There are those who say that when any door closes another one opens. These people have clearly never queued for the ladies toilet in St Pancras Station. Conceptually, though, they have a point. Endings are often beginnings.
The biggest ending of all, however, has long had me beat. As a wet-humanist, I have no big expectations for life after death. A bit of rotting. General blankness. The absence of everything is a prospect I’ve always found more soothing than daunting. The concept of heaven has always troubled me far more. What would it be like? What would I want it to be like?
For a while I thought my answer to those questions was Phantasy Star Online. Perfect sunsets, nice greenery, good clothes, the company of friends. There was a timelessness on Ragol which would clearly have been compatible with eternity.
Today though, thanks to the slightly underwhelming reminders of ODST, I think I’d like to go to Silent Cartographer when I die. What could be better? It’s beautiful, for a start. The moon hanging fat in the sky, and the Halo stretching like spun silver around the horizon. Waves lap on the golden shore, shaded paths climb to airy peaks.
Heaven shouldn’t just be cosmetics, though. Halo has always been a place where I feel safe. Nothing in games has ever been more reassuring than the feel of that pistol in your hand and full clip in your belt. An elegant weapon for the civilised task of shooting people once in the head and watching them fall over. Not flashy, not over-dramatic: more a tool than anything else, and one which repays practice and patience, which are the kind of things I suspect heaven approves of.
Halo has always been a place where I feel loved. Over-statement? Perhaps, but there is something profoundly warming in the reaction you get from the marines when you stride (or bunny-hop) into view. They are genuinely pleased to see you. Genuinely buoyed by your presence. Being able to instill hope and confidence into people just be being near them sounds pretty heavenly to me.
Halo has always been a place where I feel good. I don’t mean that in a James Brown sense. I mean it’s a place where I feel virtuous. Master Chief, often lambasted for being nothing more than a suit of armour and a weapon set, engenders a sense of honour and duty which actually make you feel like a better person. He does always put others before himself. He never gives up. He understands sacrifice. What’s the point of going to a better place if you aren’t going to be a better person?
Halo is a place where I feel peaceful. It’s partly, I grant you, the pistol in my hand and the rocket-launcher on my back, both of which take the stress out of day-to-day life in a way in which is often underestimated. It’s also, partly, the beauty. But there is something more profound. There’s a solitude to be found on the beaches of Silent Cartographer. A tranquility in the scene which has more in common with a photo from a inspirational poster than a videogame. As I pick my way across the beach, I find myself instinctively looking for another set of footprints and listening out for the voice that says ‘My son, that was when I carried you’. Although, this being Halo, that voice would surely more likely say, ‘My son, that’s when I stickied you with three grenades and then juggled you with a rocket launcher.”
Which – good point – is my last requirement for heaven. Fun. Silliness. Generously assisted nonsense. Halo was always a very adaptable toy-set, full of springs and balls and dolls waiting to be tossed in the air with endlessly unpredictable results. In fact, my soundtrack to the whole thing would probably be taken from the Warthog Jump video – Sinatra and Hendrix. What could be more heavenly?
So now I don’t fear endings. The road not taken is the road you shouldn’t have taken. And when the last door shuts, I’ll square my shoulders, unholster my pistol and let Frank serenade me into eternity.
[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can’t stop going back to.]
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