‘The little Banshee driver’: A 10-year-old girl’s quest for kills in Halo 2 on Xbox Live

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After seeing that my older brother had left an idle shooter on the TV in our basement, I made the obvious choice: I decided this was the perfect opportunity to be cool like him. and dive into the world of online multiplayer games.

I was 10, still in elementary school, and ready to debut on Xbox Live. I put on the headset and said my hi, but didn’t experience the instant camaraderie I expected. Instead, I encountered a monotonous voice scrambled to the point of sounding robotic. Of course, I asked if it was a robot. Despite their cordiality, their patience waned around the fifth time I asked the question, and I was finally greeted with a very unmonotonous “SHUT UP”.

Of course, the sudden explosion of my new robot friend was off-putting. But I was no stranger to shooters, especially Halo, having played co-op campaign after campaign with my dad on Halo 2. After hearing Master Chief’s insanely cool last line, “Sir, this fight is over,” I had decided: my fight wasn’t over yet either. So I plunged into the world of Xbox Live multiplayer, first with my dad, then alone. I didn’t care who I was paired with in Xbox Live lounges, or whether they were complete strangers; i would be the best preteen Halo 2 player that no one has ever seen.

I ended up devoting a few years to this pursuit. Day after day, after school or on weekends, I started Halo 2 on our Xbox. And as the infamous Gregorian chants rolled in, I logged into our family Xbox Live account – which had a username that combined letters into our names – and uploaded it to a lobby of our opposing teams. After some chatting, I started the game. It was time for me to prove myself.

At first, whether I liked the game basically depended on which map we loaded onto. Among my favorites were Headlong, Coagulation, Lockout and Zanzibar. Headlong’s cityscape added a fun platforming aspect, and Coagulation’s widely open landscape made it easier to spot friends and foes. While I did the worst on Lockout, I have an inexplicable fondness for this winter fortress. As for Zanzibar, I just liked to push back the fights to go as far as possible in the water.

But it wasn’t until I delved into cards like Headlong and Coagulation that I realized the key to my quest for Halo glory: the Banshee. The Covenant plane became the only weapon I was interested in if it was available. As soon as the game started, I rushed forward before anyone else could object, and I flew up into the sky in a series of flips and began my destruction.

Two players in a warthog shooting enemies in Halo multiplayer

Image: 343 industries / Microsoft studios

During one game in particular, I remember repeatedly firing at an enemy player. Time and time again they have died by my miserable little hands. I felt particularly validated when – to my good surprise – I loaded into the lobby of the next game with this same hapless player from my team. I smugly told them that we had seen each other again.

“Ah yes, little driver Banshee,” answered a guy’s amused voice.

It’s probably a good point to admit (and spoil) that this essay doesn’t end with a story of triumph in my quest to be the coolest, most successful player on Halo 2. In fact, I lost more games than I won. I never made people tremble when they loaded into a lobby and saw my nickname, and my brother never praised me for my online prowess, nor invited me to play Halo 2 with his friends.

Maybe that’s because my whole game strategy depended on finding a Banshee. If I didn’t have the chance to load up a map with a Banshee, or grab one as soon as the game started, I was in an uphill battle – and I literally mean it. My inevitable death was confirmed when an enemy jumped into the air shooting me. Before I could counter, I was watching the respawn countdown. With horror, I saw them squat up and down on my lifeless virtual body (which I later learned was a real cornerstone of toxic play behavior: teabagging. ).

Can’t say I know for sure what went through the minds of my acquaintances when I told them that I used to chat, as a young girl, with a bunch of strangers (usually boys and men) before shooting themselves on a map. But I always quickly followed the statement with “that wasn’t really bad as you might think.”

Of course, there is an inherent risk in entering an often unmoderated forum with strangers, and the lobby and violent cards of Halo 2 with voice chat were no exception. I ran into a good number of rude players, impatient players, team killers and strangers shouting insults. I’m sure some of those moments impacted my young self, although I can’t remember more than 15 years later.

What I remember most, however, weren’t the specific losses, coarse teammates and enemies, or even the victories in my indestructible Banshee (at least that was indestructible until I heard the target lock from a rocket launcher). Most of all I remember the camaraderie and the fun one can have when fighting with complete strangers.

Often times I felt like my unique little girlish voice in the game chat made no difference, unlike in real life where I was among the youngest in the neighborhood and treated accordingly by other children. In the multiplayer maps of Halo 2, whether I was trying to slide off a building roof in Headlong or Banshee flips off bases in Coagulation, I was just another player. My teammates would sometimes drop their best weapons to help me, or they would shoot an enemy before they could get me (and sometimes I would save them). Sometimes it was even as non-combative as a kind voice giving advice and turning everyone on.

These are the memories of playing Halo 2 on Xbox Live that I took with me, and this is something I notice and try to remember the most when playing online games now: the mundane nature of people wanting to cooperate. Sharing these experiences with people I will probably never meet and creating new experiences when playing online with my dad, instead of just replaying the campaign, were some of the most formative moments of my childhood. From my experience, I have a lot of gratitude for this game in my life.

Except for the tea bags.

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