Lessons from the Arbiter

Let me start by giving credit where it's due. The line of thought explored here grew from a discussion on the HBO forum, which was itself inspired by a thoughtful article from 1UP's Jeremy Parish.

My own contribution to the HBO discussion was to speculate that unfavourable reactions from many fans to the Arbiter levels in Halo 2 led to Bungie scaling back the Arbiter's role in Halo 3, tending to impoverish the story. Anyone who followed community discussion after Halo 2's release will probably remember many comments from those who were uninterested in or emphatically hostile to the idea of putting themselves in the Arbiter's - er - hooves.

To those of us who were willing and able to make the effort, and found it rewarding, this widespread failure of empathy has many disturbing implications. The one which concerns me here is the potential effect on Bungie's future decisions regarding storytelling technique, and the level of moral complexity fans are willing to deal with. As an unashamed, card-carrying member of the 'cerebral' wing of Bungie's fan community, my personal preference should be obvious, and I'm certainly not the only one who's worried about this.

My thesis is that many of those hostile to the Arbiter aren't inherently hostile to complexity, moral or otherwise. Their problem may be more to do with the situation and expectations set up by Halo CE. If it had been clear from the start that we were going to see the war from both sides, then maybe they wouldn't have reacted so badly when they found themselves in the Arbiter's skin. That's not a criticism of those who put the story together - I'm speaking here with the advantage of hindsight. The level of emotional commitment to the cause of Earth and the UNSC displayed by many of these fans is impressive, as well as more than a little frightening, and may in part be due to the real-world events of the period.

As an aside, I've often wondered if the character of the Grunts was intended in part as the thin end of the wedge to prepare us to empathise with the Covenant species. Grunts are hard to hate, and they have many explicitly childlike characteristics - their size, emotional volatility and high-pitched voices, for example. Call me a sentimental fool if you like, but in Halo 2, when infiltrating the Delta Halo Shield Wall as the Arbiter and picking up stranded Grunts and Jackals on the way, I sometimes couldn't help feeling like a harried mother herding cute, easily-distracted toddlers through a bad part of town.

I sincerely hope I haven't spoiled anyone's enjoyment with this speculation, but if the vague possibility that you've been gleefully shooting and clubbing child-surrogate figures to death for years doesn't cause you the slightest twinge of uneasiness, then there's something badly wrong with you, in my opinion. The game requires you to kill them, but hating them is another matter.

If this admittedly macabre theory is on target, why was this device not more successful in generating a willingness to empathise? I think it's possible that the Grunts' comedic value may have undercut their other attributes - players were too busy laughing at them to take them seriously or find them sympathetic. On the other hand, that humour is an integral part of Halo, and the game wouldn't have been the same without it.

Back on my central topic, there definitely is a sizeable audience for fiction which goes beyond black-and-white comic-book morality (though that's actually rather unfair to the modern comic-book genre), Two examples with substantial crossover to the Halo community spring to mind; the first is BioShock, and the second, and perhaps more directly relevant, is Ron Moore's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

In conclusion, I must acknowledge the enormous risks Bungie, or any other modern game developer, run in putting together a game design and committing to a project. The running costs of a modern studio with over a hundred staff are frankly terrifying to contemplate, and the investment of human lifespan, blood, sweat and tears involved in a multi-year project implies a heavy moral obligation to ensure that these precious resources are not wasted. I don't expect them to make timid, easy or obvious choices, since that's not what they're about. I just hope that they don't have to sacrifice too much of their soul in order to survive and prosper.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab says: <- can't log in as me

You are right that the first game did such a good job of making us identify with the Chief and with the Humans' plight that it would be difficult to empathize with the Covenant viewpoint.

But Bungie did things to compound the problem.

For a start, the Covenant/Arbiter's position is not an attractive one.

Why would you sympathize with someone:

1) who is the moral equivalent of a nazi death camp commandant?

2) With someone who had done very well from his career as a mass murderer?

3) Someone who's only excuse is that he had been lied to by the Prophets?

I'll expand on these points below:

1) The nazis used death camps as their main tool of genocide. The Covenant used their fleets. <- hence the death camp analogy. Both were technological forms of murder.

The Arbiter was in charge of a fleet involved in glassing Reach. He was not an ordinary soldier, he was in charge of proceedings. He would have had to ensure that his blockade ships prevented any civilian escapes. He would have had to plan the proper, efficient pattern of glassing to ensure total coverage of a target planet's surface. He would have coordinated with spec ops units on the ground to secure relics.

His job was technical and required great organisational skills. There is something chilling about what he had to do. His day job was calm collected, efficient murder. And he, probably, would have been doing it for decades. There is combat dialogue from the Elites in QZ, 'This Arbiter is an efficient killer!'. <- spot on, I say

2) From the Conversations from the Universe booklet we see that other Elites questioned the Prophets' motives. The Arbiter did not.

He had one of the safest jobs in the Covenant military. Although he was proficient at close quarters fighting, his job was to command a Covenant fleet that was vastly superior to the forces that tried to oppose it. He was under almost no personal risk.

Yet the payoff for him would be great once the Human race had been exterminated. I suspect that he would have been able to retire from the military and would have been given a position on the council.

Also, his close quarters fighting skills would have served the Covenant well if he had served as a spec ops fighter. Instead he chose a far safer and more self-rewarding career.

Who can blame him? He picked the job that was best for him, not a job that would ask him to lay down his life for the Covenant or his religion.

OTOH Who can admire him? he's not a romantic person's hero.

3) What lie could I tell you to persuade you to ethnically cleanse a people? Would you order the nuking of a country like Nigeria a country that holds no real military threat to you? Would you deliberately set out to kill its entire population? Every man? every woman? every child?

If I told you that it was God's will, would you do it?

Would you ask any questions?

moving on...

Could bungie have picked a more attractive Covenant character?

The simple answer is yes.

They could have used the Heretic.

This was an Elite who chose to stand up to the Prophets, he gave his life for a principle.

Playing him would have been a far more attractive proposition to a Halo CE player. If the Heretic won then the war against earth would have stopped. Earth would have been saved.

So, from an original Halo player's perspective, you would have been fighting the same war from two fronts.

I'd have bought into that. I could respect the Heretic.

Remember that the Arbiter was still doing the Prophets' bidding when he knew that there was something suspect going on.

From the HBO level transcripts:

Quote:

HERETIC LEADER:

Arbiter. I would rather die by your hands than let the Prophets lead me to slaughter.

ARBITER:

Who has taught you these lies?

At this, a familiar blue glowing ball of annoyance descends, humming to itself.

ARBITER:

The Oracle!

343 GUILTY SPARK:

Why hello! I am 343 Guilty Spark, Monitor of Installation 04.

HERETIC LEADER:

Ask the Oracle about Halo. How the Prophets would sacrifice us all for nothing.

343 GUILTY SPARK:

More questions? Splendid! I would be happy to assist you.

From Contact Harvest we know that Oracles have more religious authority than mere Prophets. Though it was always fairly certain even before Joe spelled it out.

At this point the Arbiter must have suspected that the Prophets were lying to the Elites. But he kept quiet and did their bidding. Did he do this to save his skin?

He went along with them right up to the point where they cast him asside and made it impossible for him to do anything other than to oppose them to save his life.

Even after, when Half-jaw asked him about the murder of the councilors, the Arbiter knew that they had been murdered on the Prophets' orders and that the Prophets had ordered the extinction of the Elite race. Yet he said nothing of this to Half-jaw.

Was he worried that Half-jaw wouldn't believe him? It is clear from his dialogue that Half-jaw is still loyal to the Prophets at this point and thinks that the Brutes are acting on their own.

Did the Arbiter decide that it was in his best interests to keep silent for now, more efficient for him to pretend to still be their tool so that he can enlist Half-jaw's aid without any risk of conflict or delay?

If so then we see what a calculating and self controlled character the Arbiter really is.

Here is the dialogue:

Quote:

The Arbiter runs out a door, and sees a Wraith tank approaching. The Tank slows and stops, and reveals the Spec Ops Leader

SPEC OPS LEADER:

By the rings. Arbiter? The Councillors, are they...

ARBITER:

Murdered. By the Brutes.

SPEC OPS LEADER:

Vile disloyal beasts! The prophets were fools to trust them.

The Arbiter made no attempt to correct Half-jaw's missperception.

If I had been in his position then I couldn't have stopped myself from blurting out the truth. I think that the Chief wouldn't have kept silent, nor would Half-jaw, had either been standing in the Arbiter's shoes. <- even horses have shoes Smiling

So I'm not at all convinced when the Arbiter claims to be my chum in Halo 3.

Nor am I convinced when he does his dramatic yell after killing Truth. The whole scene leaves me flat. I just don't see him as a character that wears his heart on his sleeve. I see him as a character who's every move is thought out, is calculated to be in his best interests. It was an act.

He may have used The Method and brought up his feelings of betrayal when Tartarus threw him down the pit. But he was still acting.

Should Bungie do more morally ambiguous stories?

Yes, if they can do them better than they did in Halo.

The Arbiter was a wasted opportunity.

They could have used his badness better.

A lot of people were quite prepared to make excuses for his evil because he was a player character or because he had a cool voice and a cool armor. Maybe Bungie should have shown the Arbiter being true to his character, to have him turn on us if the opportunity was there for his advancement. Or they could have just shown to us that he was really all about self interest, in a cutscene that we see but isn't known to the Humans.

The lesson being, not to make excuses for evil, to bend over backwards to 'understand' someone who is happy doing bad things; to show the dangers of thinking that someone who is happy to exterminate a race is really just a nice guy at heart.

Finally

People have said that seeing things as black and white is being narrow minded.

It is true, but...

There is still one degree of freedom, you can distinguish between black or white.

Seeing the universe as shades of grey and refusing to distinguish between shades is the ultimate in narrow mindedness. This has zero degrees of freedom. 'Everybody is as good/bad as everybody else, its all relative.'

If you want to deal with moral/ethical choices then its fine to say that choices are difficult but we still have an obligation to make choices.

The Halo story had the potential to address the issue but it just glossed over the Arbiter's position. We forgot what he had done and he became our pal. <- hmm...

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab, you ask if I could empathise with the Arbiter given what he's done in the past.

My answer is "Yes". In a similar vein, I also managed to empathise with Oskar in Schindler's List. The man was a war profiteer trying to buy disposable slave labour in order to sell supplies and munitions to the Ultimate Bad Guys and line his pockets. And then he learned better. (For a while. The real-world Schindler was a pretty nasty piece of work, actually, and got ugly again after the war.)

As goes for a real-world Nazi, so goes for a fictional bug-eyed space monster.

-- Steve makes no pretense of hiding behind "shades of grey", but does not expect every character to be an angel or devil either.

PS: And what about that whole "redemption" thing that seems to be out-of-fashion these days? The position of "Arbiter" is one of a penitent seeking (posthumous) redemption through service, after all... and to dip again into the well of past stories, the '40s hero the Shadow was a drug lord and multiple murderer before being turned back to the side of justice and fought crime in an attempt to atone for his misdeeds.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab posting

Anton P Nym wrote:

scarab, you ask if I could empathise with the Arbiter given what he's done in the past.

My answer is "Yes". In a similar vein, I also managed to empathise with Oskar in Schindler's List. The man was a war profiteer trying to buy disposable slave labour in order to sell supplies and munitions to the Ultimate Bad Guys and line his pockets. And then he learned better. (For a while. The real-world Schindler was a pretty nasty piece of work, actually, and got ugly again after the war.)

As goes for a real-world Nazi, so goes for a fictional bug-eyed space monster.

-- Steve makes no pretense of hiding behind "shades of grey", but does not expect every character to be an angel or devil either.

PS: And what about that whole "redemption" thing that seems to be out-of-fashion these days? The position of "Arbiter" is one of a penitent seeking (posthumous) redemption through service, after all... and to dip again into the well of past stories, the '40s hero the Shadow was a drug lord and multiple murderer before being turned back to the side of justice and fought crime in an attempt to atone for his misdeeds.

Redemption is an old fashioned concept, though its one that I quite like. But what is redemption?

How do you redeem yourself? Can you redeem yourself?

If we avoid the religious aspects then maybe we can define redemption as atonement for past sins, an honest admission that you did wrong and actions to repare the harm, maybe an action that has a cost to you.

Have we seen this from the Arbiter?

I don't think we got an explicit mea culpa from the Arbiter but near the end of the Storm (AKA tS) there is a Truth holgram that the Arbiter replies to. His words are somthing like, 'You wont shame me this time, not again (or never again)'.

His words show that he is ashamed of what he did or that he wants to project the idea that he is shamed (maybe he is acting for the Chief's benefit).

But notice that he has externalized the blame. Truth shamed him, Truth made him do it.

Did the Arbiter make reparations to the Humans?

He fights with us but its the obviously beneficial thing to do, its in his best interests. He can't afford to fight on two fronts, he knows our Reclaimer/Favoured status with Sparky, Earth is our home ground, etc, etc.

He stopped half-jaw from glassing Earth. Did he do this out of niceness or because he wants Sparky and the Chief's help when he crosses the portal? He will need tame Forerunners when he reaches the Ark.

Did he sacrifice himself or bear a personal cost to help us? No.

Going back to externalizing blame, he killed Truth, the person he holds responsible for the crimes that he (the Arbiter) commited. He killed his shame by killing Truth.

It probably psychologically healthy to externalize blame, you get to avoid feeling too bad about yourself. And feeling bad about yourself is not good for you.

He kills Truth, kills his shame, and moves on to a happier life. Who doubts that he will have a powerful and prestigious life in the new Elite society? He will have, power, respect, and a mate.

As you say, redemption is an old fashioned concept, it goes hand in hand with another old fashioned concept: responsibility for your own actions.

The Halo story seems to take a more modern (as in 20th century modern) approach to morality. Don't obsess over morals or ethics to the point were they get in the way of getting the job done. Keyes, Hood, the Chief, and the game players know that he is a mass murderer. But that's not important, work with him to get the job done. That's all that matters.

I don't want to end on that note because I'd like to know what other people think.

What was the moral message of the Halo story?

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narcogen
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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Going to cherry pick from one of the longer posts:

Anonymous wrote:

scarab posting

I don't think we got an explicit mea culpa from the Arbiter but near the end of the Storm (AKA tS) there is a Truth holgram that the Arbiter replies to. His words are somthing like, 'You wont shame me this time, not again (or never again)'.

His words show that he is ashamed of what he did or that he wants to project the idea that he is shamed (maybe he is acting for the Chief's benefit).

But notice that he has externalized the blame. Truth shamed him, Truth made him do it.

I think here and earlier you are too radically discounting the degree to which all morality is external. In essence, conscious beings believe what they are told, because there is no other source of information. You act as if the evil of genocide was a self-evident truth. Perhaps it is. But the definition requires the victims to be people. We don't describe the hunting of animals for food or other reasons genocide, because animals aren't people. It's possible the campaign against the humans was justified by similar reasons or other reasons, reasons that were good enough for the Arbiter and many, many others, much as the way countless different reasons have been used to justify war, killing and slaughter throughout human history.

Blame is externalized in the scene you describe for very good reasons: you cannot reasonably, effectively, or practically portray self-reflection in a videogame. Even if you could, there would be no point. The Arbiter would become a useless, pointless character if he decided that what he really needed to do was serve in a hospital treating humans, or if he needed to kill himself out of shame. The universe still needs to be saved, and Truth still needs to be stopped-- so expressing some anger at him is appropriate at that moment, and the Arbiter has good reason to do so-- as much or more than the Chief, at least on a personal level.

Anonymous wrote:

scarab posting
Did the Arbiter make reparations to the Humans?

He fights with us but its the obviously beneficial thing to do, its in his best interests. He can't afford to fight on two fronts, he knows our Reclaimer/Favoured status with Sparky, Earth is our home ground, etc, etc.

He stopped half-jaw from glassing Earth. Did he do this out of niceness or because he wants Sparky and the Chief's help when he crosses the portal? He will need tame Forerunners when he reaches the Ark.

Did he sacrifice himself or bear a personal cost to help us? No.

Yes, he does. This is pointed out quite clearly in the Halo cutscene. Half-Jaw asks the Arbiter to come with them as they retreat from the Ark, leaving the Chief to finish alone. He refuses. This is what Hood thanks him for.

One can argue that is also self-interest, to the extent that stopping the Flood is in everyone's interest. However, that just points out a flaw in the plot of the game-- to my mind, every Covenant and Human soldier on the Ark was worth committing to the effort to fire 04a, because without that, the Flood remain a threat to Earth and the entire galaxy. To trust that job to a force of three is foolish in the extreme. More dramatic, yes. But also foolish.

[snip]

Anonymous wrote:

scarab posting

I don't want to end on that note because I'd like to know what other people think.

What was the moral message of the Halo story?

How about these:

  • That faith and duty are praiseworthy virtues even when they are misapplied by leaders that should know better. Discovering that these traits have been misused is not a reason to abandon the traits themselves.
  • That it is difficult to question one's beliefs and one's leaders, but is worthwhile and necessary.
  • That aspiring to godhead/immortality always ends badly.
  • That individual identity is more important than mere survival.

You seem to be looking for some affirmation of the sanctity of life in the game, and it's bothering you that the Arbiter, who in your mind is guilty of genocide, is not punished for such.

Without denying the truth of that I suppose I can say that this is not the message the story is trying to convey. I also think it is perhaps a bit of a stretch to expect what is on the surface a war game in which the player must should kill virtually every alien he encounters save one to convey a message that holds the preservation of life as the highest moral value-- even if the main character is arguably acting in self-defense.

As an aside: the idea of sympathy falling naturally to defenders rather than aggressors is interesting. I'm curious to see what the Gears of War series does with that idea, given where it appears that story is heading.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

narcogen wrote:

Going to cherry pick from one of the longer posts:

Anonymous wrote:

scarab posting

I don't think we got an explicit mea culpa from the Arbiter but near the end of the Storm (AKA tS) there is a Truth holgram that the Arbiter replies to. His words are somthing like, 'You wont shame me this time, not again (or never again)'.

His words show that he is ashamed of what he did or that he wants to project the idea that he is shamed (maybe he is acting for the Chief's benefit).

But notice that he has externalized the blame. Truth shamed him, Truth made him do it.

I think here and earlier you are too radically discounting the degree to which all morality is external. In essence, conscious beings believe what they are told, because there is no other source of information.

I totally disagree. for this reason:

I wrote:

Genocide is wrong. How can I say that? How can I know that?

Because I wouldn't want anybody to do it to me. I just need to ask myself how I would feel if someone genocided me.

Its the Golden Rule, anyone can apply it. Its a rule of thumb that works pretty well.

narcogen wrote:

You act as if the evil of genocide was a self-evident truth. Perhaps it is. But the definition requires the victims to be people. We don't describe the hunting of animals for food or other reasons genocide, because animals aren't people. It's possible the campaign against the humans was justified by similar reasons or other reasons, reasons that were good enough for the Arbiter and many, many others, much as the way countless different reasons have been used to justify war, killing and slaughter throughout human history.

That point has been raised before on HBO. My reply is that the Elites do NOT see us as animals. The Elites in the Conversations from the Universe booklet ask why we haven't been asked to join the Covenant. You don't ask that question about Aardvarks, you ask it about people.

They know we are intelligent, they know our language, they have spoken to us. They know that we are people. They just do. They didn't think that we were gerbils, or mutton, ants, beef, or grass.

Now, if the Arbiter chose to pretend to himself that we were animals, if he decided to deny us our obvious peopleness, then that says a lot about the Arbiter as a person. Other Elites chose the other path, they decided that we were people and asked questions.

If the Arbiter chose to pretend we were animals then it was his choice, he can't expell all blame and lay it at Truth's feet. Other Elites were able to decide for themselves. He can't argue that his society made it impossible for him to think any other way. Those Elites were members of the same society.

But going back to this:

narcogen wrote:

In essence, conscious beings believe what they are told, because there is no other source of information.

If we require an external source then were did we originally get morality from?

Was it devine revelation?

narcogen wrote:

Blame is externalized in the scene you describe for very good reasons: you cannot reasonably, effectively, or practically portray self-reflection in a videogame. Even if you could, there would be no point. The Arbiter would become a useless, pointless character if he decided that what he really needed to do was serve in a hospital treating humans, or if he needed to kill himself out of shame. The universe still needs to be saved, and Truth still needs to be stopped-- so expressing some anger at him is appropriate at that moment, and the Arbiter has good reason to do so-- as much or more than the Chief, at least on a personal level.

I'm not sure if its impossible but I agree that games are one of the hardest mediums in which to do it. Especially if its a player character in a FPS. <- You have to steal control from the player.

Maybe this is one reason why the Arbiter was not a player character in Halo 3.

I wrote:

Did the Arbiter make reparations to the Humans?

He fights with us but its the obviously beneficial thing to do, its in his best interests. He can't afford to fight on two fronts, he knows our Reclaimer/Favoured status with Sparky, Earth is our home ground, etc, etc.

He stopped half-jaw from glassing Earth. Did he do this out of niceness or because he wants Sparky and the Chief's help when he crosses the portal? He will need tame Forerunners when he reaches the Ark.

Did he sacrifice himself or bear a personal cost to help us? No.

narcogen wrote:

Yes, he does. This is pointed out quite clearly in the Halo cutscene. Half-Jaw asks the Arbiter to come with them as they retreat from the Ark, leaving the Chief to finish alone. He refuses. This is what Hood thanks him for.

One can argue that is also self-interest, to the extent that stopping the Flood is in everyone's interest. However, that just points out a flaw in the plot of the game-- to my mind, every Covenant and Human soldier on the Ark was worth committing to the effort to fire 04a, because without that, the Flood remain a threat to Earth and the entire galaxy. To trust that job to a force of three is foolish in the extreme. More dramatic, yes. But also foolish.

Yes, you can argue that. And since games can't easily show reflection then you need a clear statement to remove all ambiguity.

Did the Arbiter truly repent or did he act out of intelligent self interest?

A real sacrifice would have made his repentance/redemption clear.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab wrote:
narcogen wrote:

Going to cherry pick from one of the longer posts:

Anonymous wrote:

scarab posting

I don't think we got an explicit mea culpa from the Arbiter but near the end of the Storm (AKA tS) there is a Truth holgram that the Arbiter replies to. His words are somthing like, 'You wont shame me this time, not again (or never again)'.

His words show that he is ashamed of what he did or that he wants to project the idea that he is shamed (maybe he is acting for the Chief's benefit).

But notice that he has externalized the blame. Truth shamed him, Truth made him do it.

I think here and earlier you are too radically discounting the degree to which all morality is external. In essence, conscious beings believe what they are told, because there is no other source of information.

I totally disagree. for this reason:

I wrote:

Genocide is wrong. How can I say that? How can I know that?

Because I wouldn't want anybody to do it to me. I just need to ask myself how I would feel if someone genocided me.

Its the Golden Rule, anyone can apply it. Its a rule of thumb that works pretty well.

There's nothing self-evident about the Golden Rule, either. It is just as valid to say "Do unto others before they do unto you", and if they do unto you first, then well, you deserved to lose and they deserve to win. Survival of the fittest.

The choice of which axioms individuals choose to live by is primarily a function of what kind of society one wishes to live in. If you wish to live in a society that values individual freedom and the sanctity of life, then you live by the golden rule. If you wish to live in a society that values competetive advantage at all costs, then you don't.

There is, frankly, nothing other than cultural bias to suggest that the Arbiter or his culture should value the life of any individual above any of their other beliefs-- such as the great journey, for instance, which would appear to mean the transcendence of all beings (or at least all worthy beings) to a higher plane of existence. Everything else is subordinate to that.

In fact, that the Arbiter has been sentenced to being hung by his entrails and his corpse paraded around the city for failure to kill enough humans (and protect Halo, thus endangering the great journey) says that the Covenant, as a culture, value the progress of that journey higher than their own lives, even higher than the lives of extremely high-ranking military officials. It is a cause they are willing to fight and die for, as well as kill their own for when they fail to serve that purpose (Arbiter, Heretic).

There is no particular reason for the Arbiter or any Elite to come to the conclusion that genocide is wrong, or that the ends do not justify the means.

In fact, nowhere in the Halo story is there an inkling that they ever come to this conclusion. The Arbiter has no response at all for Hood. I think the furthest you can go would be to say that the Arbiter perhaps regrets killing so many humans for no good reason since as it turns out, the Prophets were very mistaken about the Array and about the Great Journey.

Implied in that is the idea that he would have been fine with it-- had the Great Journey been real.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anton P Nym wrote:

PS: And what about that whole "redemption" thing that seems to be out-of-fashion these days? The position of "Arbiter" is one of a penitent seeking (posthumous) redemption through service, after all... and to dip again into the well of past stories, the '40s hero the Shadow was a drug lord and multiple murderer before being turned back to the side of justice and fought crime in an attempt to atone for his misdeeds.

Sure! That's how he knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men. Because he had been evil.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Part of the problem I see with your analysis is the fact that the Covenant is based solely on religious dogma and rewards zealotry. Imagine growing up in a society that revolves completely around Jesus or God, like even more than a convent, and then move up the ranks because of your devotion and skills in warfare. Now...the Arbiter just got busted for letting one of their religious icons be destroyed by the people that he had been told his entire life were an affront to their gods. He's got nothing left to live for and the Prophets recognized that and allowed him to redeem himself and defend their religion from someone who knew the truth that only the three of them knew.

Now, let's just assume the Arbiter is in his thirties (who knows how old he is). That's a long time to be consumed by the Covenant's religion, and it shows throughout Halo 2 and even in Halo 3 that despite being betrayed and learning the truth about everything, he can't just drop everything that he believed. I suppose in the end I'm trying to say that I think it's better he did what he did then instantly turn his back on everything and help the Humans who he had, admittedly, grown to hate and learn to be incredibly efficient in killing.

I do agree, though, that they could've used the Arbiter better and he seems like an overall wasted opportunity within the story as a whole, but I think that he was still an important character in the Halo universe that kept it from seeming too stereotypical with the Humans vs. Aliens battle and showed that the Covenant wasn't as strong as we had originally thought.

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Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab posting

Anonymous wrote:

Part of the problem I see with your analysis is the fact that the Covenant is based solely on religious dogma and rewards zealotry. Imagine growing up in a society that revolves completely around Jesus or God, like even more than a convent, and then move up the ranks because of your devotion and skills in warfare.

This is the religious get-out-of-jail-card.

Is religion's greatest crime that it lets 'good' people do evil things? <- It provides an excuse that the not-entirely-scrupulous/honest people can use to avoid responsibility for their actions.

Genocide is wrong. How can I say that? How can I know that?

Because I wouldn't want anybody to do it to me. I just need to ask myself how I would feel if someone genocided me.

The Arbiter was capable of asking himself that question. We know that other Elites questioned the Prophets' motives. It was unusual for Humans to have not been offered to join the Covenant. If the Arbiter had any Human sympathies or qualms then he kept them to himself. <- otherwise they would have been held against him at his trial. <- unless Truth chose not to use them as he wanted a tool and not a corpse.

It seems clear that the Halo story has an overzealous-religion-is-bad message. Is it also the authors' intention that we ask questions about the religious get out clause?

Should we allow people to say, 'don't blame me, my religion made me do it'?

Or did the authors' not think twice about it and assumed that the religious card was perfectly reasonable?

Anonymous wrote:

Now...the Arbiter just got busted for letting one of their religious icons be destroyed by the people that he had been told his entire life were an affront to their gods. He's got nothing left to live for and the Prophets recognized that and allowed him to redeem himself and defend their religion from someone who knew the truth that only the three of them knew.

I've never been too clear on why they made him an Arbiter.

He was isolated and would die for them, as long as he didn't learn the Truth.

Problem is that his first mission was likely to expose him to the Truth. If the Heretic hadn't started shooting then Sparky would have told him everything. It was clumsy having him shoot too soon. But I think we should give this one to Bungie. The authors wanted an Arbiter so the Prophets made one.

Anonymous wrote:

Now, let's just assume the Arbiter is in his thirties (who knows how old he is). That's a long time to be consumed by the Covenant's religion, and it shows throughout Halo 2 and even in Halo 3 that despite being betrayed and learning the truth about everything, he can't just drop everything that he believed. I suppose in the end I'm trying to say that I think it's better he did what he did then instantly turn his back on everything and help the Humans who he had, admittedly, grown to hate and learn to be incredibly efficient in killing.

Why would he hate Humans? He may never have even met any. He 'nukes' them from orbit and they die. That was about the sum total of his involvement with them.

Moving on...

He was in a bind. He must have realized that something was fishy. An Oracle was with the Heretic! Tartarous' actions were an obvious cover up. But who could the Arbiter tell?

Again, when Half-jaw asked him about the council slaying, he kept quiet. <- does the Arbiter have trust issues? Smiling

I think that the biggest problem with this part of the halo story is that we never know what's going on inside the Arbiter's head.

It would be easy in a novel, the author could tell us what he is thinking. You can't have this in a FPS game unless you add soliloquies. Eye-wink

But we know that he didn't risk his life, unnecessarily, to save his people. He probably made the right call after seeing the Oracle but I disagree with his decision not to trust Half-jaw.

Maybe Joe should cover the Arbiters' journey in his next novel. <- I'd buy that! snappy title Smiling

Anonymous wrote:

I do agree, though, that they could've used the Arbiter better and he seems like an overall wasted opportunity within the story as a whole, but I think that he was still an important character in the Halo universe that kept it from seeming too stereotypical with the Humans vs. Aliens battle and showed that the Covenant wasn't as strong as we had originally thought.

Maybe things would have been better if we'd played as the Heretic first. That would break the ice. Then we could play as the Arbiter and he could give his life to save us or he turns out to be completely, unambiguously, self centered after all.

And its difficult to explore character motivations within a FPS, especially when he is a player character. He's not under authorial control for 90% of the game and you haven't much time for dialogue. So of course he's a blank facade.

When you say that he seems like a wasted opportunity, what exactly do you mean? What would like to have seen?

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

I would suggest that the Arbiter is someone different from the shamed heretic, that when he put on his armor he was reborn as the ultimate servant of the Prophets. As Prophets, they would have the highest authority in interpreting the will of the gods, and would thus carry some embodiment of godhood themselves. So when this shamed heretic put on the armor, he ascended out of his previous life - a failure, and became what was essentially the greatest instrument of the gods themselves, and he would fight and die in their name.

But when he preforms his duties, he continuously runs into people telling him "No, the Prophets lie!" Now, if the Prophets did lie, it would mean his entire life would be meaningless, so he ignores it and rationalizes that the enemies are just trying to shake his faith so they can corrupt him and turn him into an instrument of evil; if he serves the gods, he must now be an instrument of good. It takes a barrage of evidence being shoved in his face before he can come to terms with the possibility that there may be something to the suggestion that the Prophets may have told lies.

One thing is certain, however, that Tartarus is his enemy. So, whatever he believes about the Prophets, he knows that Tartarus is a bad guy and must be stopped. He refrains from detailing his suspicions with 'Vadumee because he's still not certain if it has any value to it and doesn't want to project the idea that he's a madman just in case he's wrong. By the time Johnson gets into the Scarab, he's lost control over his direction. It's either help Johnson or be blast with the cannon, and helping Johnson stop Tartarus happens to work for him. By the time he gets into the control room, he's pretty sure he's right and confront Tartarus while in the company of no one that would hurt him politically were he wrong. Spark only confirms it, and he finally admits it to himself, "Tartarus, the Prophets have betrayed us." Tartarus can't handle the possibility that all his work was for nothing and loses all rationality, forcing the Arbiter to kill him so that the Halo could be deactivated - an intentional act of heresy that firmly positions him as an enemy of all the society he once held dear.

From there, he's in terra incognito; he does what he thinks is best, but has absolutely no guideline barring what he knows of pre-Covenant Sangheili society. He allies with the humans because it doesn't make sense to war with them anymore, and tries his best to convince those still loyal to the Covenant of the Prophets' lies. His counsel in stopping 'Vadumee from glassing Earth probably says more about 'Vadumee's own extreme views regarding the Flood than anything about the Arbiter. Earth is obviously the last stronghold of his human allies, and he may have defended it more out of strategic reasons than moral, but such arguments can be made about many military figures; it's a hazard of the trade.

I'd say that the Arbiter character is more about the internal struggles of one man, rather than the evils of the Covenant. One could also say that the Master Chief is a seriously twisted figure, being a brainwashed tool of the UN and kidnapped from a civilian family at the age of six in order to put down the Insurrectionists, but the UN is portrayed as very similar to America so we're all too bloated on patriotism to care about any of that. "Hoorah!"

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

scarab says: <- can't log in as me

Email me at narcogen@rampancy.net. If you've forgotten your password you can have the site send you a one-time login link so you can change it; go to http://rampancy.net/user

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Just a few quick notes to add to this excellent discussion:

I can and do sympathize with the Arbiter in practice. More so than the Chief, actually. One need not approve of a character morally in order to empathize with that character, unless one is so self-righteous that one considers oneself to be, at all times, a wholly moral person.

In theory, to have a character's redemption as part of an arc, he must first have done something that requires redemption. The Arbiter is a good choice in this respect.

Perhaps I am projecting but I saw a certain self-aggrandizement in the Heretic. There is also not one hint in any of his diatribes that indicate he is standing up for "what is right" or has realized that the genocide of humanity is wrong. It simply does not enter into his thinking. What enrages him is the coming destruction of his own race (by the Array) and the fact that the Prophet's promised paradise is a lie. He is not a moral crusader. He is a child on a tantrum for failing to receive a promised toy.

That said, I think the flaw in the story regarding the heretic is that while playing as the Arbiter, we are given no choice in the matter. We have no control over where and when the Arbiter's "redemption" occurs. Even if we are unable (for gameplay reasons) to spare the Heretic, we're not even given a chance to try. Bungie might have made at least a token attempt at a situation where Arby tries to spare the Heretic's life, but for some reason the fight continues to the death. In fact, that battle plays out in a confusing way in the game. The Heretic acts as if he's going to let Spark tell Arby what's really going on, and then attacks the Arbiter-- completely unprovoked.

The Heretic himself is not a sympathetic character. He comes across as an opportunist, as if he imagines the new truths he has been told as a way to usurp Prophet rule-- not as a means to stopping galactic genocide or bringing about lasting peace. The Heretic, as portrayed in the game, makes no principled stand such as you mention-- that is your own invention.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Thank you very much indeed for your extremely thoughtful reply. Since my own opinions on the Arbiter are so different, it always has been difficult for me to bridge that particular gap and achieve any kind of empathy with people who took the other side of this argument. It's hard to imagine how anyone could lay it out more fully and clearly than you have done here. I'll do my best to respond in kind.

Quote:

A lot of people were quite prepared to make excuses for his evil because he was a player character or because he had a cool voice and a cool armor.

That may be true of some people, but I honestly don't believe it describes my own reaction, or that of many other people who find the Arbiter sympathetic. I'm not exactly in a strong position right now to chide other people for making broad, sweeping accusations, but I offer my own mistakes as a salutary example.

Why do I find the Arbiter sympathetic? Because I interpret his actions and words completely differently from the way you do. I see him accepting his disgrace, punishment, and death sentence with humility, and I read this as evidence of his deep (if utterly misguided) faith, awe-inspiring physical and moral courage, and complete personal integrity. When Truth and Mercy offer him the Arbiter's armour and mission, they make it absolutely clear that this is just another form of death sentence, but he clearly sees it as a God-given chance for some form of spiritual redemption, a final chance to serve the cause in which he so devoutly believes - he genuinely wants to die, as atonement for his failures. It may be that I'm particularly vulnerable to these themes (I'm a sucker for redemption), and it may have quite a lot to do with Marty O'Donnell's beautiful scoring at this point, but I'll freely admit that this scene has actually made me cry.

When he decides to deal with the Heretic Leader by cutting the gas-mining station free from its tether and going down with it, that strikes me as the action of someone who's not just fully prepared to die for his cause, but actually eager to do it. That cause is totally unworthy of such a gesture, but I can't see how this can possibly be interpreted as a calculating, self-serving action. He wasn't planning or expecting to survive, and the Spec-Ops Elites acknowledge this and salute his courage and sacrifice as they evacuate before the cable-cutting.

As you rightly point out, now that the Arbiter has seen that the Heretic Leader was advised by a genuine Oracle, the seeds of doubt should be sown. But when we see him next, Truth and Mercy make a point of explaining that the intelligence which frames his next mission has come from that very Oracle, and they claim (by implication) that they have its wholehearted cooperation "...with clarity and grace...". Hah! It's made obvious to the player (who knows 343 GS all too well) that they're lying through their teeth about the cooperation, but the Arbiter can't be expected to know that for certain.

Just how quickly do you expect the Arbiter to revise his deeply-held, lifelong beliefs? It's a fact of real-life observation and personal experience that it takes time and/or brutal confrontation with incontrovertible evidence to turn someone's whole moral universe upside-down, and even then many people will retreat permanently into denial rather than accept this sort of psychological upheaval. I don't expect to change your mind about the Arbiter overnight, and I doubt if you expected to convert me instantly either. I don't think it's a sophistical debating trick to compare these questions, because we both take our respective positions with the utmost seriousness, and there's a profoundly important moral question at stake.

Backing off from ultimate questions for the moment, though I will return to them later, let me explore another line of argument. You cite copiously from cutscene transcripts to support your vision of the Arbiter as a cynical, self-serving utterly despicable monster. You seem to be treating these transcripts like evidence in a court-case, saying, in effect, that he's condemning himself by his own words. The Arbiter didn't say or do these things. He's a fictional character whose words were written by Bungie staff. What possible motive would they have for undercutting his character, and the player's sympathy with him? After all, you yourself acknowledge that Bungie intended him to be sympathetic. With respect, you're straining so hard for damning evidence that you're losing perspective, and you should ask yourself how this has happened.

The heart and soul of your case is the undeniable fact that the Arbiter has been responsible for millions of human deaths, and your contention that a) he should have recognised this as an unethical act, and refused to carry out his orders, and b) that this irrevocably rules out any possibility of sympathy. The argument I have made above applies here too - Bungie writers put him in this position, and they evidently didn't think he was beyond redemption. Lord Hood, in the memorial service cutscene at the end of Halo 3, can't forgive him, but is willing to shake his hand and thank him sincerely for standing by the Chief.

To this you would presumably object that you find this whole scenario unconvincing and repellent, so I'll attempt a more profound and general answer. The Arbiter did these things because he believed at the time that they were morally correct, perhaps even morally compulsory, and he thought that way because his culture and its religious leaders said so. He was devout to the point of naivety, and saw it as a black and white moral issue. You could hardly ask for a starker example of the horrific power and danger of moral absolutism, and our own history of religiously and ideologically inspired persecution and warfare offers a truly sickening range of precedents. You mention the Elites in 'Conversations with the Universe' who question the Prophets' motives in pursuing a war of extermination against humans. They were moral relativists by the standards of their culture, and you evidently believe them less blameworthy than the Arbiter.

As for forgiveness and redemption, let me ask you a personal question, and answer it from my own experience. Have you ever done anything of which you are truly ashamed? I know I have. In the course of fifty-odd years I've discovered things about myself which shocked me to the core, and I seriously don't think even my worst enemies would describe me as a truly evil man. Living with these unwelcome revelations is a matter of resolving to do better in future, acknowledging your dark side and stamping on it when it threatens to manifest - and believing that you can atone for your lapses, that redemption is possible. I pride myself on facing facts rather than ignoring or denying them, and the things I've seen when I look into my own relatively blameless soul mean that I can empathise with almost anyone, at least to some degree. I may hate what they do, or despise them, but I can't pretend that I have nothing at all in common with them. If there's no hope of redemption for them, then there may be none for me either.

---

Bungie must have seriously mixed feelings about having opened this particular can of worms, but I know that if I'd succeeded (however unintentionally) in exposing and dramatising this burning issue, which is both topical and timeless, I'd consider that I'd done something truly worthwhile with my life. Not bad for a videogame.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

My post above is, of course, intended as a direct reply to Scarab's original. Unfortunately it took eight hours or more to compose, and in the meantime many others have made most of my points for me. I wasn't expecting this intensity of discussion (or at least this many participants), but I'd like to thank everyone for keeping it civilised, especially in light of the strong feelings on both sides. If only political debate worked like this...

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Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

I like the Arbiter because he was a tool of the Prophets who broke loose. If you look at the complete and total dedication that every Elite had towards the Prophets and the religion set before them, it seems like they were almost brainwashed. The Elites were totally dedicated to the Prophets, and the Prophets used that to their advantage. I like the Arbiter because you can look at his struggle to break away from the Prophets control. I did not like the Arbiter that much in Halo 2 because I did not like his levels, not because I was playing as the Arbiter, but because I simply did not like the levels I was playing in. I grew to love the Arbiter in Halo 3 because he was honorable and playing with him at my side was fun. Seeing the Arbiter after finding Cortana was one of the best moments of the game for me. I completely agree with Fleet Admiral Hood at the end of the game when he talks with the Arbiter. I think that Scarab has unfairly put down the Arbiter. The Arbiter probably did not know anything but the religion that the Prophets put before the entire Covenant, Truth was able to use that power to push the entire Covenant into outright war with the human race. The Elites would have simply followed orders and not really care about killing humans for the simple reason that the Prophets told them to. It is hardly fair to look at the Arbiter in such a bad light when you see what people have done in history. One of the Crusades was actually against Constantinople. The Crusade was organized by Venetian merchants who did not like the competition with the merchants in Constantinople.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

I like the Arbiter because he was a tool of the Prophets who broke loose. If you look at the complete and total dedication that every Elite had towards the Prophets and the religion set before them, it seems like they were almost brainwashed.

Some Elites questioned the Prophets.

And in Contact Harvest p146-147 we see that the Prophets did NOT indoctrinate the Elites with their Prophet religion. The Elites already had the same beliefs before they met. In fact, the Elites were more dogmatic about their faith than the Prophets were. This was the reason why the Elites started the war with the Prophets. <- it doesn't explicitly state that the Elites started the war, it just states that the Prophets' blasphemy sparked the war. <- interested? Read Contact Harvest!

Anonymous wrote:

The Elites were totally dedicated to the Prophets, and the Prophets used that to their advantage. I like the Arbiter because you can look at his struggle to break away from the Prophets control. I did not like the Arbiter that much in Halo 2 because I did not like his levels, not because I was playing as the Arbiter, but because I simply did not like the levels I was playing in. I grew to love the Arbiter in Halo 3 because he was honorable and playing with him at my side was fun. Seeing the Arbiter after finding Cortana was one of the best moments of the game for me. I completely agree with Fleet Admiral Hood at the end of the game when he talks with the Arbiter. I think that Scarab has unfairly put down the Arbiter. The Arbiter probably did not know anything but the religion that the Prophets put before the entire Covenant, Truth was able to use that power to push the entire Covenant into outright war with the human race. The Elites would have simply followed orders and not really care about killing humans for the simple reason that the Prophets told them to. It is hardly fair to look at the Arbiter in such a bad light when you see what people have done in history. One of the Crusades was actually against Constantinople. The Crusade was organized by Venetian merchants who did not like the competition with the merchants in Constantinople.

Well, if you believe F==H, which I do, then you can see that the Covenant are only doing to us what we did to them Smiling

Maybe our motives were a bit purer. Eye-wink

Were we paying for the sins of our fathers?

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Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab wrote:
Anonymous wrote:

I like the Arbiter because he was a tool of the Prophets who broke loose. If you look at the complete and total dedication that every Elite had towards the Prophets and the religion set before them, it seems like they were almost brainwashed.

Some Elites questioned the Prophets.

And in Contact Harvest p146-147 we see that the Prophets did NOT indoctrinate the Elites with their Prophet religion. The Elites already had the same beliefs before they met. In fact, the Elites were more dogmatic about their faith than the Prophets were. This was the reason why the Elites started the war with the Prophets. <- it doesn't explicitly state that the Elites started the war, it just states that the Prophets' blasphemy sparked the war. <- interested? Read Contact Harvest!

I have read Contact: Harvest. The Prophets completely twisted the religion to what they wanted it to say. The Elites were more dogmatic, which was their weakness in this case. If you look at Master Chief and Arbiter, they are nearly the same person. Master Chief would have done the same exact thing in the Arbiter's position. Someone pointed out that Master Chief is a warrior. So is the Arbiter. Warriors don't question orders. The Arbiter can be seen like an ancient samurai. The Samurai were completely loyal to their lord, no matter what they were asked. If they did anything against their lord, they would be dishonored, and honor is the most important thing to a samurai. The Arbiter would have been killed, and would have dishonored his family name forever. Some Elites questioned the Prophets because they were not in positions where doing so would get them killed and dishonored, or where they had enough political power to protect themselves from the Prophets wrath.

I don't quite get what you are talking about in your last paragraph, or else I would have responded. What is F==H?

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

I don't quite get what you are talking about in your last paragraph, or else I would have responded. What is F==H?

Forerunners equals Humans. As in members of the same species.

But that's an argument for another time. <- I asked Luke if we were.

He may answer in the next WWU.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:
Anonymous wrote:

I don't quite get what you are talking about in your last paragraph, or else I would have responded. What is F==H?

Forerunners equals Humans. As in members of the same species.

But that's an argument for another time. <- I asked Luke if we were.

He may answer in the next WWU.

With all due respect, that's really a question for Jason, Joe, Marty, or one of those close to the Halo Bible. So I hope Luke gets his answer from one of those sources-- assuming he can get one and that he's allowed to give it.

Honestly, though, I doubt it. Part of the fun of Bungie games is figuring out for oneself what it all means. Answering such a sweeping question with a straight answer might interfere with that. But we'll see.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

narcogen wrote:

With all due respect, that's really a question for Jason, Joe, Marty, or one of those close to the Halo Bible. So I hope Luke gets his answer from one of those sources-- assuming he can get one and that he's allowed to give it.

Honestly, though, I doubt it. Part of the fun of Bungie games is figuring out for oneself what it all means. Answering such a sweeping question with a straight answer might interfere with that. But we'll see.

I hope they do answer it. I think that they will.

If F==He then its a major point of the Halo story. The whole, killing your gods to preserve your religion, part - and the idea that they are doing to us what we did to them.

I'm also thinking of the X Files. What is it with the black oil and the bees? What does it all mean? Who is the Cigarette Smoking Man really working for? What does he really know? <- who actually cares anymore?

Sometimes its better to just say whilst people still care. <- you can be coy for too long and people just loose interest.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab wrote:
narcogen wrote:

With all due respect, that's really a question for Jason, Joe, Marty, or one of those close to the Halo Bible. So I hope Luke gets his answer from one of those sources-- assuming he can get one and that he's allowed to give it.

Honestly, though, I doubt it. Part of the fun of Bungie games is figuring out for oneself what it all means. Answering such a sweeping question with a straight answer might interfere with that. But we'll see.

I hope they do answer it. I think that they will.

If F==He then its a major point of the Halo story. The whole, killing your gods to preserve your religion, part - and the idea that they are doing to us what we did to them.

I'm also thinking of the X Files. What is it with the black oil and the bees? What does it all mean? Who is the Cigarette Smoking Man really working for? What does he really know? <- who actually cares anymore?

Sometimes its better to just say whilst people still care. <- you can be coy for too long and people just loose interest.

Cancer man or "Cigarette Smoking man" works for the M.I.B, not the a holes from that movie with Will Smith, the real Men In Black, the hard core killers. Also he is Molders father, why do you think the, "you know who" hasent killed Molder, cancer man keeps him alive. also cancer man dosint have much power or access to much. he is more of a pawn.

the bees and the oil, i know what the bees are for but i can never remember what that dam oil is? its man made, i think?

the bees. thier perpose is to kill the human race. the M.I.B will tern them loose in to the poplation and have every one killed. than they will make clones and repopulate the planet to thir favor, but that is not there only reasson why thay will release the bees. alians are coming and the way they reproduces is by useing a human body to let thir childern grow in us. thats were the clones come in, the alians can not infect clones only flesh and blood humans. to save humanity we must destroy it, stupid hu. i just like SIFI T.V. and movies, why do you think i play halo. also there will be a halo 4 yhaaaaaaaa. F in better be.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

scarab wrote:

I hope they do answer it. I think that they will.

Just to follow up: They didn't.

scarab wrote:

If F==He then its a major point of the Halo story. The whole, killing your gods to preserve your religion, part - and the idea that they are doing to us what we did to them.

That angle is merely diminished, not removed, if Forerunners and Humans are not directly related. Even if the only significance of humanity was their role as the Forerunners' sucessors, killing them for the sake of the Great Journey is still a comparable act.

scarab wrote:

I'm also thinking of the X Files. What is it with the black oil and the bees? What does it all mean? Who is the Cigarette Smoking Man really working for? What does he really know? <- who actually cares anymore?

Well, I do, but then again I'm a pretty big X-Files fan.

The black oil was one of the many forms that the (one or more) species of extraterrestrials could take. Infection of humans by the black oil was going to be the mechanism by which the aliens colonized-- or, to be more precise, RECLAIMED (how's that for making a connection) the Earth.

The bees were a way of getting the oil into food crops so it would spread.

As mentioned elsewhere in the thread, there are strong indications that Mulder's mother had an affair with CSM (CGB Spender) and that Fox is the product of that union. (Although why it couldn't be Samantha, I don't know. That would make more sense in terms of why they give her up for experimentation, and why CSM "adopts" her afterwards (or one of her many clones... it's not really clear).

scarab wrote:

Sometimes its better to just say whilst people still care. <- you can be coy for too long and people just loose interest.

True. X-Files jumped the shark when they tried to continue the conspiracy angle beyond the point where it made sense. When the rebels burn all the members of the conspiracy save CSM, that should've been the end. Instead they kept it going long past the point where they could avoid conflicting themselves.

I don't think Bungie will do that with Halo. However, I think Marathon is evidence that Bungie is entirely willing to leave questions unanswered and walk away from something.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

I have read Contact: Harvest. The Prophets completely twisted the religion to what they wanted it to say.

In what way? How did they twist whose religion? Their own or the Elites'?

I thought that Truth was supposed to be a true believer.

He believed in his religion. We were told this b4 Halo 3 was released. Someone from Bungie said it, maybe in an answer to a question session.

And even in CH he doesn't renounce his religion. He just tries to cover up a Truth that may destroy it. <- yes I know that's bizzare but it seems to be what he was thinking.

Apparently he tries to activate the rings because he still believes that they are his means to salvation.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

OldNick wrote:

Why do I find the Arbiter sympathetic? Because I interpret his actions and words completely differently from the way you do. I see him accepting his disgrace, punishment, and death sentence with humility, and I read this as evidence of his deep (if utterly misguided) faith, awe-inspiring physical and moral courage, and complete personal integrity. When Truth and Mercy offer him the Arbiter's armour and mission, they make it absolutely clear that this is just another form of death sentence, but he clearly sees it as a God-given chance for some form of spiritual redemption, a final chance to serve the cause in which he so devoutly believes - he genuinely wants to die, as atonement for his failures. It may be that I'm particularly vulnerable to these themes (I'm a sucker for redemption), and it may have quite a lot to do with Marty O'Donnell's beautiful scoring at this point, but I'll freely admit that this scene has actually made me cry.

I completely missed that. I thought that he felt, rather die tomorrow of a plasma grenade than watch my bowels being pulled out before my eyes.

OldNick wrote:

When he decides to deal with the Heretic Leader by cutting the gas-mining station free from its tether and going down with it, that strikes me as the action of someone who's not just fully prepared to die for his cause, but actually eager to do it. That cause is totally unworthy of such a gesture, but I can't see how this can possibly be interpreted as a calculating, self-serving action. He wasn't planning or expecting to survive, and the Spec-Ops Elites acknowledge this and salute his courage and sacrifice as they evacuate before the cable-cutting.

As you rightly point out, now that the Arbiter has seen that the Heretic Leader was advised by a genuine Oracle, the seeds of doubt should be sown. But when we see him next, Truth and Mercy make a point of explaining that the intelligence which frames his next mission has come from that very Oracle, and they claim (by implication) that they have its wholehearted cooperation "...with clarity and grace...". Hah! It's made obvious to the player (who knows 343 GS all too well) that they're lying through their teeth about the cooperation, but the Arbiter can't be expected to know that for certain.

Just how quickly do you expect the Arbiter to revise his deeply-held, lifelong beliefs? It's a fact of real-life observation and personal experience that it takes time and/or brutal confrontation with incontrovertible evidence to turn someone's whole moral universe upside-down, and even then many people will retreat permanently into denial rather than accept this sort of psychological upheaval. I don't expect to change your mind about the Arbiter overnight, and I doubt if you expected to convert me instantly either. I don't think it's a sophistical debating trick to compare these questions, because we both take our respective positions with the utmost seriousness, and there's a profoundly important moral question at stake.

Those are very valid points.

OldNick wrote:

Backing off from ultimate questions for the moment, though I will return to them later, let me explore another line of argument. You cite copiously from cutscene transcripts to support your vision of the Arbiter as a cynical, self-serving utterly despicable monster. You seem to be treating these transcripts like evidence in a court-case, saying, in effect, that he's condemning himself by his own words. The Arbiter didn't say or do these things. He's a fictional character whose words were written by Bungie staff. What possible motive would they have for undercutting his character, and the player's sympathy with him? After all, you yourself acknowledge that Bungie intended him to be sympathetic. With respect, you're straining so hard for damning evidence that you're losing perspective, and you should ask yourself how this has happened.

You're right there, he probably didn't say anything because the devs ran out of time, or hadn't the energy to give that scene the attention it deserved. <- entire levels needed to be cut to ship the game on time.

OldNick wrote:

The heart and soul of your case is the undeniable fact that the Arbiter has been responsible for millions of human deaths, and your contention that a) he should have recognised this as an unethical act, and refused to carry out his orders, and b) that this irrevocably rules out any possibility of sympathy. The argument I have made above applies here too - Bungie writers put him in this position, and they evidently didn't think he was beyond redemption. Lord Hood, in the memorial service cutscene at the end of Halo 3, can't forgive him, but is willing to shake his hand and thank him sincerely for standing by the Chief.

For the next part in bold, no, I understand Hood's position.

OldNick wrote:

To this you would presumably object that you find this whole scenario unconvincing and repellent, so I'll attempt a more profound and general answer. The Arbiter did these things because he believed at the time that they were morally correct, perhaps even morally compulsory, and he thought that way because his culture and its religious leaders said so. He was devout to the point of naivety, and saw it as a black and white moral issue. You could hardly ask for a starker example of the horrific power and danger of moral absolutism, and our own history of religiously and ideologically inspired persecution and warfare offers a truly sickening range of precedents. You mention the Elites in 'Conversations with the Universe' who question the Prophets' motives in pursuing a war of extermination against humans. They were moral relativists by the standards of their culture, and you evidently believe them less blameworthy than the Arbiter.

I'm not sure what you meant by the above. I don't see myself as a moral absolutist. I do see that there are shades of grey. I just see genocide as being beyond the pale and I have doubts about someone who can do it as his day job, without questions.

Some shades of grey are so dark that I don't see them as just another shade. That doesn't make me an absolutist.

The other Elites show that a member of the Arbiter's culture can see that there is something amiss with the Prophets motives. I don't think that makes them moral relativists. It just means that they ask questions. And these are obvious questions. Read the transcript:

Quote:

>>> EXTRACT OF SANCTIONED SANGHEILI EAVESDROP// FOR THE
ATTENTION OF JIRALHANAE MILITARY ADJUNCT AMBASSADOR >>>

EliteCommander wrote:

The Humans are weak, but they are tenacious.
Even the smallest ones hurl themselves against our
defenses with honour. If only the Unggoy were
as committed.

Elite2 wrote:

I wonder about the Humans, Commander. Their
technology is limited, but some of it is useful and
their battle techniques are impressive. They are
excellent strategists. But what I ask is this: why
have we not offered them the absolution of the
Covenant? from the beginning of this war, the
Prophets have made no attempt to absorb them
or even offer them honorable submission.
Why?

EliteCommander wrote:

Perhaps they fear them? We do not know where their
homeworld is. Their pattern of retreat is either
hopelessly random or brilliantly concieved. what
if the Humans have more power, more numbers than
we suspect? What if they lead us to a trap?

Elite2 wrote:

No. I do not think that is the reasoning. They
continue to lose territory, and pattern or no
pattern, these defenses must be part of a perimiter.
I suspect that we are forcing them into a tighter area
than they care to fight in-soon we may be able to
use the Sharquoi. And their victories, however few,
always rely on the same thing-strategy, brute force,
or luck. No. The only secret they hold is the location
of their homeworld

EliteCommander wrote:

What about the atrocity at Halo? That was not
luck, nor brute force. The Demon is a mystery. he
outwitted and outfought entire legions on Halo.
Perhaps there are more like him?

Elite2 wrote:

I do not believe that. We have seen their kind
before and destroyed them. Their numbers have
dwindled and there have been no reported sightings
since our victory at Reach.

EliteCommander wrote:

Then why do we continue to hunt them? When surely
they merit consideration to accept and embrace the
Covenant?

Elite2 wrote:

Let us discuss this at a more prudent moment.
A Jiralhanae approaches.

The Elites don't mention morality, they just ask obvious questions. They feel confortable discussing the topic amongst themselves but not in front of a Brute. Maybe other Elites thought the same way.

OldNick wrote:

As for forgiveness and redemption, let me ask you a personal question, and answer it from my own experience. Have you ever done anything of which you are truly ashamed? I know I have. In the course of fifty-odd years I've discovered things about myself which shocked me to the core, and I seriously don't think even my worst enemies would describe me as a truly evil man. Living with these unwelcome revelations is a matter of resolving to do better in future, acknowledging your dark side and stamping on it when it threatens to manifest - and believing that you can atone for your lapses, that redemption is possible. I pride myself on facing facts rather than ignoring or denying them, and the things I've seen when I look into my own relatively blameless soul mean that I can empathise with almost anyone, at least to some degree. I may hate what they do, or despise them, but I can't pretend that I have nothing at all in common with them. If there's no hope of redemption for them, then there may be none for me either.

I have done stuff I regret but they wern't done with malice aforethought. More saying the wrong thing or not giving things enough thought.

What I've found is that often all you can say is sorry. You can't do something extravagant like open your veins or promise to buy them a house. Sometimes all you can do is to say to yourself, 'I wont do that again'. Maybe that's just life, its not as neat as a story.

The Arbiter wasn't offered a chance to do something extravagant. He couldn't volunteer to activate the ring by himself because he can't activate the ring by himself. 'Were it so easy.'

OldNick wrote:

---

Bungie must have seriously mixed feelings about having opened this particular can of worms, but I know that if I'd succeeded (however unintentionally) in exposing and dramatising this burning issue, which is both topical and timeless, I'd consider that I'd done something truly worthwhile with my life. Not bad for a videogame.

This is the time to discuss the issue, now that the story is over, and we see it in its entirety. The Arbiter suffered most from the fact that the story didn't end in Halo 2.

I'm going to end this post here because I'm so tired, this stuff is draining! Smiling Maybe I'll play some Halo 3, browse HBO, or just go to sleep.

---

I appreciate the time and effort that you have put into your replies and the personal candor. Thank you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

I don't believe that forcing a player to play as the Covenant is parallel to forcing someone to empathise with the nazi's as the case may be. You have to take into account that the entire Arbiter side of the story was done so that the players could see, relate and connect with the Elite's eventual falling-out with the Covenant. Yes, this of course is spoken in hindsight but considering Bungie's history with in-depth storylines, they would not put the player in a position just for the hell of it. Like any good story, every detail has an effect on the future of said story, to just throw in random gameplay/words/scenes/etc would be a waste of time and effort.

This means that everything has a reason for being there, and as such (if people realized this before delving mindlessly into shooting alients), players should have been able to recognize the Arbiter for what he represents in the game and should have played through curiously, seeking to find the answer of why he is there.

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Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

The Chief is a person fighting for his people and his home, much like his unit's namesake, the spartans of old. Very simple, cut and dried, and easy to identify with. I'm not dogging on the Chief here - he's still one of my all time favorite game characters, especially when you consider that Bungie was able to mix ancient Greek civilization, old Norse concepts of the Wyrd and luck, religious/demonological significance (though attributed to him via the Covenant), all in one shiny green suit of high powered sci-fi space armor. He's very straightforward, not that hard to feel for. Then throw in Cortana which, when you think about it, can be seen as Bungie's subtle nod to feminism, seeing as how she is technically smarter than the Chief in certain ways, and she directs and guides him, giving them parity and balance as a pair. Some might even go so far as to say they represent "traditional" roles, but in a very untraditional way. But I digress.

The Arbiter... the Arbiter is another matter altogether.

First, no duality. The only possible "foil" he has is the Chief, or Half-Jaw. Truth be told, he doesn't interact with either all that much. The Arbiter has more of a history with Johnson in some ways than he does with the Chief, it could be argued. As a character, he's pretty much left to develop on his own, with only a few nuanced interactions that propel his character's development, most notably with the Gravemind, the Chief, and (finally) Tartarus.

Second, the Arbiter IS the tragic figure in the story, the one who seeks redemption for his sins and transgressions. Despite all the religious connotations surrounding Spartan John-117 (due to his name, etc.), the Arbiter is the actual religious archetype, the one of the repentant sinner on a crusade to redeem his past misdeeds, much like the noble knight from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, or Laertes in Hamlet. He seeks to atone for the past by dedicating the rest of his life to rectifying it, up to dying for it. His solitude as a character is necessary, since as the Arbiter, his path is a solitary one, akin to a pilgrimage or crusader.

Finally, the ultimate irony of the character of the Arbiter is his name: the Arbiter. Not the Decider, or the Vanquisher, or the Destroyer, or Exorciser of Demons, or whatever, but the Arbiter. While the Covenant refers to the Arbiter as the "blade of the Prophets", the actual word means "a person with power to decide a dispute". Ultimately, this is what the Arbiter does and becomes, the one who tips the balance of the war in favor of the humans, because he now knows the truth regarding the Flood, the Great Journey, and everything else that he has been lied to about.

The reason why I believe Bungie (right so) chose to have people play as the Arbiter in Halo 2 is simple - there is NO way that someone would be able to empathize, understand, and just KNOW the Arbiter's point of view unless you experience events as he did - being sent on assassination missions, blindly following the will of the prophets (and while I give the Heretic props for standing up to the Prophets by being, in his own way, a prophet of his own, his ultimate purpose was to plant the seed of doubt), until his ultimate betrayal by Tartarus and "resurrection" at the hands of the Gravemind, wherein he is shown the light, but refuses to believe it until he is shown cold, hard evidence that he cannot deny. This gradual process of discovery is what makes the Arbiter such a rich character. and so important to the Halo story - that from within their own ranks, the Covenant will be rent apart by one of their own who has "seen the truth". This "decision" by the Arbiter to oppose the Prophets, in my opinion, while it can be "gotten" with a simple story summary and/or cinematic, has much more emotional impact to someone if it feels like it's happening to you personally, especially if you've also experienced all the events that have lead up to it.

I'll be honest that I'm a bit biased in favor of the Arbiter. I grew up Catholic (and please, this is my own personal POV, and in no way am I passing judgment on others), "buying" in to the whole "program", and believing all that was said. But when I was 15, I found out about some of the events in the history of the Church that I considered less than "cool", such as the Crusades and the Inquisition. While I was appalled at what had happened, I could pass it off as ignorance of the times. However, what I couldn't get past was how the Church (to me, in my experiences) never 'fessed up to it fully. At this, I felt a sense of... betrayal? Loss? Disillusionment? Hard to say, but it was enough for me to start questioning and finally lead to me leaving the Church.

So, yeah, the Arbiter has a bit of personal resonance for me as well. That being said, though, there are always going to be people who don't want to look at things too deeply, where if they don't get their flashbang of entertainment in the first 10 minutes, or if you try something new and different, they're going to be pissed. I see it all the time on forums for movies, games, and other stuff. Sad to say, they don't know what they're missing.

I gotta hand it to Bungie, not only for making kick ass games, but for having the mjolnir-powered balls to take such a risk as creating such a layered, literary, onion-like story. And for, more or less, pulling it off. Most studios out there are so worried about making sure their "target demographic" like their stuff that they won't take risks like Bungie has (thought I'm sure that having MS backing didn't hurt them much).

Ugh, this has become an essay. My apologies. Either way, I love the discussions that take place in the Bungie community, as they're usually better, on average, than "Man, HaLo 3 sux ballz!" or anything more witty.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

Ugh, this has become an essay. My apologies.

No need to apologise, your post was beautiful. I think its the best reply I've ever had to any of my Arbiter polemics.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

# 1, if the Arbiter is a mass murderer, then what is the Chief?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

# 1, if the Arbiter is a mass murderer, then what is the Chief?

short answer: a soldier

long answer: To my knowledge he has never killed Covenant civilians, he certainly has never participated in genocide. He fights other soldiers, he is usually outnumbered, and faces constant personal risk.

The two are not the same. The Arbiter is a far darker shade of grey.

as an asside: Another difference is that the Chief has a passive role. His 'career' was chosen for him.

I don't know if the Arbiter chose his career but my feeling is that he is a different order of person. I don't think he got where he was by accident. I think he chose his career. I think he has ambition.

I tend to think of the Chief and Half-jaw as being equivalent. Half-jaw has the superior rank/position but I see them both as being soldiers.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

While these arguments make for great story speculation, I know that the reason I really didn't like the Arbiter's missions in Halo 2 was that they just weren't as much fun to play. Since the Flood is less interesting to fight than the Covenant, and the Halo 2 Brutes were woefully unfinished damage sponges, playing as him felt like a chore more than anything else. I think this was what made it hard for people to feel empathy for the Arbiter as a character, since the player was in a poor state of mind after just having to finish a level that was much less interesting than the one before it containing the Chief. Metropolis, Delta Halo, and High Charity were all much more fun for me to play through; even if it had been the Chief as the main character, Sacred Icon/Sentinel Wall and Uprising would have been a lot less fun.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Personally, I feel that the Arbiter is a much more playable character to me. I have played all three Halo games, but the first one I played was Halo 2. Not knowing the Chief’s Back-story or anything about him, I felt that he was a one dimensional autonomic killing machine. Then came the Arbiter. Here was a guy whose story I learned about right at the Beginning of the game.

As the game progressed, while the Arbiter’s levels were Flood ridden and boring, I could never get enough of his story. I saw a man who was fighting his beliefs, his race’s eliminators, and one who wanted to make since of what he was learning.

I find the Arbiter to be a character from a good book, having his world turned upside down and through the story he develops into a person he wasn’t at the beginning.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

I did not like playing as an elite, because elites are the enemy. Halo ce taught me to hate elites like lord of the rings taught me to hate orcs. When i first played the arbiter i killed all the "Allie" covenant around me without realising they were "allies". I just loved the story of halo ce so much. Halo 2 is what made me go hardcore multi player.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

I did not like playing as an elite, because elites are the enemy. Halo ce taught me to hate elites like lord of the rings taught me to hate orcs. When i first played the arbiter i killed all the "Allie" covenant around me without realising they were "allies". I just loved the story of halo ce so much. Halo 2 is what made me go hardcore multi player.

There's a difference, though. Tolkien portrays Sauron as the nearest thing to absolute evil left in Middle Earth, and the Orcs his twisted creations. They're beyond redeemable.

The Elites may be prosecuting a bloody and unjustified war, but they are not inherently evil.

Also, if you didn't know Elites were allies at that point, you must have skipped several cutscenes-- so not surprising you like H1's story better if you skipped H2's! Which isn't to say H2 doesn't have story flaws-- it does.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, I should think that the Arbiter would have been better received if his missions had been part of an entirely independent campaign alongside the Chief's, and not just one jumbled mess of an affair. (Then again, considering how lackluster the Arbiter's missions were in light of Halo 2 only being half-finished, the game probably would have looked even less done).

And the fact that the Elites were the enemy in Halo: Combat Evolved didn't much help the Arbiter's case either, at least in the eyes of some circles. Of course, in others, there were people who practically begged to play from the Covenant viewpoint (although the Arbiter probably didn't deliver what they expected).

But as long as everyone here is examining the Arbiter as a character, I might as well play along too, albeit as the advocate of the Devil's Devil.

Realistically, the Arbiter isn't much different from the Chief. Master Chief, like the Arbiter, is a creature who lives to follow orders; it wouldn't matter if his superiors told him to eat babies, he would do so unquestioningly, regardless of whatever personal misgivings he himself reserved for the act. They are, both of them, just following orders. They may say that they are fighting for a cause, a higher purpose, and at times they may even fool themselves into believing it, but at the end of the day, they just do as they're told and let others deal with matters of idealism.

And I could talk for ages about how the UNSC and the Covenant are, at their core, no different, but since that is not the focus of the debate, I will move on to say that the Arbiter is no more inherently evil than the Chief is. Any past act that is held against the Arbiter, the Chief would do if in the same circumstance, or if ordered.

As for redemption, well, outside of religion, I see no real path to redemption. Only penance, which is a road that the Arbiter has clearly walked, regardless of his motivations or intentions. His actions atoned for his misdeeds, but did not absolve them. There is a subtle difference that must be realized here. Certainly, the Arbiter harbors guilt that even the Chief does not have a similar weight to bear. The alien may be harder to relate to, but he's certainly a much deeper character than most people give him credit for.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Redemption is by no means just a religious thing, it can be personal too and that is what the Arbiter is looking for. He has killed humans, there is no denying that, but his belief at the time was that they were going to do him harm, like I believe a parasite or infection will do me harm. He ended up being wrong and to confront that, to admit it, to then turn around and help his enemy to try and atone - that is a struggle for redemption and it happens completely outside of his religion, it's personal redemption. Personally I reckon that's more important. He will never be absolved from killing humans by the human race, but what he has done is provide a future for the two races to begin working together. Since we're very fond of using WW2 allegory, surely you don't believe that we should still be punishing Germans for something their ancestors did?

I think that in a couple of decades you'll have humans setting up businesses with the Covenant, that they'll have continued atoning by helping us rebuild and we'll share our culture with them and our concepts of freedom. I see a future together and I reckon that's a redemption for the Arbiter.

Speculation aside, this was an interesting read, OldNick.

Jillybean

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Truth lied about humans to the covenant as part of a cover-up. Read Contact Harvest it explained alot.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

while i do believe that you are in a way correct...but come on...they may be kids...but they're kids shooting guns at you. Think about this. I believe they were meant to be a jester figure. I believe the view point of the arbiter was necessary. Imagine what would happen if in halo 3 you all of a sudden start up with an elite friend. I think some of us would think cool, but logically, we hate them since they want to kill us. They want to kill us, our children, our pets, everything we love and know as it exists. So I think the moral decision was much more thought out than what your first thought was. HATE EVEN THOSE WILLING TO SIDE WITH US! That's what would've happened, instead it was, "Okay, im not fully okay with you, but hey the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Do you get it. At least some positive morale came out. If there is anything wrong, it is with the public. Flame me, do whatever, but do know these are solid ideas, not paper thin.

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IRC

BTW, this is a great discussion going on here-- here and on the other entry.

If there are people who ever want to chat about this stuff live, there's a #rampancy channel on the IBO IRC server, irc.bungie.org.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

You know I just realized something obvious yet interesting. Playing as the arbiter, we (players) are never forced to fight marines...
Interesting point to discuss?

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narcogen
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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

It's something I mentioned in the H2 Impressions series. I'm pretty sure it was an intentional design decision. The Arbiter is always fighting Flood or other Covenant units. There's only one level where you'd even get the chance to run into a hostile marine (Sacred Icon) and even that is brief.

Fighting directly against humans would've destroyed any chance most players had of identifying with the Arbiter.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

If you look at our (that is, real life Earth) own history you can see all sorts of parallels with the Arbiter's position. Take the crusades, where it was professed that killing a non-Christian, or 'infidel', was not murder. It was justified by a higher religious cause, in this case the safe guarding of the holy lands.

Similarly, members of the covenant are no doubt taught this. The trial at the start of Halo 2 reflects this; "desecrate it with their filthy footsteps". Humans are sub- well, human.

An important question is this: does one's participation in something seen as wrong, or evil, make that person evil? Were all the Knights Templar evil? They were acting with, what they thought, were good intentions, delivered by God's messenger the Pope. And yet they participated in one of the most horrendous military campaigns in history, invaded cities without provocation and slaughtered civilians based on faith. Morality, even the golden rule, can and often is disregarded if one truly thinks the ends justify the means.

I think the connections between the prophets and the crusades and, to a larger extent, the medieval Catholic Church, are deliberate (such as the use of the term 'heretic', popularized by the inquisition, and the unity of church and state). The morality of acting for a higher purpose, as ordered by those you have been told repeatedly to obey, in what would, if viewed objectively, be wrong is prevalent in both cases. Disobeying the Pope would have been unthinkable, this man was speaking with divine enlightenment and you know from an early age that this is true as you were told it was.

In the phantom on the way to the gas mine, for example, the covenant soldiers all recite an oath, in unison, from memory. An oath decrying those who would act against the covenant's leaders. This is a clear sign of indoctrination. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels once wrote that "The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it".

That, I think, is what the Arbiter's character is about; escaping something he has succumbed to utterly. That is what makes his struggle so painful, he learns that his entire life is a lie. Imagine an ancient Greek priest suddenly learning all we know today of the world and astronomy, and that all he was taught about Apollo, and lightning, and where waves come from, was not true, and that his life's devotion was meaningless. The Arbiter learns so suddenly that his purpose in life, the purpose of his race (to protect the prophets and wag war for them while the prophet's find the way to start the great journey) is suddenly null. And he has to suddenly find himself.

I think that might be what makes the Arbiter a difficult character; the Chief is fighting a clear and tangible threat, one that is fought physically and externally. The Arbiter's true fight is internal, attempting to reconcile his existence with what he has learned.

As an aside, I liked the first two Arbiter levels a lot, more than Delta Halo and Regret, to be honest.

Also, I like the Arbiter as a character more because he has character; the Chief is an emotionally ambiguous robot (metaphorically and even a bit literally). Throughout the Halo games the chief never says much. As for the books, I've only read First Strike, but in that he still never really has any major characterization. Bungie wanted us, the player, to feel like we were the chief (thus the reason we'll never see his face), but in doing so limited him to a blank slate.

That's my two cents, anyway.

-Michael

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Quote:

It's something I mentioned in the H2 Impressions series. I'm pretty sure it was an intentional design decision. The Arbiter is always fighting Flood or other Covenant units. There's only one level where you'd even get the chance to run into a hostile marine (Sacred Icon) and even that is brief.

Fighting directly against humans would've destroyed any chance most players had of identifying with the Arbiter.

Right, and I think that it should've struck the players as odd, seeing as how pervasive the human forces were on Delta Halo.

This should have been a sign or some form of foreshadowing that would've predicted the Arbiter's switching of alliegiance/perspective along with the rest of the Elite Caste. It should've made the players think and it should've been a hint that the players should try to gain some perspective of the Arbiter's view of the entire situation by taking an entire enemy out of the gameplay so that players will never feel conflicted with themselves. It would've forced the players to focus on the Arbiter's own internal conflicts and the significance of the civil war taking place within the covenant. Placing emphasis on it by not detracting it with meaningless human skirmishes.

Maybe then, the players would have been more alert to the Arbiter's 'Halo' instead of disregarding it as an annoying bug on the windshield in the face of John's epic 'Halo'.

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Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

Anonymous wrote:

Right, and I think that it should've struck the players as odd, seeing as how pervasive the human forces were on Delta Halo.

This should have been a sign or some form of foreshadowing that would've predicted the Arbiter's switching of alliegiance/perspective along with the rest of the Elite Caste.

Well, I think the existence of the Arbiter as a playable character foreshadowed it. A Halo story with a playable Arbiter but no Covenant civil war would either have to keep the two subplots entirely separate (which I think many players would have found unsatisfying) or eventually pit the two sides against each other directly. I think the idea of making the player choose a side in a final battle might also have struck people as wrong somehow.

Anonymous wrote:

It should've made the players think and it should've been a hint that the players should try to gain some perspective of the Arbiter's view of the entire situation by taking an entire enemy out of the gameplay so that players will never feel conflicted with themselves. It would've forced the players to focus on the Arbiter's own internal conflicts and the significance of the civil war taking place within the covenant. Placing emphasis on it by not detracting it with meaningless human skirmishes.

Maybe then, the players would have been more alert to the Arbiter's 'Halo' instead of disregarding it as an annoying bug on the windshield in the face of John's epic 'Halo'.

I think Bungie made an admirable effort to do so, so much so that the Arbiter is a more interesting character. Many players either ignored it, by skipping cutscenes, or actively resisted it. Not much Bungie could do in those cases. Bungie wanted to tell a full and complete story that included both sides of the war, and some players only wanted to see one. Oh well.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

u are getting to indepth, screw all the religeon stuff! I just thought it was cool to turn on my active camo and stick some brutes with a plasma

WortJenkins's picture
WortJenkins
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Joined: 01/06/2008
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

I think most people don't trust the Arbiter because he seems to be untrustworthy, as he never makes his motives clear.
I personally am a HUGE elite fan, so sensible people check me if I become rampant(LOL). I think that people are not being very fair, because I think that most of them wanted the arbiter to just pick up a rocket launcher and cap Truth in the head. I know one place where they think that, but it's closed now. Well, I think that the people on Rampancy are sorta doing that, only a much more evolved version. People, imagine if you were an Elite. Only in your head, no wort wort wort.
Having been raised like the prophets were holy beings near deities, and being fed generally a lot of religious bull****.(being safe here people.) Would you rebel the instant somebody said it was fake? Unless you are spineless and have no integrity, you would say no, right? E.g. Imagine if somebody told you that Rampancy.net was devoted to E.T for the Atari 2600. Would you believe it? Of course not, right? (People, don't be retards and say yes.) If it was true, though, and say
(THEORETICALLY DON'T BAN ME NARCOGEN!) narcogen unveiled his stash of E.T. porn on the frontpage, then yeah, you probably would. It's basically Santa Claus syndrome all over again. (For those not in the know, Santa Claus syndrome goes like this.
CHILD age 5: Mommy, when is Santa coming? I want Halo 3! MOMMY: It's coming soon Frankie. FRANKIE age 9: Hey Billy, are you going to get presents from Santa Claus this year? BILLY (is a chain-smoking 18 year old who got left back 7 times): Santa Claus isn't real, you dumb twerp! FRANKIE: (Does tortured Arbiter yell, only thing higher pitched) ) Same thing, only more violent. Reply if you think I'm wrong, Reply to me if you think I'm right, Reply to me if you got more E.T porn. Goodnight folks!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Re: Lessons from the Arbiter

I have played the 3 games and I didnt enjoyed Halo 3 as I enjoyed Halo and that if not taking Halo 2 into account. My favorite was Halo 2. Playing as the Arbiter gave the history a complete full panorama. The Arbiter is the perfect example of what people is capable of doing "in the name of god". And as someone appointed before, Halo 2 is about how the chief and how the arbiter where raised. Their beliefs, their struggles, their doubts, their grow as rational, thinking individuals.

Even the master chief becomes more human. You see him in Halo as a killing machine, no doubts, no regrets, no fears, no soft spots. Then in Halo 2, you see him turbed with doubts, with unanswered questions haha even "making promises to a girl".

These are my thoughts. I didnt like so much Halo 3 Campaing. Technically "is" the game, the best game. But the history has left so much apart. I really hope they make Halo 4 and that you play as the chief and as the arbiter. Or even making like two diferent campaings. The chief campaing and the arbiter campaing.

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