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Lessons from the Aether: Halo 4 and Science Fiction Romance

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She is a rampant AI (past her “life” expectancy)  with the power to interface (and control) any computer in the galaxy.

He is a a genetically modified, cybernetic enhanced super-soldier who has spent a life time fighting humanity’s enemies.

Together they save all life in the galaxy, more than once.

They are Cortana (the AI) and Spartan II, Master Chief John-117. And together they turn a pretty but otherwise run of the mill first person shooter into a true narrative experience. It is not romance in the classic sense. It does not (SPOILER) have a happy ending, they can not even consummate their relationship, on account that she is can only project herself as a hologram and he has no sex drive to speak off. But they do care for each other, need each other and will die for one another. It is love distilled to its very essence. Her love for him makes her real, his love for her makes him human.

True, both are the personification of teenage male fantasies: the nearly invincible super soldier paired with the curvaceous projections of technological wet dreams within the context of a gun and run first person shooter. Yet, the designers (and voice actors) managed to give both characters enough weight that you forget the continuity snarled back story, the standard “save humanity from the alien threat” plot, or the pitifully short single player single-player experience. You, as the player, fight not only to defeat the bad guys, but in the hope that you can save her, and you know that she is doing all she can to save you in turn. This is not a damsel in distress romance. In spite of her condition (or because of it) Cortana more than holds her own in the game and the Chief knows (as does the player) that they would be up the proverbial stream without a paddle if she wasn’t there to help him.

You play the game to see what will happen to them and you are both crushed yet oddly satisfied with the not-happy ending.

It may not fit the traditional definition of romance, but it takes the game into a new and unexpected level.


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