Your Identity (as Master Chief)

I recently came across an article interviewing Bungie‘s Joseph Staten about the creation of Master Chief, the protagonist of 3 of the Halo games and one of the most recognizable characters in video game history. Here’s the link:

I found it interesting that they specifically talk about the players identifying with Master Chief, that they intentionally left him as more of a blank slate so people would see themselves as Master Chief (I know it worked on me!). Remember Gee’s principle of Identity, that good learning comes from being able to take on new identities related to the task at hand.

The part about Cortana’s evolution intrigues me, too. She started off as a person in your ear, just telling you what to do. But by the end of the 2nd game (even the 1st game, to some extent) you saw more of a human side of her, and that in turn brought out more of the human side of John (Master Chief’s real name).

I initially thought that humanizing Chief more would make him less relatable. However, after I thought about it, I realized it actually made him MORE relatable, at least for me. If the character I’m playing as has no backstory, if he/she is just some nameless person with no personality, I don’t get as attached (this excludes games like Fallout or Oblivion, where you create your character and there is some minimal, general backstory). But when I see that the character acts more like a human, and I can get involved in their backstory (for example, that Master Chief was (supposedly) the last Spartan made him totally awesome, like he was badass enough to survive. I say supposedly because in the Halo books/graphic novels we learn that there are still other Spartan-IIs surviving, and an entirely new program of Spartan-IIIs). The fact that John shows his human side around Cortana, and they have an emotional relationship, made it easier to think of myself as Master Chief.

As a sidenote, if you couldn’t tell, I really enjoy the Halo series. I know there are a lot of people who despise and hate it, but it’s been one of my top game series for a very long time now.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Doug Sharp
    Feb 06, 2011 @ 13:31:59

    Great article–thanks for sharing! Halo is no doubt the game I spent the most time playing, and I definitely feel a connection with the Master Chief (to the point I was annoyed that I had to play through as the Arbiter in Halo 2). I remember reading all the accompanying “novels” when Halo: Combat Evolved first came out, and loved all the backstory, but at the same time, I felt like deeply connected to MC in the game…


  2. Craig Belpedio
    Feb 08, 2011 @ 01:00:30

    You know, it’s funny: I feel more connected to Master Chief than I do to Noble 6 (Halo: Reach) and the Rookie (Halo 3: ODST), and both of those characters are total blank slates (you’re given the MOST basic information about them as possible). I think this works a little better in Reach because any armor customizations you make are represented throughout, including the single player. I don’t know what I like better, playing through the game thinking “Ok, I am ME, I’m running and gunning etc.” or “I am Master Chief”. I like being able to completely put myself into the character, but I do like the fact that Chief has his own backstory that I personally find intriguing. It’s an interesting contrast in these games from one developer.


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