The Aliens are the bad guys. Everyone knows that. There’s a film called Alien, in which the villain is an alien, and it kills people because its an alien and that’s what aliens do, right? Think of any sci-fi franchise and undoubtedly you’ll think about a whole host of evil alien bad-guys who want to destroy Earth and kill all the Humans. Predator. Independence Day. Cloverfield. Even Star Trek. And Halo is no exception. The Covenant are an evil gang of aliens who want to destroy the Earth, kill all the humans and basically be bad guys. Or are they?
You don’t expect anything particularly deep in terms of story from a first-person shooter game, but Halo is definitely an exception. There is no doubt that Halo has a story that is both complex and interesting, and the reason for this is that the characters in Halo are themselves complex and interesting. Halo isn’t just a game about blasting aliens – it can be, if you want it to be, but if you pay attention to even 10 minutes of the cutscenes from any game past Halo: Combat Evolved and you’ll see that there is far more to the Covenant than simply a gang of evil roaring laser aliens. They have an entire religion, a way of life and a code of conduct that is just as complex and rigid as any human code of self-discipline, and it is because of their faith that they do the things that they do, even if individuals within the Covenant don’t want to.
At face value, however, the Covenant do appear to be simply a barbaric cult of zealots who want to destroy humanity – they fulfill their role in the game for this very reason. But the Covenant are designed to represent any real-world extremist religious organisation. In a sense, a player of Halo being indifferent to the inner workings of the Covenant is comparable to any real-world person being indifferent to the inner workings of any society or country that they are currently fighting. If people in the real world payed as much attention to the inner workings of genuine fanatical organisations as Halo fans did to the inner workings of the Covenant, then there might just be a greater general knowledge of why modern-era wars are being fought and what the motivations for the real-life ‘bad guys’ really are.
In a sense, the indifference to the psychology of ones enemy stems from a fear of the unknown. We don’t want to know why the people we are fighting are doing the things that they are doing, because every so often there comes a time when we might just realise that we’re not as much in the right as we thought we were, and vice versa. Who are the real ‘bad guys’ in the world? If we stick to the Halo analogy, we know that the UNSC – humanity’s commanding force – are secretly at the beck and call of ONI, a sinister HYDRA-esque organisation that are undeniably evil. And it is from the Covenant that we derive the character of the Arbiter, a fan-favourite who is driven by his desire to bring justice and do good in repentance for the evil things he did during his time in service of the Covenant. So who are the real villains?
In any good story, just as in real life, there are no true ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ – there are simply factions, each fighting for a distinct reason, and it is up to the individual to assess each one and decide for themselves which is the best. It is comparable to sports, in a sense – in the grand scheme of things, is there really any tangible difference between different countries fighting each other and different sports teams competing in a championship? They are all self-interested, independent actors in a great global game – a game in which we are the players.
Choose your team wisely.