I’ve been playing a little Halo 3, for the same reasons that I occasionally force myself to sit down and watch a game of football: they’re both major markers of American sporting/gaming culture, and not having at least a passing familiarity with them is like trying to ignore representative democracy or Oprah’s book club — it’s not that your life is diminished by not paying attention to them, it’s just that it makes small talk with people that much more difficult when you have no common cultural references.
So I’ve been playing a little Halo 3. The single-player campaign on Easy is not too bad, since I can just jump into the fray and play as sloppily as I please — there was one battle where I got completely lost, and by the time I figured out where I was supposed to be, my NPC marines had actually finished the fight for me. Slightly insulting, but so convenient!
Multiplayer is, of course, a completely different matter. The beginner maps are about as simple as you could ask for, and the matchmaking system is (presumably) pitting me against other scrubs and newbies. And yet my very short in-game life still follows the old pattern that I’ve gotten all too used to in FPSes: 1. Spawn in a sudden and disorienting flash of light that’s like a slightly drier reenactment of childbirth; 2. Try to get my bearings while I blink the spots out of my eyes; 3. Start heading somewhere that looks kind of familiar; 4. Realize that the last time I walked through this area, I got my head popped off; 5. Get my head popped off.
After a few dozen matches that went like this, I was slowly starting to learn my way around Snowbound and Guardian, and even managed to finish a couple of matches in next-to-last pace. But then I thought about how much work it had taken to beat one person in one game of Slayer, and then thought about all the other maps and game modes and trash-talking sharpshooters out there, and turned the machine off.
With some games, all the repetition and practice required to progress from beginner to intermediate and intermediate to expert is worth it: Ikaruga and Desktop Tower Defense come to mind — at least to my mind. But my rate of improvement in Halo feels too slow, and just noodling around in a defensive posture doesn’t feel rewarding enough on its own. I think I’m just going to have to accept that it’s one of those great American institutions that I can’t quite manage to wring much enjoyment out of, like football and Manifest Destiny. I’ll muddle along somehow.