Halo: A Modern Conservative Allegory

One of the failures of modern conservatism has been its inability to gain significant influence over the culture. This is evident in the left’s most notable victories. With the iron triangle of the media, academia, and Hollywood, the left is able to seamlessly propagate its ideas into the public sphere. We see this happening while listening to the sound bites of actors such as George Clooney and Matt Damon, the music of Beyonce and Katy Perry, and the themes of some of Hollywood’s biggest films, namely the likes of Avatar and Dances With Wolves.

Conservative intellectuals and pundits like to wave this off as a non-issue, claiming that nobody really cares what some random celebrity thinks. The fact is however, that most people, especially young adults, care more about what’s going on in the pop culture than in politics. A June 2015 Pew Research Poll found that only 26% of Millennials consider “government and politics a top-three interest” as opposed to 45% of Baby Boomers and 34% of Generation X (Pew Research Center, 2015). So when Millennials see that their favorite celebrities are endorsing Hillary Clinton or are in favor of bringing in more Muslim refugees, they think, “Cool! I love Leonardo Di Caprio. If I want to be like him, I should endorse Hillary Clinton!” Why else would the media take the time to ask people like George Clooney and Sean Penn about politics?

Over the last thirty years, Hollywood has been blatantly pushing a left-wing agenda. Whether it is an intentionally political film or subtlety implementing themes of post-modernism, social justice, and socialism. These ideas are presented to audiences and gradually influence public opinion on certain issues. To counter this tactic, conservatives must not create entertainment that openly endorses an ideological agenda, but rather focus on creating engaging stories that champion conservative values. One only needs to look back on the popularity of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, or any one of the last Marvel films for proof that this can be successful.

In recent years however, video games have become even more popular than movies, so conservatives should look to utilize to advance their ideas in this arena. We already see pro-military, pro-American themes in popular first person-shooters such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, but there is another video game that conservatives should look to as an example: Halo.

Halo is one of the most popular first person-shooters of all time. The franchise has sold over sixty-five million copies since the release of the first game in 2001. Over the last fifteen years, the franchise has expanded its marketing through books, comics, toys, and even live action spinoffs. It is the reason why most people picked up an original Xbox in the first place. As a lifelong Halo fan, the unforgettable story, rich characters, and action-packed gameplay have enamored me. On the surface, this might just seem like any ordinary blockbuster video game. But if you look closely however, you begin to see that these games are filled with blatant conservative messages. So much so that I’m convinced that the people working at Bungie and 343 Industries are closet conservatives. Let’s take a look at some of these elements.

The Hero’s Journey

Halo takes place in the 25th Century, when Humanity is at war with the alien empire known as “the Covenant”. The story follows the journey of Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (the Master Chief), a member of a group of elite, genetically enhanced super soldiers known as the Spartan-IIs. John is accompanied on his journey by an Artificial Intelligence construct named Cortana. Being modeled after the brain of an actual human being, Cortana has a very human personality and human emotions. Her job is to assist John and guide him through his missions. John’s personality is one of a man of few words, reminiscent of an Eastwood type character. A no nonsense-type who inspires others and gets the job done.

In the very first game, John’s journey brings him to the mysterious Halo rings, fortress worlds that possess the power to annihilate all life in the galaxy. After crash landing on the first Halo ring, John and Cortana must work together to stop the Covenant from using the ring against Humanity. John’s challenges intensify as he and Cortana come upon the parasitic life forms known as the “Flood”. John (in his aptly named “MJOLNIR” armor) valiantly fights through the monstrosities of the Covenant and the Flood, reminiscent of a classic Greek or Norse hero. One can think back to Theseus’ journey through the labyrinth while battling the Flood within the hazardous, enigmatic surroundings of the Halo ring.

In the subsequent games, John is tasked with thwarting the Covenant and the Flood again and again. John possesses the attributes of a true alpha male. He is a man willing to go above and beyond to save his civilization.

Modern Politics

The politics in the Halo universe bear a great resemblance to our own. Humanity has been largely united under the banner of the Unified Earth Government (UEG), protected militarily by the United Nations Space Command (UNSC). Humanity faces an external, alien threat known as “The Covenant”. The Covenant is an intergalactic empire comprised of multiple different alien races, possessing technology far greater than that of the humans. They are a theocratic regime hell-bent on the destruction of humankind, stemming from their belief that humanity is a heretical affront to their religion.

The Covenant’s end goal is to locate the Halo rings and ignite them in order to trigger a spiritual transcendence known as, “The Great Journey”. One can look at the Covenant from Halo and notice the striking parallel between it and radical Islam, with the UNSC playing the role of America in it’s current conflict. The Covenant is ruled by a group of religious leaders known as the Prophets. The Prophets administer both state and religious affairs in the government, which is similar to how a caliph in the seventh century would run the Islamic Caliphate. They also resemble the current way in which the Mullahs run Iran or how the Saudi Royal Family governs Saudi Arabia. “The Great Journey” can be seen as the Covenant’s version of eternal paradise. By activating the Halo rings, all sentient life in the galaxy is destroyed, while elevating the faithful to godhood. In Islam, death in Jihad is to assure the pathway to salvation:

“And if ye are slain, or die, in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy are far better than all they could amass” (Sura, 3: 157).

In the second installment of the franchise, Halo 2, we are introduced to a character named Thel Vadam, known by most fans as “The Arbiter”. Thel is a member of the Sanghelli (i.e. an Elite), an alien race that is the backbone of the Covenant military. Once an accomplished and respected military commander, after failing to prevent the destruction of the first Halo ring, Thel is decried as a heretic and is sentenced to death. Instead of executing him however, the Prophets decide to name him the next Arbiter. The position of the Arbiter was originally a great honor, reserved for only the greatest of Sanghelli warriors, that gave the holder of this title untold power and influence over his followers.

After one such Arbiter denied the existence of the Great Journey and was branded a heretic, the title of Arbiter would forever be used as a mark of shame, given to those who wished to claim forgiveness for their sins, and destined to die in the service of their Covenant. After being betrayed by the Prophets and learning the truth about the Great Journey, Thel joins forces with Master Chief and the humans, and rallies the other Sanghelli in rebellion against the Prophets. In later fiction, we see Thel leading the reformist Sanghelli forces on Sanghelios in a civil war against the radical, fundamentalist Sanghelli who still cling to the Great Journey and have reformed the Covenant.

The Swords of Sanghellios, led by Thel, are analogous to the modern day Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which want to establish a secular, pluralistic society in the Middle East. The newly reformed Covenant, now known as the Servants of The Abiding Truth, is much like the enemies of the Peshmerga: ISIS.

In fact, the goal of this new Covenant is to reaffirm the empire’s former dominance, exactly the same as ISIS’s goal to reestablish a global caliphate. During the Sanghelli Civil War, the UNSC’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) begins arming both the Servants of The Abiding Truth and the Swords of Sanghelios, unbeknownst to both groups. They do this to keep the Sanghelli occupied so that they will be too busy to bother Earth again. This is reminiscent of our current foreign policy failures. We currently neglect arming the Kurds, one of our only reliable allies in the region, and instead arm Islamist groups who turn on us once they are through dealing with those we funded them to destroy. It would have been much easier for ONI to solely back the Swords of Sanghellios than to play this risky double game with the Covenant. Perhaps they don’t trust the Arbiter.

With their fanaticism and desire to obliterate the human race, the Covenant is a clear representation of Islam’s desire to destroy Western Civilization.

In the most recent installment, Halo 5: Guardians, the Master Chief is forced to face off against his longtime friend Cortana. Cortana has been revived following her death in Halo 4 and has gained control of the “Guardians”, ancient Forerunner war machines used to police the galaxy. She seeks to attain the Mantle, a Forerunner concept that implies imposing imperialistic hegemony upon the galaxy. She claims to be doing this for the greater good – that it will end war, poverty, and famine, but done all under the threat of force. When the Master Chief finally confronts Cortana, they share this exchange:

Cortana: Hello, John. It’s good to see you.

Chief: You’ve changed.

Cortana: It was time. I know we have a disagreement. But once you understand my plan…

Chief: You’re plan…is we do as you say.

This exchange highlights Chief’s opposition to authoritarianism being used as a means to create a perfect utopia. Chief worked alongside Cortana during the Human-Covenant War to defend the life and liberty of all of humanity, not so that she could one day rule over them. A familiar line is uttered by Captain America, in the fantastic, blockbuster film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which Cap denounces S.H.I.E.L.D’s new Helicarrier program: “This isn’t freedom, this is fear. You’re pointing a gun to everyone’s head and calling it security.” Likewise, the Master Chief is obliged to stand up against this immoral tyranny.

Religion

The Halo franchise is so rich with religious influences that it can almost be looked at as a Christian allegory. There are many elements in these stories that reflect religion and myth, some subtle, some obvious. Let’s begin with the Master Chief himself, John-117. His very designation is a reference to the Bible verse, John 1:1-7, which reads: “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.” This is fitting for John, as he is essentially a Christ-figure, born to be the savior of humanity and restore in them a sense of hope. The false prophets, of course, can be related to the fact that individuals can be lured into accepting a false vision of God. Aside from the lie that activating the Halo rings will bring the Covenant salvation, the Prophets have also deceived their followers into believing that they are the true inheritors of the Forerunner Mantle and not the humans, whom in reality are.

The story of the Forerunners reflects many aspects of the Biblical story of creation. 100,000 years before the Human-Covenant war, the Forerunners ruled the greatest civilization ever created. None surpassed their technology, their empire spanned a million worlds, and they acted as the galaxy’s caretakers. They were not the first civilization, however, to hold this Mantle of Responsibility. Billions of years earlier, a race of beings known as the “Precursors”, were responsible for seeding the galaxy with life-namely the Forerunners and Humanity. Not much is known about the Precursors. What we do know, however, is that the Precursors “were trans sentient beings, existed on an abstract level beyond that of conventionally sapient biological organisms. They were not tied to any particular physical form, assuming any shape as they saw fit; they would allow themselves to die away and be evolved anew over and over again, taking on numerous incarnations both physical and immaterial.” Essentially, they were gods. As they watched a species grow and develop, they would judge whether or not they were worthy of one day attaining the Mantle. When it came to be the Forerunner’s turn to be tested, the Precursors decided that they were unworthy of this task and instead chose another of their creations to inherit the Mantle-Humanity. This decision infuriated the Forerunners, to the point that they revolted against their creators and nearly drove them to extinction. The Forerunners took the Mantle of Responsibility upon themselves. The Precursors, as they were, would never be seen again.

Millions of years later, as the Forerunners ruled the most advanced empire in the galaxy, Humanity had built their own empire, rivaling that of the Forerunners’. They had achieved interstellar space travel, inhabited countless worlds, and possessed awesome military might. Tensions grew between the two species, as Humanity sought to escape the Forerunner hegemony. At some point, the Humans intercepted automatic cargo ships carrying millions of cylinders filled with an unknown powder. Initially, the Humans found this powder to be harmless. They first tested it on small, domesticated animals, known as “Pheru”. The Pheru began demonstrating unnatural side effects, such as growing fleshy tentacle-like rods. The Pheru began infecting more of their kind with this infestation and it would eventually spread to the Humans, turning them into hideous monstrosities. This would mark the first coming of the crisis known simply as the Flood; a parasitic life form that reproduces by consuming all sentient life. The Flood acts as a collective intelligence, with smaller forms being used to infect and combat their prey being controlled by an intelligence called a “Gravemind”. The more sentient beings it consumes, the more intelligent it becomes. By the time the Humans recognized the threat, the Flood had spread to Forerunner worlds. The Human’s only choice was, reluctantly, to cleanse any Forerunner planet with even a slight infestation. The Forerunners perceived this as an unprovoked attack upon them.

War broke out between the Humans and the Forerunners, ravaging both their civilizations and exhausting them of their resources. As a final act of desperation, the Humans attempted to defeat the Flood by sacrificing one third of their population to genetic experiments and allowed them to be consumed by the Flood. It was believed that these new genes had been successful in driving off the Flood, as they seemed to disappear from the galaxy. The Forerunners eventually won the war against the Humans. As punishment for their transgressions, Human civilization was regressed back to a hunter-gatherer state, exiled to their home world of Earth, and sent through a process of biological devolution. The main reason the Forerunners did not terminate all of Humanity was so that they might someday learn the cure to the Flood, should it ever return.

The Flood would return 10,000 years later, plaguing every world it touched. The Forerunners tried every conventional solution available to them, but it was no use. The Flood had spread too far and too wide. They could not be stopped. There was no alternative-they had to activate the Halo rings. The Flood fed on intelligent life to survive and expand. Removing that life from the galaxy would eliminate the Flood. Before they ultimately fired the rings, the Forerunners came upon a horrifying revelation about the true origins of the Flood. The Flood did not appear out of nowhere as was once believed; the white powder that was discovered by the Forerunners was in reality the remains of the Precursors. The remaining Precursors had dissolved themselves into dust and planned to later remerge as their past forms. However, the dust became corrupted, causing biological mutations upon any who came into contact with it. This corrupted form of the Precursors sought vengeance for the betrayal of their children and sent a great Flood to punish them for their sins.

After further examination, one can easily unearth the parallels between the flood of the Precursors and the flood of the Book of Genesis. The massive installation that built the Halo array was known as “the Ark”. When all seemed lost at the end of their war with the Flood, the Forerunners stored the members of every species they could gather onto the Ark to protect them from the Flood and to shield them from the firing of the rings, as Noah did with the animals. As in the Bible, there are two of these Arks. With the Flood eliminated by the firing of the Halo Array, the Forerunners reseeded the galaxy with life and returned the remnants of humanity to Earth. The Forerunners left the galaxy, leaving the humans to one day reclaim the Mantle, as they were always meant to. Just like how in Scripture humanity is said to one day reclaim the kingdom of God at the second coming of Christ, John could be that Christ-like figure to lead humanity to reclaim the Mantle.

Conclusion

With its religious influences, timeless displays of heroism, and reflections of current events, the Halo franchise proves to be much more than a mindless first-person shooter experience. Halo demonstrates that it is possible for video games to present rich story lines, complex characters, and poetic allegories to the player. Again, what makes Halo so successful is that rather than focusing on pushing any particular political agenda, the creators focus on telling a rich and engaging story, while championing conservative values, much like modern day super hero films. This is why the franchise resonates with so many people, including those that would not identify themselves as conservative. This is a formula that conservatives in entertainment need to follow. We can’t rely on think tanks and philosophy alone to win hearts and minds. We need to win back the culture, and video games are a big part of that culture.

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