Containment Culture in “Halo”


September 11th represents an inflection point in American ideology, as the unprecedented terrorist attacks shocked many into believing Cold War-like containment policy was necessary. In addition to ideological and political shifts, culture and popular media reflected the resurgence of containment thinking. On such example, the video game Halo, is a first-person shooter developed by Bungie that was originally released in November of 2001. The Halo storyline revolves around an intergalactic conflict between humanity and an alien species known as the Covenant. The game is played from the perspective of Master Chief, a supersoldier artificially created to help humanity combat the technologically superior Covenant aliens. Throughout the story Master Chief fights to defend against the invading Covenant forces and control a superweapon known as the Halo powerful enough to exterminate all of humanity.

The trailer for the original Halo game can be found at

The premise of the Halo story imbues several containment principles. There is an evident black-and-white distinction depicted between humanity and the Covenant. While humanity is portrayed as an honorable force of justice fighting to defend itself, the Covenant are theocratic repulsive-looking creatures determined to destroy all humans, who they perceive as blasphemous. The purpose, ideology, and even the physical appearance of the Covenant are depicted as primitive, barbaric, and simply evil. This absolute negative characterization is justification for the player’s endlessly slaughtering hordes of the Covenant, just as such binary portrayals have been employed to justify imperialist and interventionist policies during the Cold War, the War on Terror after 9/11, and at numerous other occasions throughout human history.

In addition to the good-and-evil dichotomy between humans and the Covenant, the concept of the Halo itself is a direct reflection of containment ideas, specifically those of weapons of mass destruction. In the trailer, a military commander explains to Master Chief, “if Halo was a weapon, and the Covenant gained control of it, they’d use it against us and wipe out the entire human race”, to which Master Chief confidently responds “that’s not going to happen”. The existence of the Halo, an extreme threat that could devastate all of humanity, gives the battle against the Covenant much greater weight and significance. In the context of atomic weaponry in our world, this results in widespread fear, in some cases causing the public to desperately grasp for security. In Halo, this security is provided by Master Chief, the confident superhuman male hero willing to do anything to control the Halo, even if it means killing millions of the Covenant. However, in the real world, this security-providing figure might instead be far right government, and the Other being mindlessly disregarded for personal security would be other human beings.


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