Fire Up the Box

Author: Tara Hunt ’12

Tara Hunt

I have a gun. A battle rifle to be specific. My right forefinger controls the trigger. My left forefinger throws grenades. Wait . . . do I have any grenades? My left thumb controls my head . . . or was it my body? Why do my head and my body have different controls? I can’t play Halo; this is obvious.

I am a girl: I can apply eyeliner with precision and strut in 3-inch heels, and while boy-world is not foreign to me, when it comes to video games, I am baffled. The large white controller in my small and manicured hands is like a Rubik’s cube with ammunition, and to shoot I need to figure out the puzzle quickly.

I set out to infiltrate the land of video games and male bonding in the hope of fitting into the boys’ most intense element. In between insults and cussing, they bond over a shared contest, and it is where their most intriguing identities and egos are built. Here, the boys who have become my brothers, my protectors and my nuisances are transformed into competitive, egomaniacal killers with mouths that deserve a bar of soap.

In this world, they have a unique language: “Fire up the box. Time to farm.” Translation: Turn on the Xbox. I’m going to beat you ruthlessly. Accounting tests and genetic sequences are replaced by more pertinent concerns: “This blister is throwing off my trigger finger!”

It’s their one chance at competition on an even playing field. They can’t all play basketball, they can’t all take organic chemistry, they can’t all sing (really, none of them can), but they can all pick up a controller. Halo is the one thing these boys have in common.

In their eyes, I’m already one of the boys. In the past three years they’ve showered me with dirty jokes, shared inappropriate stories and discussed the intricacies of football recruiting, but as the opening credits roll across the screen and they prepare to enter their sacred turf, I realize I may not be entirely boy to them. From the moment I enter the room, my femininity is accentuated as their nightly post-parietal match has been moved to accommodate my co-ed curiosity. But I am determined to blend in.

I weave through the array of chairs, feet and tattered black basketball shoes, and bend over to grab a controller. Baggy, gray sweatpants cannot conceal my feminine figure. I am an intruder.

But I persist. I grab a wooden desk chair, sit down and lean forward with my elbows on my knees — a position I have observed weeknight after weeknight — and bellow, “Fire up the box.”

“You need to connect your controller,” my teammate chuckles, snatching it from my hands and programming it for me.

After a quick tutorial, we begin. They show no mercy. I am shot. I am hit with “nades.” They laugh maniacally as giant hammers are used to guillotine my unsuspecting head. I am repeatedly pierced with a sword: a thick, white, triangular sword that makes a noise like a metal knife cutting through tin foil. A high, wispy noise that ends in a clang as it pierces my digital body.

I can’t run. I swerve with one joystick only to realize my head is spinning instead of my body. I flip the other and run into walls because my head is stuck facing the floor. I have no option but to accept my certain death.

I end the round with minus three points. Final score: 50-9.

Now I am thirsty for blood. I want to kill someone and prove myself.

Rounds two and three proceed better. I learn the power of smack talk. I begin to understand how to move, how to run, how to shoot. In round two I earn three kills. And in round three I have six. Granted, my teammate has 33 and our adversaries each have 25, but it is a start.

I can feel my adrenaline pumping to the same rhythm as the music. I want to shout profanities. I want to abbreviate all my words. I want to don the victory sweatband and fully enter their world.

But new locations bring new problems. Round four brings a maze of ramps, jumps and obstacles, things impossible for me navigate with my two joysticks.

At the end of the fourth and final game I relapse. One kill. One kill is what I have to show for an hour and a half of Halo. There is my great progress, my great breakthrough, my climactic ascension into the world of boys: one effing kill.

I toss my controller onto the ground and stand up to leave. They yell back and forth, threatening each other and laughing, but when they turn to me, they are gentle.

Even after I leave, they send me a reminder that with me, there are no hard feelings. The text message reads, “On behalf of 2b Duncan we’d like to thank you for joining us for sticks. And I apologize for laughing at you/farming you. . . . I just wanted you to know we appreciate your efforts and you are always welcome to play.”

And that’s how it’s going to be. No matter how much I practice or how competitive I am, they will always be gentle with me because I am, at the root of my being, a girl.

Tara Hunt is a senior at Notre Dame and the Notre Dame Magazine summer 2011 intern.