Tag Archives: Halo


Engaging the Halo Prophecy

They say that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it.

And there’s a less well-known but corollary idea, that people who create realistic fictional content end up pulling their ideas from recent events.

But every once in a while, both ideas converge: a piece of speculative fiction, drawn from elements of real-life, ends up over time looking like a retroactive prediction of real-life events.

Remember how Back to the Future II predicted this year’s Cubs World Series win? I recently stumbled onto a similar phenomenon, with even bigger consequences.


Passion Week Pwnage: An XBOX Live Experiment

Wow, that hurt.

See yesterday, I experienced a rude awakening: I realized I’m no longer any good at video games.

This was a painful realization to me, as I’ve thought of myself as being good at video games for a long time. I grew up playing them, and I’ve enjoyed video games in one form or another (PC, Playstation, XBox, now XBOX 360) for most of my adult life.

But yesterday was the last straw. Between rounds of Halo 3 and NBA Live ’08 I lost something like nine times in a row. And it wasn’t just that I was losing, but how I was losing. I was finding new ways to lose. Last second nailbiters and double-digit blowouts, I was losing matches every which way. I was a controller-holding monument to The Sports Guy’s 13 Levels of Losing.

And as one might imagine, this did not sit well with me. I was gettin’ pwned big time, and I was not happy about it. (It’s spelled ‘pwned,’ pronounced as “owned” and if you don’t know, just read about l33t-speak here.)

Thing is, nobody who likes competing ever likes to lose, but I really hate losing. Sometimes I hate to lose more than I like to win. And there’s a fine line between being a passionate competitor upset about losing, and being full-on, out-of-your-gourd, mad-as-all-get-out, I-cannot-believe-this-garbage-give-me-a-[BLEEP]ing-break, nuclear meltdown STEAMED.

Yesterday afternoon, I was definitely in the latter category.

So now it’s Passion Week, and I’m passionate, alright. So much so that I’ve got a problem on my hands. My passion is threatening to derail everything I really care about. And because I’m a Christian, I guess what I’m supposed to do is pray about it. But how can I pray about this? What scriptures can I turn to for guidance? Where in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John does Jesus address the inner turmoil of trying to attain the next skill ranking in NBA Live ’08 (and getting creamed in the process)?

In my morning devotion, the fog started to clear a little. The answer was there the whole time. I just needed to look, and listen.

See, the story of Passion Week that culminates in Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter)… it’s a story of similarly rude awakenings. Of delightfully mordant comeuppance. Of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords toying with our preconceived notions and cheerfully dashing them against the rocks.

Consider the beginning of the story. In a passage that many refer to as the Triumphal Entry, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, riding on a young donkey. And many surrounded him and followed him, shouting “hosanna” (loosely translated: ‘save us!’) and blessed him with audible praises.

Now this right here is a set up.

Starting with the donkey. On the face of it, the donkey seems like an odd choice. Like a presidential candidate who arrives on the scene, but instead of a motorcade he rolls an ’89 Corolla. If you saw Hillary Clinton or John McCain riding in one of those, you’d shake your head in disbelief. What’s wrong with this picture?

But what if that’s exactly what you were looking for? What if, for generations, your parents and their parents and grandparents had been lamenting the current state of political affairs, and wishing for a leader who represented their people and stood up for what they believed in? And what if your cranky old great-grandfather had always said things like, “I’d rather vote for a man with big plans and a small car than the other way around!” What if they valued humility so much that they measured it by the symbolic stature of their vehicles?

In that case, you might be downright impressed by a presidential candidate in an ’89 Corolla.

For the Hebrews of Jesus’ time, that’s exactly where they were coming from. Because the ones who knew the scriptures and the prophecies (and what good Jew didn’t?) knew the passage in Zechariah 9 where a King would arrive on the foal of a donkey, a gentle King who would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. This King was to be the antithesis of all of the warmongers who previously held the throne.

So when they saw Jesus, their hearts leaped inside them.

Is it really happening… ? … Yes, it IS!! Jesus is coming into the city on a donkey! He will be our new king! He’ll put those Roman dictators in their place! And wow, I bet if I act now and try to get on his good side, maybe he’ll appoint me to some important position of prominence within his administration. Maybe Executive Scribe or Assistant to the Primary Cupbearer. I better revamp my resumé.

This combination of relief and pride and ambition was fueling all of the adoration that Jesus was receiving. And Jesus knew that, which was why he promptly began to dismantle their expectations, one by one. Yeah, he rode into Jerusalem, but instead of going to the royal palace to confront and depose the incumbent king, he went to the temple. And instead of being all meek and gentle, he walked in and started tearin’ $#!+ up, smashin’ on all the shady money-changing schemes that had infested the temple.

In his first act of confrontation, Jesus ignored the political leaders and instead went after the religious leaders.

Which was not at all what the people wanted or expected. They saw the donkey and already had the scene mapped out in their heads. So Jesus came in and flipped the script on ‘em.

A rude awakening.

If you continue reading the following chapters, there are many other instances of Jesus deftly subverting the established protocols of the day, amazing the crowds and infuriating the Pharisees. They tried to trap him again and again, and each time he left them arguing amongst themselves and looking stupid in the process.

But his final subversive move blew them all away.

He allowed himself to be beaten, and ultimately crucified to death. His enemies thought this would be the ultimate way to vanquish his influence and quiet his followers. Instead he descended into hell, took the keys away from Satan, and broke the power of sin and death by coming back to life and appearing in the flesh to multitudes.

Essentially, he told death: “I own you.” And then he went out and proved it.

By this point, you might be reading this and wondering, what does this have to do with Jelani playing his XBOX?

Well, this is the hard part.

There are many reasons why I play my XBOX 360, and probably the biggest one is the same for most players – because it’s fun. It’s also a social outlet, and a point of connection for me, a way to relate to people who are my age or younger. (What else am I going to talk to a 15-year-old kid about? Rising mortgage rates?)

But none of this explains why I hate to lose so much.

The thing is, I’m not a particularly competitive person across the board. I’m generally pretty happy at being good at the things that I’m good at and sucking at the things I suck at. At 31 years of age, I like to think that I’ve come to terms with the kind of person I have become, good and bad.

But right now, I’m in a particularly difficult stage of life. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the externals, because by most worldly measures I’m doing pretty well. I have a really good-looking wife who is by far my best friend in the whole wide world. I get paid to do music ministry, which is something I’ve dreamed of for awhile. I drive a pretty nice car, and I have a pretty nice apartment.

But I am struggling right now. I’m trying to grow a fledgling business, and I did not enter into adulthood with many role models that have good business acumen. In addition, my church is going through a lot of upheaval right now. As a longtime member and part-time staff, that is particularly difficult for me. There is change and struggle and uncertainty and confusion in many of my day to day tasks and interactions with people. And I know that I’m not alone in this. But some days – many days – are filled with an overwhelming sense of shame and inadequacy.

And as a young man brought up in a solid Christian tradition, as a traveling musician and minister, as a “professional Christian” … I know that my response to these feelings of shame and inadequacy should be to run to God, immerse myself in His presence, and feed on His Word.

These are the things that I know I’m supposed to do.

And sometimes, I do them.

But many times, I don’t. Instead, I choose to escape. And rather than escaping through the typical vices of our day (alcohol, weed, porn, gambling, etc.) I often escape to the world of video games, where there is no moral ambiguity or emotional murkiness inherent in dunking a basketball, swinging a sword, or shooting a bullet. It’s all a safe way to relieve myself of stress.

Except for when I lose.

Because when I lose, then my cloud of shame and inadequacy follows me right into the game.

And then it REALLY sucks, because video games are the one arena where I enjoy an aura of supreme confidence, since I’ve been playing all these years. Before there was Halo, I played Marathon, Marathon 2, and Marathon Infinity. And not only have I played EA’s NBA Live series since it’s inception in 1995, but I played most of their previous titles in the ‘80s and ‘90s, right down to their landmark game One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. I grew up loving basketball and playing video games, so why shouldn’t I be exceptional at it?

Now I know the answer:

Because I have a life now, and I can’t spend every waking moment practicing and getting better.

Getting broadband cable installed, buying an XBOX 360, and getting an XBOX Live membership has been really exciting. But it completely shattered my facade of invincibility. Because every time I log on, I get matched up with someone who is just as good, if not much, MUCH better. As a result, I get my behind handed to me on a regular basis. From an intellectual standpoint, this is good because it’s the only way that I’ll get better so that when I take on one of my friends I’ll have a decent chance at winning.

But emotionally, it’s a rude awakening every time I sign in.

‘Cause it sucks gettin’ beat down by some 12-year-old in another time zone. It just does. And every time it happens, I get more and more determined that next time I’m going to win one, so I get more and more tightly wound, and the more tense I get the more I lose. It’s a vicious cycle. By the time I’m done, my muscles are all tense and I’m barking at my wife when she asks me to help her make dinner.

I hate getting beat so much because when it happens I feel completely helpless. Some preteen just kicked my ass again and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s probably the same way the Trail Blazers felt after losing to the Phoenix Suns again last night. Or like what Pedro Martinez said about the Yankees in 2004: “What can I say? I tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”

For a proud competitor, nothing could be more humbling than experiencing that moment.

But what if that’s the whole point?

What if God has allowed me to indulge my obsession with XBOX Live in order to bring me to the point of realizing that there are no areas of my life where I am capable of mastery apart from Him?

What if all my attempts to stop being pwned are fruitless, because I truly am owned by someone greater than any video game nemesis?

And what if, instead of being bent on winning to prove to myself that I am, in fact, good at something, I chose to trust Him with my life during every single moment of it … even the times when I choose to play games for fun?

These are the questions I have felt blowing into my consciousness when I listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.

The truth is, I can’t afford to be obsessed with winning every time I play, because I’m supposed to be having fun when I play, and it’s no fun getting your teeth kicked in. I also can’t afford to be obsessed with winning because I have other things I need to attend to, and sometimes that last one-more-game becomes three more games because it took that many times to come out on top with a victory.

So I’m going to try a little experiment. I’m going to have to cut back on my XBOX 360 time in the next week or so anyway because my schedule will be much busier… but when I do play, I’m going to do something very simple.

I’m going to pray first.

Not for a win … though yeah, that would be nice.

I will pray because I want the Spirit of God to inhabit me, even as I’m trying to figure out how to beat my opponent. I want to be a good example to the myriad of teenagers who don’t know how to play with any semblence of dignity or honor. I want to show others the power of the cross in an unexpected venue.

Or, failing that, I’d like to get to the point where I can be summarily defeated and not want to unleash a string of obscenities.

So that’s my experiment, and if you find yourself in a similar place as I, then I suggest you try it too.

Because the enemy of our souls, the accuser of the brethren, the father of lies… he would like nothing more than for us to focus all our attention on trying to achieve momentary pleasures while we ignore the One who can truly give us peace and rest.

But I’ve decided enough is enough.

And if he thinks he’s gonna get me with that again, he’s in for a rude awakening.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for Mixin’ it Up with me.


Links to make ya think: A&E edition

So one of my favorite shows to scrounge for clips from on the internet (since I don’t have cable TV) is called Mythbusters. They’re basically science geeks having fun trying to prove (or disprove) whatever theory du jour is floating around. Everything from the mentos and Diet coke craze to whether or not bulls in a china shop would actually cause much damage.

Well now they’re goin’ back to the old school… they’re re-enacting classic scenes from MacGuyver. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not it’s possible to blow a hole through a wall with a vial of pure sodium… check it out.

I just finished Halo 3… and darn if I wasn’t getting a little choked up at the end. For a piece of escapist space-combat fantasy, the ending contained more than its fair share of poignant gravitas. Kudos to the Bungie crew. It made me feel glad to be an American. Or, rather, part of the UNSC, the United Nations Space Command. Apparently in 2552, it’s pretty much the same thing.

One interesting tidbit about Halo 3 if you’re in Chicago… the voice of Master Chief SPARTAN-117, the main character of the Halo franchise, is Steve Downes, a classic rock DJ at WDRV 97.1 The Drive.

And speaking of driving… my wife thinks my driving habits are a little too adventuresome, but check out this driving video. This isn’t even really driving, it’s more like ballet with cars.

My favorite part is a while one guy does the whole driving-on-two-wheels trick, the other guy actually changes one of the tires while the car is in motion. You have to see it to believe it. The only thing that would make this video better would be silence. (The late 80s new age music is a little annoying after awhile.)


Reality is key to quality entertainment (just ask Sam Fisher or Jack Bauer)

The entertainment industry is a multibillion dollar industry. Film studios, TV networks, and video game developers are competing for our attention, and when they succeed, they are rewarded handsomely. But many of the biggest successes in the field of media and entertainment have one thing in common – they are grounded in reality.

Not “reality” as defined by the vast wasteland of “reality-based” TV programming. That stuff is as unrealistic as it gets. The only way I could watch “The Simple Life” is if Nicole Richie had to clean up her act in order to compete for an eight-bucks-an-hour office job. That would be reality-based television. Unfortunately, it would also be boring, which is why I probably wouldn’t watch for more than 15 minutes.

The reality I’m talking about is a quality of successful entertaining media projects where the stories and characters have a distinct grounding in real life.

Escape? Nah. Transcend.

See, people often claim to watch television, go to the movies, or play video games in order to escape from reality. I think that’s only half true. People don’t want to escape reality as much as they want to transcend reality. That is, they want something better than reality.

They want to experience the redemption of characters that ring true. They want to experience scenarios where real problems meet real solutions. Even if the nuances of those solutions wouldn’t exactly play out in the real world, it’s still nice to see. People want heroes who succeed in making their world a better place. In so watching these stories, they can, if only for the length of the program, live in that better world.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in my own tastes. I may seek an immediate escape from the tedium of my own life when I read/watch/play, but I end up gaining more knowledge and insight into the world around me. The shows and movies and games I like the most tend to be rooted in reality.

Consider a few favorites:

John Grisham’s legal thrillers. I recently read The Rainmaker, which seemed downright prophetic in its portrayal of corporate greed and corruption. Reading The Rainmaker can help provide a plausible scenario for the WorldCom and Enron accounting scandals.

Both critically-acclaimed Aaron Sorkin / Tommy Schlamme TV shows: the cult hit “Sports Night” and its more famous sibling, “The West Wing.” Sure, going behind-the-scenes of a presidential administration or a nightly cable sports show is a way to invest emotional weight into fictional characters. But it’s also a great way to learn about how things get done in politics and television.

I’ve written at length about my fascination with Halo 2, but it bears repeating: the success of that game is only partially due to its technical feats. A major reason why people love it is because it examines, albeit in a fantasy setting, the politics of religion and war. There are disturbing parallels between the machinations of the Covenant uprising and the contention between political factions in the U.S. This is not to say Halo 2 was written to be a political satire, but the interstellar leaders of the fictional alien populace suffer through the same hubris-driven power struggles that our own leaders do. In this way, it too is grounded in reality.

A new ethical model

With video games, the sense of vicarious identification is heightened, because instead of just cheering for heroes, you’re guiding them through their challenges yourself. And as games get more and more sophisticated in their storytelling capability, the challenges become greater. Not just harder to execute, but fraught with weightier moral consequences.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Tom Clancy’s “Splinter Cell” franchise. Besides being the definitive title to spawn a whole new genre of game (the stealth-action thriller), the Splinter Cell games have been the first games I’ve seen to explore U.S. counterintelligence programs in a manner that befits their shadowy nature. You play as Sam Fisher, a highly-trained special-ops field agent who is sent, through an experimental NSA program called Third Echelon, on a variety of missions pertaining to classified objectives, all in the name of national security.

Part of what makes playing Splinter Cell a gripping experience is the technical wizardry that enhances your sensory intake: the detailed environments, the continuous interplay between light and shadows, the pulse-pounding music, and the interesting dialogue. But those things pale in comparison to the fascinating ethical morass of situations that Fisher and his team have to wade through.

For example, in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Third Echelon’s director Irving Lambert sends Fisher to break into a Peruvian bank in order to find out who funded a group of terrorist guerillas who kidnapped an American mathematician. But in order to disguise the true nature of the mission, Fisher also has to steal $50 million in French bearer bonds. While guiding Fisher through the mission is exciting in its own right, there are a myriad of philosophical and political questions that thoughtful gamers encounter during gameplay. What is Third Echelon going to do with this money? Are they planning on giving it back later? If so, how? Does Sam Fisher rightfully deserve any of it? How much culpability does the bank have in the inadvertant laundering of terrorist money? Does this culpability justify the use of lethal force in the execution of this mission?

The advent of games like Splinter Cell has ushered in an era of new ethical models for popular culture. The days of victory being achieved by saving the princess or blowing up all the aliens… those days are long gone. No longer are there simply good guys and bad guys. Sometimes the good guys have to do bad things to support the greater good. This progression (or regression, depending on your perspective) has introduced a series of gray areas to issues that for generations have been seen only as black-and-white.

Sam Fisher: The New Jack Bauer

This complicated relationship between the iconic status of video game heroes and the morally questionable lives they are required to lead is only going to get more dicey with the newest iteration of the Splinter Cell franchise, Splinter Cell: Double Agent. In it, Fisher is required to bring down a terrorist organization by going deep undercover as a terrorist. This development will tread down the same path recently traveled by Jack Bauer, the hero of the popular FOX TV series “24” (which, incidentally, is about to release its own action-shooter game exclusively for the Playstation 2). Dedicated “24” fans have witnessed Bauer go undercover on numerous occasions in order to bring down the terrorist organizations threatening to harm its fictional U.S. of A.

It was a risky move for 24, and it will be for Splinter Cell as well. When a well-established game protagonist pushes the envelope of acceptable behavior (even for a highly-trained special agent), there remains a distinct possibility that the audience will turn on that character. Emotional connections to a character often fuel our willful suspension of disbelief. Therefore, if a “good guy” does something too heinous, even for what he perceives as the overall greater good, he will no longer be considered to be a good guy.

If, however, the established good guy later appears to be a bad guy… but then redeems his “bad guy” status by taking down all the other bad guys, then the emotional payoff can be huge. And many of the most successful entertainment franchises (ABC’s “Alias” starring Jennifer Garner is another example) work this formula well by using a series of complicated plot twists to continually shed new light on morally ambiguous characters.

This version of reality in entertainment works well because in real life, people and problems can rarely be broken down to black-and-white characterizations. There are subtle nuances and details that can change the complexion of characters and situations. So when real characters can find real solutions to real problems, and not cheat the system by using easy outs or pat solutions, that is the reality that we all want to see and live.

And if we can’t live it out in real life, then the least we can do is live it out through our favorite pop culture heroes.

I’m G*Natural, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.