2 has of disappointing boss fights in the event of unexpected shut down the entire system will move to stand my Stephenson the remaining five roads are now heading for remote where would someone go to activate the other right you are of course where then back to the Master Chief Master Chief am i telling me what you're doing on that ship sir finishing this fight alright awesome so it's time for the epic finale where the credits wolf yeah this is a stupid cliffhanger everyone hates it it's really dumb and it's already been talked about plenty so moving on we do get an after credits scene though where high charity seems to have been entirely consumed by the flood and the grave mind is addressing Cortana alright shoot so that's halo two and what an interesting follow-up the first game was a mystery story wrapped in a sci-fi war setting and it played out in the way good mystery stories usually do it was more about discovery and dramatic revelations than characters and meaning about atmosphere and environment in an unsettling mixture of the familiar and the alien halo 2 despite being a very similar game in most respects has vastly different DNA in its storytelling and general artistry it's more bombastic in some ways and more subdued in others more bright and triumphant at times but also more dark and sinister more exciting on the surface but dealing with some surprisingly complex ideas underneath it all how well the two come together is debatable I think it generally works very well but considering these two different tones and approaches are embodied in game by the chief and the arbiter they never really intersect or come together in any meaningful way the Chiefs segments are mostly typical fare for shooters on a narrative level aliens are on earth kill them aliens are on the ring kill their leader aliens are on their own holy city find them and try to stop them from doing the bad thing basically everything of narrative interest in the Chiefs segments still relates to the Covenant like being on high charity in the thick of the Civil War or finding out about the coup against regret the arbiters segments on the other hand sometimes suffer from the same pacing issues but what's happening in them is far more complex go to this station and kill this alien not because the aliens are trying to kill you but because you have to make up for your disgrace by murdering this guy who rejects the teachings of the prophets go stop the humans from getting the index but you're going to be betray the end by the leaders of your own religion stop the activation of halo but in so doing reject your beliefs of your entire understanding of reality as you know it honestly I find myself wishing that halo two went all-in and just pulled a metal gear solid to full on replacing the chief with a brand new protagonist for this go-around there's a major difference in complexity between these two stories that halo two is telling side-by-side and for our purposes that's gonna make this analysis a little weird because honestly just about everything worth talking about happens to the arbiter most of the contributions of the Chiefs levels are set up for the events of Halo 3 introduction of characters we'll need to know for Halo 3 and the series improve to gender diversity halo 2 introduces women into its military NPCs and brings captain Miranda keys into the mix she's not exactly a complex character but she's a welcome presence and contributes well to the series cast of cool determined soldiers I don't care if I have the clearance or not but on a narrative or thematic level the human parts of this story don't really mean that much at this point really the Chiefs arc is pretty much done it happened in the first game it was a simple character arc from ignorance to knowledge and nothing in the sequel really changes her builds on it he just keeps on doing what he needs to do in the situations he finds himself in and while his situations do keep on changing the chief stays the same stay the course mow down the enemies that stand in the way of saving humanity which is fine I guess I do think this trilogy missed a lot of opportunities to do more with the Chiefs character but if anything this is a pretty good setup for the third game where everything switches around and the arbiter gets the shaft so Cortana and the chief can get the narrative spotlight the entire time still a little salty about that but enough of that all it really means is that we won't be talking too much about the chief from here on out because halo 2 somatic and narrative meet lies in the arbiter the Covenant and the way the game uses them to give us some surprisingly insightful criticism of organized religion I'm going to go ahead and start this bit off by getting a little personal generally speaking I try and do these analyses by trying to determine what the game is trying to say what it ends up saying and stuff like that without letting my own viewpoints get in the way too much but when it comes down to it I am still creating these analyses and looking at these games through a lens of my own beliefs experiences and overall worldview halo 2 is largely about the reasons methods and mindsets through which organized religion can be abused how it can be used to control a population organize ideological Crusades and bring power and wealth to its leaders not only at the expense of its people but with their enthusiastic consent and I'm making this analysis at a point in my life where I identify with the arbiter on some level those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know this already but I was raised Christian not insanely conservative but fairly so and well I do still have my faith I find myself estranged from the church and various elements of my upbringing based on some current events this video is being made in America in 2017 so I'm guessing the context is fairly evident I say all this because like I said my analysis is inevitably to one degree or another going to be tinted based on my own experiences beliefs worldview the things that I find interesting to talk about and the things that my beliefs and psychology and training have taught me to notice I just figured that you might be interested in knowing the particular lens through which this video is being made and the baggage that carries because what the Covenant does here is I wouldn't say it's an inherent element of religion or even of organized religion but it is a very common occurrence and one that leaves a lot of hurt and broken people in its wake sure the game is about space aliens on a genocide will crusade to accidentally purge the galaxy of all life but that doesn't mean it's without parallels and rather intentional ones – and those parallels speak to me on a rather personal level at the time I'm making this video so with all that out of the way let's dive in I talked in my analysis of the first game about how halo has a lot of allegorical elements and biblical references and while that holds true throughout the whole trilogy it becomes more and more of a stretch to apply any specific analogy in Halo – it's even less about direct biblical allegory and more about broad religious themes in that it's very much about religion but this is no Narnia where there's a metaphor so blatant it's basically just a fantasy retelling of the crucifixion this is a story that makes itself about a lot of religious themes and there's a lot to unpack about its approach to these topics I could continue to try making these direct parallels between this game's story and the Bible or church history and you know admittedly it would be really interesting to have a discussion as to whether the arbiter is a better allegory for the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther because I I can kind of see him as both and I'm not entirely sure which but I'll I'll let you have all that fun in the comments because in the bigger picture of the story that kind of direct parallel starts to get kind of thin and really the game's criticism of organized religion is far and away the more important topic here so let's take a closer look at the arbiter as a character because he's kind of a central figure of this whole thing we don't know much about the arbiter from before the game begins just that he was very dedicated and held in a position of Honor but that's fine to understand his character in halo 2 we only need to understand that he was an honored and devout member of the Covenant but was disgraced by the destruction of halo on his watch the language they use here reveals a lot about how the Covenant interacts with their beliefs and what's driving the arbiter as a character two things stand out here first the concept of heresy most religions have some degree of core established beliefs but sometimes they go beyond that simple framework into a more rigid and dogmatic approach and one of the keys to this idea is that anything that deviates from the established dogma must be regarded as heresy heresy is defined as a belief or opinion contrary to religious doctrine but in practice it goes a little bit deeper than that when the prophets refer to the heretic that the arbiter is sent to kill in his first mission they're using this word accurately he contradicts the covenants religious doctrine by claiming that the great journey is a lie but when it's applied to the arbiter there's something different going on he didn't deny anything or change anything he believes exactly the same as he did before and yet his failure is treated in the same way as an intentional breach of doctrine your inability to safeguard halo was a colossal failure paraffin one of the more insidious functions of this idea of heresy especially when paired with a dogmatic approach to believe is to pain to anything that doesn't fall in line as the enemy so while heresy is technically a matter of deviating from established doctrine with one's own beliefs it can easily be extended to apply to basically anything that deviates from the norm at all and that's exactly what we're seeing here the language of heresy is being used to paint the arbiters failure not just as poor judgment and competence or even an honest mistake but as an intentional malicious act against the covenants beliefs their ultimate goal and every faithful member of their covenant again deviation from the norm for any reason is labeled heresy this is how the covenant maintains uniformity stepping out of line in any way and for any reason is considered a mortal sin which leads us to the second major motivating factor in the arbiters character arc shame the arbiter is ashamed of his failure of his heresy and of course he is the covenant humiliated him branded him publicly shamed him for his failure so when they wanted something done what did they do offer him a chance to redeem himself and of course he thanked to them for the privilege it's natural to feel shame on our mistakes and indeed that can spur us to self-improvement but when our motivation is that shame itself and not an actual desire to improve that not only is that who had their unhealthy on a psychological level but it's in danger of being used against us and in a system that exists to uphold a dogmatic code of conduct it's pretty easy for that to happen this is kind of a tough thing to talk about because various codes of conduct existing basically every culture society group whatever and it's very important that we not demonize the very idea of defining and knowing right from wrong if anything that's an important thing to consider here in the context in which the scene is taking place the arbiter has made a mistake but he can still do great good if he learns from his mistake and moves to redeem himself there are some legit good moral ideas happening in the idea of him taking on the mantle of the arbiter and trying to accomplish some great things to make up for the mistakes that he made but they're not being used for the sake of self-improvement or justice or anything like that they're being used basically just to get some more use out of the arbiter from people who need him so it's notable here that the problem isn't that the arbiter or even the Covenant recognizes his failure or allows him to redeem himself it's that it presents and contextualizes it in such a way that motivates the arbiter to come to them for redemption and the prophets used that to essentially manipulate him into their service I'm gonna go ahead and take one of my little trips and do they extended halo universe just to note that the title and position of the arbiter itself is a mark of shame in one of the animated shorts from the Halo Legends anthology we see that the position of arbiter was once a highly respected title given to the greatest Singh Halley warriors until one of them stepped out of line enough to be punished and died seeking revenge against the Covenant since then the arbiter has been a mark of shame and yes this shortest Cortese definitely worth a watch but the point is the title of arbiter has been put to good use since then the role of the arbiter is one defined by shame and a quest for redemption not saving redemption though one does not become an arbiter out of self-preservation the shame is inescapable and this will not save him this armor suits you but it cannot hide that long but it will give him an opportunity to make himself useful once again to the people he's failed to cover his shame with service to the cause before meeting his inevitable and well-earned death so we can see how the arbiter is living in a culture of dogma and shame that forms his primary motivation for becoming the arbiter in the first place he views himself as worthless a mere tool who's been graciously given an opportunity to serve the Covenant before it is to be thrown away my elites their lives matter to me yours doesn't this does change of course as he's forced to confront the corruption of the Covenant but before getting into that we need to talk a little bit more about the Covenant itself a successful criticism of organized religion has an important thing to do when that is to focus more on the organized part not that there's anything wrong with the story criticizing religion itself of course but there is a difference between faith and the systems that we construct around it a criticism of organized religion has to be able to make that distinction or else it's just a criticism of religion and for all this talk about how the Covenant uses religion to control its populace and grant more power to those in charge halo 2 is pretty specific in its criticism of organized religion not just religion itself of the organization surrounding it and that's a big part of what makes it work ultimately when we look at what causes harm in halo 2 it's not so much the covenants religion itself as it is the organization of that religion that enforces dogma and enables abusers to gain power after all it's not hard to see how they view the forerunners as gods or the rings as holy sites created by them or the monitors as Oracle's with insight into the forerunners history and designs they basically are all of those things in fact the game treats all of these ancient elements like the forerunners and the gravemind with a very similar kind of religious reference the series as a whole frames these ancient elements with a similar sense of respect and awe that you I feel looking up at a painting inside a centuries-old Cathedral what's more the language used in sequences involving the forerunners or the flood is often straight-up biblical from the grave Minds introduction as the ultimate representation of the forerunners failure – the words you hear if you play the mausoleum suite backwards I'd to join the speculation as to what these words are about but that gets so deep into the extended universe that even I got lost so suffice it to say it's about the regrets of the forerunners under the heavy burden of guilt they carry to their self-imposed graves point is the Covenant is legitimately onto something with their religious treatment of the forerunners and the artifacts and stuff that they left behind and the game's own tone seems to support that the fact is that the Covenant has stumbled on ancient truths that it doesn't understand and their beliefs exist as a way of explaining those truths but what's more built into this religion are all the tools necessary for them to do so the monitors are actually here and actually a source of information the Rings are here the flood is here everything their religion is based on is real tangible and accessible it's an enviable position for any religion to have everything there and ready to be proven on a basic level the covenants religious beliefs are legitimately true the problem is in how they approach that truth that they find remember that as a story based on ancient mysteries the halo series largely values truth above all else understanding the true nature and purpose of these rings is the only way to save the galaxy in this story so it's fitting that our main antagonist would be a figure of authority whose job is to determine and share truth but who instead uses his position to obscure it and twist it to his own ends the prophet of truth is something of a personification of everything that can go wrong with authority and organized religion his job is to work with others of similar position and insight to lead his people and adherence to their beliefs and toward the fulfillment of their ultimate goals and theoretically that's not a bad thing but such a leader has to be selfless more concerned with integrity and the good of the people he's leading than with his own status and success and the prophet of truth is is not that we don't get much insight into truths motivations or character but over the course of the game the irony in his name becomes abundantly clear just consider some of what truth says during the Civil War near the end of the game truth intentionally left mercy to die before this announcement went out and we sure know that Guilty Spark didn't affirm the whole great journey thing at this point the prophet of truth has blatantly abandoned the pursuit of truth and whether he realizes it or not the intent of his beliefs as well it's unclear whether the prophet of truth actually believes in the religion he leads but honestly for what's going on in this story that doesn't really matter whether he's doing it simply for powers sake or out of a legitimate desire to live up to his own beliefs and principles he has essentially at this point abandoned his own integrity for the sake of pursuing his own power this is a big part of the game's statements on organized religion once power is introduced into the mix it can be easy for some people to prioritize the use of that power over the goals of the organization or the good of the people involved and when that happens we often see something called a church split a church leader whether out of selfishness pride or a genuine desire to lead their people down what they believe is the right path determines who is most loyal to them and begins reworking the rest of the leadership to conform with their vision then they might start introducing ideas like membership and more specific doctrine that the community must conform to in order to participate meaningfully in the church's activities basically rather than serving their religious community they start reshaping it to fit what they think it should look like and if it doesn't go smoothly there will be conflict between the people who have conformed to these changes and the people who have been alienated by them often resulting in a portion of the church splitting off to form its own religious community and a lot of members being left with emotional baggage from the betrayal of the people they had trusted I and many OH I know have seen this happen and even been involved in it and while the Covenant Civil War is obviously significantly more violent into bloody than a church split well ok most of them anyway the process is still shockingly similar because like I've said halo twos commentary on organized religion is surprisingly on point so to review halo two has portrayed a religious community that uses shame and Dogma to inspire conformity and loyalty in which a leader has used his position to manipulate the organization and give him the power to accomplish the goals of his religion in the way he wants them accomplished at the expense of the people he is supposed to be leading and this gets to the root of what halo 2 is trying to criticize about organized religion faith is meant to bring hope guidance and moral standards to a community of people but when power is introduced into the mix those goals can become twisted and when they're twisted so is the faith itself like I said before the Covenant has all the resources it needs to discover the truth behind its beliefs and a strong religious base wouldn't be threatened by that it would use each and every discovery to reshape itself to more closely resemble that truth but dogmatic uniformity is more fragile than that especially as a base for political and religious power truth couldn't hope to lead the covenant as a united force if he accepted or broadcast guilty sparks information about the Rings to his people he would lose his grasp on the Covenant if the idea that the great journey was a misunderstanding became commonplace the Covenant would fall apart and he wouldn't end up leader of anything so while he reads out the disloyal into the competition he works hard to ensure that neither he nor anyone else has reason to doubt that whether he's stubbornly refusing to accept the implications of guilty sparks information or fully aware of its truth and intentionally misleading his community he's guilty of the same thing prioritizing his own pursuit of power over the pursuit of truth and faith that his religion theoretically exists to facilitate of course it's not as simple as the bad guy did a bad thing to mess everything up because he's evil and it's never that simple rather the mindsets that we talked about before of heresy and dogma and shame and honor all of these different things contribute toward a worldview that supports and enables this kind of corruption which is how the Brutes were able to come out of all this with the profits favor their loyalty to the profits outstripped their loyalty to their cause or their integrity toward to basically everything just like truth himself their ability to further themselves took priority over what was right and even what the truth of their beliefs actually were or at the very least they viewed the profit of truth as emblematic of their beliefs and followed him regardless of whether his actions were necessarily in line with their faith you might be able to see why playing this game as a frustrated Christian in 2017 America was a highly personal experience for me which leads us to our final point the capstone on all this talk of the covenant church splits and organized religion what actually led the arbiter to reject his worldview and loyalties this is an important point because it's easy to think his he'll face turn comes kind of suddenly one moment he's fighting humans over the sacred icon the next he's denying the truth about the rings to the master chief in the grave mind then next time we get any meaningful dialog from him is when he decides to go to the control room and stop the activation of the Rings what is that place the start of the great job there is time to solve arbitrarily the activation of the Rings is literally the thing he has fought for his whole life the start of the great journey the end goal of his entire worldview and a belief system and now he's turning against it completely ruining it without having been convinced of anything more since he last affirmed his belief so what happened to convince the arbiter in the meantime well a different approach got through to him a far more personal one betrayal when the grave mind is talking about the Rings true nature the arbiter has already been betrayed by Tartarus and if he is to be believed the prophets themselves that alone must have hurt and probably planted seeds of doubt but remember the arbiter is convinced that his life is worthless except as a tool to aid in the coming of the great journey so the idea that he was thrown away is in some part of his mind perfectly justified his shame compels him to ignore and justify any mistreatment he may suffer at the hands of those in authority over him another thing that I know I'm not alone in having personal experience within religious communities so being personally betrayed is not a deal breaker for him what is is the betrayal of his people almost the entirety of the last mission is about the arbiters seeing the death and destruction the brutes have been wreaking on the elites with the prophets blessing all the time between this your aliens already destroyed one of the city rings and this is comprised of fighting the brutes that have murdered his people and mess the mind sets of dogma and shame that the arbiter is so embroiled in have easily enabled him to excuse away any factual explanations that contradict what he believes to be true so what gets through to him isn't a suspicion that what he believes might not be right it's seeing the harm his religious community has caused of course the fact that the Covenant has caused so much harm is not on a logical level sufficient reason to claim that their beliefs are false and like I said there is a lot of truth hidden beneath all of their ceremony into their warped doctrine but there's power in the realization that the truth you seek is incompatible with the actions of the organization ostensibly meant to lead you to it especially when like I said one's judgment is clouded by mindsets designed to promote uniformity and discourage dissent and it's worth noting of course that the arbiter has seen the covenants atrocities before he's helped perpetrate the genocide against the humans and quite proudly intended to continue doing so I really continue my campaign against the humanists there's certainly little credit to be given to someone who only acted to curb suffering when it hit close to home but that's often how these things go people find it easy to believe that suffering is justified or exaggerated when it's happening to someone else but when their eyes are opened to that cruelty however that may happen it becomes clear that the perpetrators of such violence cannot be justified or supported the arbiter turns away from his religion not because he's convinced the facts don't add up but because his community betrayed him and that forced him to confront the harm that it was causing and for that matter to acknowledge the truth about halo and the forerunners and the untold harm that could yet be caused and this is actually at the heart of these first two games remember how the first halo was a fairly simple mystery story about the importance of uncovering and understanding truth well the second game is actually fairly similar in that regard except well actually you know the gravemind sums it up rather nicely this one is machine and as it's mine to conclude this one is what flesh and faith and is the Lord the chief is a soldier and Cortana is an artificial intelligence they overcame ignorance by finding out what needed to be done and doing it the arbiter is a creature of faith and needed more than contradictory information to make that change he overcame ignorance by waking up to the harm caused by the abuse of his beliefs and acting against it these two approaches have the same ultimate conclusion the discovery of truth and the conviction to do something about it but both came from different places and both have very different obstacles to overcome along the way and it's through this that we see the halo trilogy attempting to explore these two different approaches to life one of faith and one of observation and it's probably pretty telling that neither of these approaches ever actually figure something out without some kind of all-knowing ancient being explaining it to them but halo 2 gives us so much more to talk about because it's approach to this topic is significantly more complex than the first game by going deeper into the covenants religious and societal structures it gives us far more than a simple contrast to the first game's themes of ignorance in the pursuit of truth and throws in a surprisingly accurate and insightful portrayal of some of organized religions greatest weaknesses and dangers which is a big part of why despite being far from perfect in a number of ways halo 2's campaign is without a doubt the strongest narrative of the series thanks for joining me for this analytical look into the story and meaning of halo 2 I hope you enjoyed it learned something and made me found some stuff to talk about in the comments you can follow Games's literature on Facebook or Twitter and there are links in the description to all that stuff make sure to join me for my next big literary analysis when I'll be taking on supergiant games a second outing the apocalyptic cyberpunk adventure transistor so until next time class dis time to finish this analogy

30 thoughts on “Games as Lit. 101 – Literary Analysis: Halo 2

  1. Basically another thing ruined by selfish human agenda. Religion shares a lot of things with politics.

  2. Last note throughout the whole of the arbiters missions wh are shown how the covenant religion is wrong from the religious icon saying "hey no, your wrong", seeing the prophet mutalated and deformed, and the whole of the last two missions showing the elites being slaughtered with nothing the arbiter can do which puts a parallel between the arbiter and the chief as they both have to watch helplessly as their race, their people are slaughtered by the covenant.

  3. Best part of halo 2 is that you can go into a couple of multiplayer maps and learn about how the flood escapes delta halo and one map in halo 3 mythic

  4. I ended up playing Halo 1 and 2 back to back having arrived to the party late (just as Xbox LIVE was kicking off) and having read the expanded material previously. Having these two in quick succession blended them for me, and the expanded material published up to then made the world much much richer for me as a result, all sort of compounding to great effect. But Halo 2 was an amazing experience regardless. The menu suite alone is still nostalgia goosebumps inducing.

    It's been a really long time since playing these. I hadn't quite realized just how literal some of the religious parallels were and how much depth there was to what it was trying to do. Halo 3 had a lot to live up to. I've come from a similar upbringing, and I have too seen the darker side of what these kinds of mindsets enable. What organized religion has shown itself to be capable of and where those more perverted mindsets lead a person (as far as self-destruction in some cases), has all been enough to unseat even the most conditioned and blindly accepting person of faith in myself.

    Not healthy. Not healthy at all and quite far from what that religion is meant to champion or represent. I really liked what you said about the mindset of heresy and how that gets extended to deviation from the norm in general. The concept of betrayal is also a very strong one. Even if you don't outright or immediately abandon all tenets of your faith, seeing what that faith is capable of compelling people to do and especially to you personally completely unseats the basis of what that faith was meant to represent or facilitate.

  5. I agree with your comments about the tone of the second game. I've only played the first two since I don't own an Xbox system but I really loved the first one precisely because of that sense of mystery and awe. The second one was also enjoyable to play but I didn't like it as much.

    And of course it took me years to get to these games so I have no experience with the multilayer.

  6. I'm pretty sure your friends are only dying because your not giving them more powerful weapons like explosive weapons and sniper weapons.

  7. That’s why I like the Cole protocol. Arbiter back story!

  8. I experienced what you called Church Splitting within a political group I used to be part of.

    ):

    I miss that political group. I’m sad it broke up into like 7ish smaller groups.

    ):

  9. As someone who has gone through a deconversion myself, I feel the need to join my voice to those complaining about how quickly the Arbiter turns around. I was pretty deeply religious as a child and a teenager, and turning away from that as I approached my 18th birthday was unspeakably difficult and emotionally harrowing. Years passed between when I first learned all of the information I logically should have needed to realize Christianity was false and when I actually accepted it, and that acceptance happened in stages.

    For this story to portray deconversion realistically, the Arbiter would have to be struggling to bring himself to stop the ring from firing, and he would have to spend more time than elapses before the end of Halo 3 trying to find a way to let his religious beliefs be true in some sense despite everything he's learned.

    There is still a definite threshold moment when you make the conscious decision to no longer self-identify with the label corresponding with your religion, but that doesn't happen until you've been unpleasantly forced past every permutation of your own religious beliefs and every possible defense of them.

    Of course, the Arbiter isn't in the same situation as me, first and foremost because there's no precedent for moderate versions of his religious beliefs. If there were no Christians other than young Earth because we all lived in a theocracy that didn't tolerate that kind of dissent, I probably would have deconverted both earlier and more suddenly. It still would have been emotionally difficult though, and the only hint that he goes through anything emotionally difficult is some subtle features of Kieth David's acting when he's explaining what he's learned to Tartarus.

  10. To be fair with the seeming abruptness of the Arbiter's shift, to me it seems like he's mostly just trying to get revenge on the brutes at first, and doesn't actually denounce his faith until he asks Spark to explain what the rings are for and gets the same answer that the gravemind had given him.

  11. These are some of the best videos on YouTube and just like Gears of War 2 they had a pretty good and deep story would love to hear your thoughts on Halo 4. went for a more personal story of Chief way more than any other game. I believe Halo Reach came pretty close as well as having a pretty grounded personal story…

    Anyway you're one of my favorite YouTubers can't get enough of your work

  12. Also can we all agree that the Halo 2 voice actor for Truth did an infinitely better job of portraying the character than the one in Halo 3?

  13. My real disappointment for the arbiter sequence was being an Elite and NOT fighting human enemies. I really think they should've added a level where you get dumped into the arbiter right before his shaming, perhaps even make it the first level of the game to really get peoples' attention, where he fights marines or insurrectionists even. And when he returns from that mission, THEN he's called before the prophets. I feel like if you're going to go down the "playing as covenant" route you need to go all the way. I think it would've pissed a lot of people off, but would also GENUINELY present a reverse perspective. It would've also given more opportunity to play up the animosity between the Elites and Brutes and the different caste roles of the covenant.

    One of my biggest gripes with Halo is its lack of flagrant world building. They are great at putting world building into their maps and environments, but Halo – ESPECIALLY the new games – suck at portraying the wider scope of things and the politics of the times, both within the human factions and between the humans, human colonists or insurrectionists , and the covenant. There is a lot of opportunity there but it doesn't seem to be taken advantage of a whole lot. It kinda reminds me of the new Star Wars trilogy where we have no fucking clue what's going on outside of the events of the story or the geo-political stage on which the events are supposed to unfold. Playing Halo 4, my questions were "What's going on with the covenant now, what's going on with the Elites and the Humans, is there any cooperation or interaction whatsoever?"

  14. I would suggest that the Chief's story is one of rising costs for doing what it is that has to be done. The Arbiter didn't really have all that much else to lose, but the Chief lost one of the only friends he really had left (before 343i started doing their thing and such). As such, Halo 2's Chief storyline is really more of a preamble to Halo 3's more consolidated storyline.

  15. Great video!! Cant wait for Halo 3 and hopefully Reach!

  16. Funny you seem so adamant in your belief the story is only a criticism of "organized" religion and then spend so much time highlighting why I think it's refuting religious belief entirely. I mean, the central premise is that the entirety of the Covenant's supernatural beliefs stem from a misunderstanding of actual physical phenomena. So, yes, their faith and zeal have dire consequences through the organization that is the Covenant, but their faith itself is entirely misplaced as well. They are demonstrably wrong in their interpretation of what they believe to be sacred. I think that makes the Covenant arm of the story a refutation of faith not just religious institution.

  17. Can't wait for you to tackle Halo 3. Especially since the second level has a secret cameo from the guys at RoosterTeeth, back when Red vs Blue was their only notable and remembered series.

  18. 1) I've said for a long time that the Arbiter (Thel Vadam) was the main character in Halo 2. Anyone who says otherwise wasn't paying attention lol. He actually had a character arc, unlike the Chief. Like you said in the video, the Chief's parts were all set up for Halo 3, he had no development of his own. Halo 3, while it nailed the tone (mostly thanks to the scores by O'Donnell) really fell short on the story. I've always had the feeling we never actually got Halo 3, we got "Halo 3: Abridged". This is pure speculation on my part, but I am absolutely sure that Microsoft wanted to avoid a repeat of Halo 2's multiple delays, and so set a HARD deadline for development. As well, they wanted a greater emphasis on multiplayer to support Xbox live and continue the trend set by Halo 2. Therefore much more time was spent on multiplayer development relative to the campaign, and if I'm right and that is the case then it reaaaaaallllly shows. Halo 3's story feels rushed, like a short movie based on a long book, as if there's a lot just…..missing. Like the Lord of the Rings Movies. Great movies, but they had to throw out like 2/3 of each book. That's how Halo 3 feels to me, like 2/3 of the story is missing.

    2) Diving outside of the game real quick here to discuss Truth and his motivations. You make a good point about how whether or not Truth actually believes what he's preaching, it's irrelevant. All he cares about is his own status and the preservation of the Covenant. The entire reason Truth started the war with the Humans was to cover up evidence that the Covenant's beliefs could possibly be flawed. He learned that Humans were supposed to be the inheritors of the Forunner's power/empire, not any of the Covenant races. Basically if God showed up and told the Jews, "Hey so sorry about this but you guys actually are NOT the chosen people, that was a translation error. My Bad". Truth would commit genocide against an entire species to maintain his Covenant, which leads me to believe something very disturbing about his role in Halo 3. It's my personal belief that Truth knew full well by the time of his demise in Halo 3 exactly what the true purpose of Halo was. I believe he was willing to activate the rings and kill not just himself, but every intelligent species in the galaxy if it meant he didn't have to be exposed as a liar, lose his power, and suffer the same shameful fate as he inflicted on the Arbiter and who knows how many other "Heretics". Or perhaps it was a kind of "Kool-Aid" type of deal where he believed this ritual death was the path to ascension. Either way I'm certain he knew full well that activating Halo meant death for everybody.

    3) The Arbiter/Thel never explicitly says that he intends to stop the ring from firing when he meets up with R'tas (The white armored Elite in the tank). He simply says "I must get inside". He is thinking about what the Gravemind told him, filled with doubt and seeking the truth, seeking the confirmation of his doubts. The Control Center is a logical place to look for the Index/key, as it MUST end up there eventually if Truth planned to activate it, right? After all, IF the Gravemind is right, then activating Halo would be VERY bad. So I don't think it's a stretch to believe that he could want to at least delay the activation until he knew for ABSOLUTELY SURE that turning on Halo wouldn't toast literally everyone and everything he's ever met. It isn't until the final confrontation with Tartarus, when he is able to ask Guilty Spark about the purpose of Halo and the fate of the Forunners, that he fully sheds his past beliefs. He wasn't JUST trying to convince Tartarus to stand down, he needed to hear it from the Oracle for himself.

  19. Regardless of your personal bias, you did not make the story– the writer did. All you have to do is report on what the writer is or trying to say. Your personal view isn't needed nor wanted. Grow up and get over yourself no one cares about your personal views.

  20. . . . And this is the episode that confirms my affirmation to pledging on Patreon.

  21. American support of Israel is primarily driven not by any actual love for the Jewish people, but by the Evangelical Christian voting bloc's enthusiasm for the Second Coming. If any other country's foreign policy is aligned around setting up what they believe to be the End of The World we'd call them an apocalyptic cult.

    That's how the Great Journey is applicable to real life politics.

  22. Thank you! I always felt like Halo 2 had the best story, but people often cite it as their least favourite game due to its glitchy nature and the fact its ending was chopped up and rushed

  23. I was hoping you'd talk more on the gravemind's quotes like "I am a monument to all your sins". I think its a powerful scene. It's more or less any enemy you've killed coming back to haunt you.

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