Suicide Bombing Makes Sick Sense in 'Halo 3'

Clive Thompson, from Wired:

I know I’m the underdog; I know I’m probably going to get killed anyway. I am never going to advance up the Halo 3 rankings, because in the political economy of Halo, I’m poor.

Specifically, I’m poor in time. The best players have dozens of free hours a week to hone their talents, and I don’t have that luxury. This changes the relative meaning of death for the two of us. For me, dying will not penalize me in the way it penalizes them, because I have almost no chance of improving my state. I might as well take people down with me.

Or to put it another way: The structure of Xbox Live creates a world composed of two classes — haves and have-nots. And, just as in the real world, some of the disgruntled have-nots are all too willing to toss their lives away — just for the satisfaction of momentarily halting the progress of the haves. Since the game instantly resurrects me, I have no real dread of death in Halo 3.

I do not mean, of course, to trivialize the ghastly, horrific impact of real-life suicide bombing. Nor do I mean to gloss over the incredible complexity of the real-life personal, geopolitical and spiritual reasons why suicide bombers are willing to kill themselves. These are all impossibly more nuanced and perverse than what’s happening inside a trifling, low-stakes videogame.

But the fact remains that something quite interesting happened to me because of Halo. Even though I’ve read scores of articles, white papers and books on the psychology of terrorists in recent years, and even though I have (I think) a strong intellectual grasp of the roots of suicide terrorism, something about playing the game gave me an “aha” moment that I’d never had before: an ability to feel, in whatever tiny fashion, the strategic logic and emotional calculus behind the act.