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‘The little Banshee driver’: A 10-year-old girl’s quest for kills in Halo 2 on Xbox Live

After seeing my older brother had left an idle shooter game on the TV, in our basement, I made the obvious choice: I decided it was the perfect opportunity to be cool like him and delve into the world of online multiplayer games.

I was 10 years old, still in elementary school, and ready to make my Xbox Live debut. I put on the headset and said my greeting, but I wasn’t met with the instant camaraderie I was expecting. Instead, I was met with a monotone voice garbled to the point of sounding robotic. Naturally, I asked if they were a robot. Despite their cordiality, their patience wore thin by about the fifth time I asked, and I was finally met with a very un-monotone “SHUT UP.”

Sure, the sudden outburst from my new robot friend was off-putting. But I was no stranger to shooter games, especially Halo, having played through co-op campaign after campaign with my dad on Halo 2. After hearing Master Chief’s impossibly cool last line, “Sir, finishing this fight,” I had decided: My fight wasn’t finished yet either. And so I dove into the world of Xbox Live multiplayer, first along with my dad, and later by myself. I didn’t care who I was matched up with in the Xbox Live lobbies, or that they were complete strangers; I would be the best preteen Halo 2 player anyone has ever seen.

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I ended up dedicating a couple years to this pursuit. Day after day, after school or on the weekends, I booted up Halo 2 on our Xbox. And as the infamous Gregorian chants rolled in, I signed onto our family Xbox Live account — which had a username that combined letters in our names — and loaded into a lobby of our opposing teams. After some chatter, I began the game. It was time for me to prove myself.

At first, whether I enjoyed the match basically depended on which map we loaded into. Among my favorites were Headlong, Coagulation, Lockout, and Zanzibar. The cityscape of Headlong added a fun platforming aspect, and Coagulation’s wide-open landscape made it easier to spot friends and foes. While I performed worst on Lockout, I have an inexplicable fondness for that wintry fortress. As for Zanzibar, I just enjoyed putting off the fighting to drive into the water as far as I could.

But it wasn’t until I dug deeper into maps like Headlong and Coagulation where I realized the key in my quest for Halo fame: the Banshee. The Covenant aircraft became the only weapon I cared about if it was available. As soon as the game started, I made a beeline before anyone else could object, and I’d take to the skies in a series of flips and start my destruction.

Image: 343 Industries/Microsoft Studios

During one particular game I remember unloading incessantly onto an enemy player. Time and time again they died by my wretched little hands. I felt particularly validated when — to my pleasant surprise — I loaded into the next game’s lobby with that same unfortunate player on my team. I smugly told them we met again.

“Ah yes, the little Banshee driver,” a guy’s amused voice responded.

This is probably a good point to admit (and spoil) that this essay doesn’t end on a tale of triumph in my quest to be the coolest and most successful player on Halo 2. In fact, I lost more games than I won. I never made people tremble when they loaded into a lobby and saw my screen name, and my brother never congratulated me on my online prowess, nor did he invite me to play Halo 2 with his friends.

It might have been because my entire play strategy was dependent on finding a Banshee. If I wasn’t lucky enough to load into a map with a Banshee, or snag one as soon as the game started, I was in for a steep uphill battle — and I mean that literally. My inevitable death was confirmed when an enemy jumped into the air while shooting at me. Before I could counteract, I was watching the respawn countdown. In horror, I witnessed them proceed to crouch up and down over my lifeless virtual body (which I later learned was a true cornerstone in toxic gaming behavior: teabagging).

I can’t say I know for sure what went through acquaintances’ minds when I told them I used to get on a voice chat, as a young girl, with a bunch of strangers (usually boys and men) before shooting at each other on a map. But I always quickly followed the statement with “it wasn’t really bad like you might think.”

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Of course, there’s an inherent risk to entering an often unmoderated forum with strangers, and the lobby and violent maps of Halo 2 with voice chat were no exception. I came across a fair share of rude players, players who were impatient, team killing, and strangers yelling insults. I’m sure some of those moments impacted my younger self, though I no longer remember, more than 15 years later.

What I remember the most, however, wasn’t the specific losses, the rude teammates and enemies, or even the wins in my indestructible Banshee (at least it felt indestructible until I heard the target lock from a rocket launcher). I most remember the camaraderie and fun that can come with battling it out with complete strangers.

A lot of times it felt like my unmistakable little-girl voice in the game chat made no difference, unlike in real life where I was among the youngest on the block and treated accordingly by the other kids. In the multiplayer maps of Halo 2, whether I was trying to glitch onto a building top in Headlong or doing Banshee flips out of the bases in Coagulation, I was just another player. My teammates sometimes dropped their better weapons to help me out, or they would shoot an enemy before they could get me (and sometimes I saved them). Sometimes it was even as non-combative as a kind voice giving advice and hyping everyone up.

Those are the memories from playing Halo 2 on Xbox Live I took with me, and it’s something I notice and try to remember the most when I play online games now: the commonplace nature of people wanting to cooperate. Sharing those experiences with people I’ll likely never meet, and creating new experiences when I played online with my dad, instead of just playing through the campaign again, were some of the most formative moments of my childhood. Based on my experience, I have a lot of gratitude for that game in my life.

Except for teabagging.

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