Jeff Steitzer is the multiplayer announcer in Halo, a position he has had since the series’ inception. He is great at what he does, as important to the experience of Halo as Tim Kitzrow is to NBA Jam.
Playing Halo 4 post-Newton school shooting, Steitzer’s voice is no longer the force it once was. In a way, it has become alarming. In order to rally the troops, Steitzer’s recorded words bellow out, “Five kills to win.” Five kills.
Five. Kills. To win.
It seems wrong in the face of a distorted media searching for numbers. My dad was on the table having minor surgery when the shooting occurred. When it first rolled along the news via Twitter, it was – and I use the next word sadly – another school shooting. In the waiting room, no one seemed to notice. It didn’t have a body count yet. When the numbers began to scroll, I was eating with family in the cafeteria. It was 18 dead at that moment. That becomes the point where you stop being hungry.
Of course, the numbers grew. People were degraded to statistics, and inevitably, became faceless victims for political discourse. Heading back into the waiting room, the mood had shifted. Those numbers were referencing the lost lives of children.
There is a tremendous amount written about video games when these incidents occur. We defend them, we support them. Sometimes we can be hypocritical too, but it always amounts to the same thing: We keep playing.
It should not matter who the victims were: They all died in the name of senseless, stupid, incomprehensible violence. But, I can say that after the incident at Virgina Tech, jumping back into online shooters didn’t bother me. It was an escape, one that I know I can always run to with technology being what it is.
This time, I experienced the events a little different. I saw those numbers rise in the media, the confusion, and the immediate impact somewhere other than my home. Nurses were shocked. A woman looking down at her iPad in the waiting room was visibly disturbed. After that, hearing Steitzer’s beckoning of “five kills to win” was suddenly off-putting. It wasn’t “fifty points remaining,” which in the tweaked scoring system of Halo 4 are what kills amount to. Talking heads on 24 hour news networks might actually get away with saying players are killing for points this time, and I had to stop and think what I was doing.
Is this fun? Or rather, why is this fun? Why am I killing to win? What am I winning, really? I suppose a lot has been written on that topic too. I’ve read my fair share over the years, nodding my head along with the words. I always thought I understand the draw and the appeal. I shoot in-game for fun. It’s a fantasy. I appreciate the mechanics. I like playing with friends. I’ve never held an actual gun.
That voice is off-putting now though. All of sudden, I imagine that cold hearted, disturbed killer wandering into school with a goal to slaughter. Maybe, before he selfishly took his own life to cap his rampage, he figured he only had five kills remaining too. That feels too close to home.
Of course, I’m not blaming Seitzer or 343 for their chosen dialogue. I only bring up the announcer because I appreciate his work, even if the context is heavy. It’s the wrong game at the wrong time right now, and I imagine most online shooters are. A group is calling for an online cease-fire on December 21st across all online games out of respect, and while I may have jumped to conclusions regarding such an idea previously, it suddenly makes sense. In fact, that’s a great idea. One less day of virtual killing to win might do us all some good.