It's not that Ms. Deppe hasn't given Halo a fighting chance. "I played the first one," she said. "There are weird aliens and they wave their arms above their head when you shoot them and then they run around. It just doesn't make sense. There's no story, there's no plot, there's no background - it's just 'save your troop from alien invaders.' I don't understand how someone could sit there for eight straight hours and play a video game."
Somebody apparently understands. Halo 2 sold 2.4 million copies on Nov. 9, raking in $125 million that hallowed - Halo'd! -- day. The first-day sales for the game's guidebook gave Random House its biggest hit since Bill Clinton's My Life.
"The Master Chief is a powerful versatile warrior, but he's not invincible," the guidebook warns. "To help him survive against a tide of Covenant foes, you'll need to learn and utilize every conceivable skill." Most fans rhapsodize about Halo's realistic graphics and maneuverability, the sense that they're actually inside the TV. And we're not just talking about kids here: We're talking men with long work weeks and live-in girlfriends. In the name of Halo, women have found themselves banished from their living rooms, dispatched to the bedroom alone, their sleep disrupted by desperate cries of "Die, motherfucker!," their beloveds off fighting cartoon aliens. Halo's evil Covenant may as well have been killing men across all 50 states. Women, helplessly ungeeky and uncoordinated, longing for fresh-air strolls in the park or even just for The O.C., found themselves, like their football-hating female forebears, unceremoniously Halo-widowed.
Killing and Shooting
"Whatever happened to basketball?" said Alison Griffin, 27, an assistant editor at Teen Vogue. "I'm convinced Xbox will be the downfall of modern society. I think it sucks out the will to live a normal life."
Ms. Griffin lives with her 29-year-old boyfriend, Brandon Koehl, who works in the human-resources department at CBS and plays the online version of Halo with his friend Chris Campana, 33, a marketing-services manager at Linkshare. This involves both men wearing a headset and mike, and can mean screaming at friends in Ohio or teenagers across the country.
"It's so dorky," said Ms. Griffin, "the most ridiculous form of male bonding I've ever witnessed. They just all sit in their own homes in front of the TV with these headsets on, like they're operators. They turn the volume up, so you can hear them talking to each other. They have teams, and they find other teams to play - kids who play all day, 14-year-olds. They trash-talk with them. I'm like, 'Can we do something? Like walk the dog?'"
Mr. Koehl's obsession has necessitated the purchase of a second TV for the household. "It's sick. There shouldn''t be that much TV in such a small space," Ms. Griffin said. But "it's annoying when he's hogging the television. For Brandon, it's winding-down action before bed - like a bedtime story. And then it's usually me screaming at him, 'Turn it off and come to bed!'"
Mr. Koehl refused to comment. Mr. Campana, his Halo playmate, was less abashed. When Halo 2 came out, he bragged, he took a personal day off from work. "Nov. 9, absolutely!" he said, as if it were emblazoned somewhere on his innards. Mr. Campana lives with his girlfriend, Danielle Bufalini, 26, in a studio apartment - also with two TV's, one for the Xbox - and is constantly bargaining with her for more game time. "I say, 'Hey, let me do this now and I promise I won't play this weekend,'" he said.
Ms. Bufalini, who works at the shopping website DailyCandy, is actually one of the few ladies who occasionally indulge in a little Halo. But, she admitted, "it gets on my nerves."
It's not that all women reflexively hate video games, of course; many fondly remember Super Mario Brothers and Ms. Pac-Man, or the thrill of clobbering their brother at Tecmo Bowl. But it's inescapable that men just like to play with gadgets more; it's something about the thumbs. Xbox, its controllers fancy enough for a thumb-sized Olympics, and Halo - a difficult game that requires death-defying thumbery, bloodlust, and a talent for not getting sick as you spin around and shoot up the screen - is the sci-fi-inclined, lifelong video gamers' wet dream.