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Ms. Palmer told a similar story: "Look, you just got sick," she laughingly remembered telling Mr. Chattoraj. "Did you have fun? Are you gonna keep playing?"
Man: "It's a survival game, but the objective is to survive and save humanity."
Man's fiancée: "It's killing and shooting — that's all it is."
Part of what keeps these guys playing the game to the point of nausea is simply that it's hard; it actually requires skill, a weird kind of unlearnable skill. (Many a male noted sympathetically that girls simply don't have the studied hand-eye coordination that they do.) In Halo, you see the neck of your rocket launcher or battle rifle or plasma pistol; beyond that, your vision extends to the entire board, or world, or ship. When you play against three other people, the screen divides into four dizzying boxes, but the agile can keep an eye on other screens while maneuvering themselves around the board. Sometimes they shoot you from behind, and the controller vibrates to alert you of this. You can spin entirely around in Halo; you can get lost on the boards. You can jump in cars and flying things and get out of them, too. You can kick the shit out of your opponent - with your hands! - or you can throw grenades at them. You can stand off in the distance and watch your friends kill each other, like you're watching a movie - only you're in the movie!
Mr. Chattoraj, a former comp-lit grad student, had another theory. "Guys are just different from women in this way," he said. "We need another activity to focus on. We don't just hang out to be together. We're there to watch the game, or play with car engines; you have real conversations, but there's a divided-attention thing. Still, Halo's different, because it's so absorbing that you really are just playing the game."
Andrew Clute, 25, an emergency medical technician, seemed to corroborate this. When reached at 5pm on a recent Thursday, he and his friend Marty Roberts, 27, had just "beaten" Halo 2.
"We've been playing it quite a bit," Mr. Clute said. He recently moved to Brooklyn, and few of his friends live there, which leaves him ample Halo time. "I've had it two weeks now and I've beat it five times," he said. "If I have nothing to do, I could conceivably play all day. Me and Marty will be at a bar and we'll say, 'Hey, we got beer at home - and Halo's there, too.'"
Mr. Clute's girlfriend lives in California, and he said he would never ditch her for Halo. On the other hand, "maybe she'd just play the video games with me," he said. "But then she'd want to have sex or something, and that would get in the way." He laughed at himself. In the background, one could hear piercing cries, something to the effect of "Why won't you just die?" Mr. Roberts, who's finishing his dissertation in psychology at Hofstra University, was still playing.
This story originally appeared in The New York Observer.