I was 17 years old on September 25, 2007, the day Halo 3 launched for the Xbox 360. And on that day, I made a choice that forever altered the trajectory of my life.
Up until then, I played almost exclusively offline, single-player PlayStation titles, enjoying games like Kingdom Hearts and Spyro the Dragon during my early and late teens. My parents, once bemused by my affinity for games, had reached a point where they no longer understood or supported it, and wouldn’t buy me any new consoles for birthdays or Christmas. I had no experience with shooters or online play or really anything outside of my narrow purview until I started dating my then-boyfriend in 2006, who spent the days leading up to Halo 3 teaching me the ins and outs of Halo 2.
For months we’d play custom games against each other, then we moved onto him letting me play some matches on my own while he coached over my shoulder. I slowly but steadily improved. Then, he left our hometown for his freshman year of college, taking his OG Xbox (and therefore my Halo access) with him.
Without an Xbox, I worried that I’d fall even further behind, and everything I had learned would become obsolete with the launch of Halo 3. So on September 25, 2007, during a free period at school, I took my 1995 Chrysler Cirrus out of the parking lot (high school seniors enjoyed an open campus where I grew up) and drove it to my local Target. Then, armed with the money I had earned scooping ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s all summer, I bought an Xbox 360, an Xbox Live subscription card, and Halo 3.
Later that day, my dad came home from work and saw the television pulled away from the wall, with me jammed behind it setting up the 360’s display cords. “You’re a fucking idiot,” he mumbled. In some ways, he was right—I couldn’t afford anything for months afterward, let alone a new video game, so for well over a year Halo 3 was the only thing I played. But spending all my money on a new Xbox and the latest Master Chief game drastically shifted my gaming preferences and my life, turning me into the woman who would eventually be here, at Kotaku, writing about the very game itself.
Naturally, the first thing I did when booting up Halo 3 was play through its campaign, which took me all of a few days to finish. I’d come home from soccer practice, take a lightning-fast shower, and descend into the basement to play until I was yelled at for being up too late. I used my campaign playthrough as a chance to practice my accuracy, though I could never unlearn playing inverted, as it was the setting my boyfriend had on his console.
After I beat Halo 3’s campaign and talked about it ad nauseam in school, some classmates added me as an Xbox Live friend (my gamertag was, and still is, hayyGIRLhayy, a nod to an obscure reality TV show called A Shot At Love WIth Tila Tequila) and we started running matches together. They were leagues ahead of me in terms of gun skills and game movement, but I refused to quit, even in the face of the rampant toxicity that characterized Xbox gaming in the late aughts. Within a couple of months I was the second-highest rank possible in Halo 3 (consistently a level 46-49 Brigadier) and every match I played I flirted with reaching the elusive level 50. I’m pretty sure my high school yearbook has at least one reference to hitting 50 in Halo 3.
When I went away to college, the only thing I cared about was if my miniscule television and my Xbox 360 would fit on my dorm room dresser. Despite finally having the freedom I so desired in high school, I never stopped playing Halo 3, and would turn to it during those horribly hungover late mornings that only an 18-year-old college student can fully understand. I often slept in a Halo T-shirt I bought at Hot Topic. I gave my gamertag out when I met people at frat parties.
Soon, with an influx of new friends both IRL and online, I branched out to different shooters—first Gears of War 2, then Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and all the subsequent Activision titles. I started to become proficient at them; I placed second in a local Halo 3 tournament, I beat the hell out of my guy friends. And then, I started to think about how I wanted video games to be my career. I wrote about them for the school newspaper, analyzed them for English literature papers, penned an alternative fiction whereby the Flood were actually time-traveling humans. I knew I wasn’t good enough to be a professional player, especially since esports leagues are full of only mouse-and-keyboard players, but I knew that I wanted this to be a part of my life forever—not just for funsies. Would I have dug myself in so deeply into gaming without Halo 3, without the online community I found in it, or the hours of playtime it required? I don’t think I would.
The Halo effect
After years of trying to break into the industry—which included attempting to start my own website, endless applications to major publications, pitching gaming stories as part of my marketing job, and a dogged insistence that I write my Master’s thesis on horror games—I landed a job at GamesRadar.
On that day, moments after I was offered the role, I called up my father. And before he could even finish saying hello, I yelled, “who’s the fucking idiot now?” Like the good sport that he is, he admitted that it was him: He was the idiot.
Buy Halo 3: Amazon | GameStop
Update on 09/25/2023 at 4:50 p.m. EST: Updated headline to reflect proper anniversary.
Brendan Martin is a tech enthusiast with a deep understanding of the latest technological innovations. He explores the intersection of science and technology, providing readers with insights into the digital revolution. When not immersed in the world of gadgets and code, Brendan enjoys experimenting with DIY tech projects.