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Madness? This is Halo

BY NICHOLAS KELLY | MARCH 25, 2009 7:30 AM

Spartans, what is your profession?

The day may have come when this question — posed by bethonged King Leonidas in the film 300 — has reached its ironic apex.

At least if you’re familiar with a game called Halo.

Halo as in the nigh-ubiquitous game series from former Microsoft subsidiary Bungie studios in which players step in to the role of a special-forces SPARTAN space marine and do what years upon years of science-fiction has taught us that space marines do: kill score upon score of apparently hostile aliens.

Halo 3, the game Bungie recently announced, has held more than 1 billion online matches in the six months since its release, a number that totals more than 64,000 years of Halo 3 play time.
Sixty-four thousand years of online Halo 3? Played in just under six months?

Spartans, is this your profession?

Bungie itself is kind enough to note that collective 64,000 years players have spent on Halo is a monumental sum. According to Bungie’s company website, 64,000 years ago, Neanderthals still roamed Earth. This fact no doubt serves to underscore just how much time has been sunk in to the phenomenon, but it may not quite be the whole picture.

One begins to wonder — what else could be accomplished with 64,000 years of effort (in other words roughly 561,024,000 man-hours). Surely, when compared to the amount of time humanity has invested in grander endeavors, the Halo 3 time would seem little more than a slight dalliance — a minor example of humanity’s opportunity cost.

Certainly, some of the numbers may look bad. Such as that based on the CIA factbook’s worldwide average life expectancy, over 965 lifetimes have been lived on Halo 3 matches. Or, that at the federal minimum-rate hours of Halo 3 played would translate in to $3,674,707,200 worth of wages.
Of course, compared to the time invested in humankind’s grandest monuments, one would assume Halo 3’s numbers would appear less massive. However, this may not be when considered in terms of the estimated 25.5 copies of the Burj Dubai Tower (the world’s largest) that could’ve been built with Halo 3 man hours or the 80 Empire State Buildings.

In fact, recent scientific theories could even rank the Halo 3 time-sink up there as one of the greatest wonders of the world. Gerard C.A. Fonte estimates in Building the Great Pyramid in a Year: An Engineer’s Report that it would have taken approximately 33 million man hours to construct the Great Pyramid at Giza — meaning 16 pyramids could have been constructed by the virtual Spartan army. Or, according to estimates by Rodney Castleden in The Making of Stonehenge, had the ancient builders of Stonehenge committed as many hours as Halo fans have in the last six months, more than 103 such monuments could have been built.

However one must also consider what 64,000 years of unoccupied time could entail in the wrong hands. This is especially important when considered in the context of SOME Halo players, who have long been pioneers of online behaviors such as the practice of “corpse-humping” described by the website Halo-Pedia as “the act of repeatedly crouching while standing over the dead ‘body’ of a killed enemy, intended to mimic a sexual act.”

Indeed, for the truly etiquette minded Spartan, Halo3Forum.com (advertised as “The Biggest Halo 3 Forum”) even sports a guide titled “How to Properly Hump Someone in Halo,” which includes such maxims of online decorum as, “Humps are very valuable to a Halo member. When you begin to crouch down to give the opponent a face full of nuts, only crouch down a few times,” or “Don’t be gay and give the player humps after the first kill. It’s not the proper time, and it’s highly disrespectful.”

Popular gaming media outlets have even caught on to this curious architecture of the online Spartan’s mindset, such as web comic Penny Arcade, who suggests that the basic style of Halo play was developed “back at the frat in Phi Theta Jackass.”

So while one may lament all the good that may have been done in the lifetimes spent as an online space marine, let it also be said that perhaps a greater evil was averted. For at the end of the day, it may be hard to say what’s the absolute best use of one’s time, and for those of us who provide a more plebian answer to Leonidas’ question, take heart that for now, those brave Spartans are online, and far, far away from us.


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