In bathrooms, churches and random tunnels, groups of (mostly) young men assemble and sing. They chant a wordless hymn, paying homage to a historic video game franchise engraved on their souls. They harmonize gracefully, performing the Halo theme song.
The Halo video game series is recognized as one of the greatest shooters of all time. It combined revolutionary graphics, innovative multiplayer modes and a surprisingly profound narrative for a game that revolves around bashing aliens. Likewise, the virtuous protagonist, Master Chief, is among the most admired video game heroes ever. The Halo theme song, spanning across the series, encapsulates all of this with its Gregorian chanting, tribal percussion and powerful duh-duh-duh-daaaaaahs. “One could say that the theme of Halo has become a kind of an anthem among gamers,” Lukas Stasevskij and Saku Mattila, founder and director respectively of Game Music Collective, explain in a joint email. “Composer Martin O’Donnell created such an amazing soundtrack that captures the core feeling of the game and has a huge impact on the playing experience.”
The Halo experience is, of course, a major contributor to why gamers gather to sing its theme song. Playing as Master Chief, gamers become a human supersoldier who eternally wins, even if through desperate tactics (like recklessly driving a Warthog through crowds of aliens), and single-handedly changes the course of history. Culturally, the timing was right for the Halo games: When you consider that the first few Halo games were released during the height of the ‘War on Terror’ — Halo 2 debuted as the Second Battle of Fallujah, the bloodiest firefight of the Iraq War, was underway — it makes a certain sort of sense that many young gamers enjoyed the idea of single-handedly saving humankind as a mega-commando from the comfort of their bedrooms.
More than a decade later, the Halo theme song acts as a reminder of that journey, and singing it with your bros brings those good times right back. “Game music touches so many people because the player has an active role in shaping his experience and memory of the game, and modern games can be incredibly immersive,” say Stasevskij and Mattila. “Those experiences and memories can get deeply linked to the music.” Indeed, science shows that music engages neural networks across our brains, which explains how even a single tune can arouse strong memories from our pasts.
But while the Halo series itself is undoubtedly influential, the theme music is special on its own, too — and there are reasons why dudes love singing it. “First of all, the theme is inspired by Gregorian chanting, which is considered to be one of the earliest cornerstones of ‘Western’ music,” says Zach Robinson, composer for the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai. “Gregorian chanting is monophonic, or a single-voiced melody. There’s no harmony, no counterpoint and the pitch range is very tight, meaning there are no large interval jumps between notes. Put simply, it’s easy to sing. Gregorian chanting was often used to communicate sacred texts, and its long, drawn-out notes were designed to accommodate the reverberated spaces of churches and sanctuaries. That’s why you see these videos in reverb-heavy spaces, like bathrooms, gyms and locker rooms — the melody is designed to be performed in that space.”
Plus, Gregorian chants like the Halo theme are composed to be sung as a group, and singing together builds community, something that gaming itself does, too. “There’s something primordially appealing about humans singing together in unison,” Robinson says. “The human voice predates any instrument, and no matter which hemisphere they lived on, tribes of humans used their voices to create a sense of community. There’s no denying that, deep within our psyche, these types of musical interactions feel good to us on a basic, human level.”
Stasevskij and Mattila agree, saying, “We once had an amazing experience when, during one of our gigs, the whole audience started chanting the theme with us. It was a very powerful experience that made us feel the power of music and a sense of togetherness. In our minds, that’s the reason why the Halo theme has had such a huge impact among gamers: It brings gamers together and links us with the experiences we’ve had playing the game.”
Lauren Paley, who made a now-viral video of her singing the Halo theme in a stairwell, similarly recognizes the tune as a “song that brings gamers from all walks of life together, almost like ‘bro code,’ but in song form.” However, she mentions that some bros can take their enthusiasm for the Halo theme too far. “I was called many bad names for singing such a ‘holy’ song in video gaming as a woman,” she explains. “Not to say that a lot of men didn’t support me: I got a lot of love, maybe too much at times. But I guess my higher voice was such a vast change from the ‘boys in the locker room’ that it didn’t feel right for most people.”
But much like Halo is a game that everyone can enjoy, the Halo theme is a song that everyone can sing. We remember Halo for allowing each of us to take part in saving the world, sure. But more than that, we remember Halo for bringing us together to smash aliens and drive space vehicles with our friends. “The first Halo was released just as I was becoming a teenager, and I personally associate the Halo years with middle school LAN parties and online play for consoles,” Robinson says. “Just as other great video game or movie themes conjure up nostalgia, the Halo theme has proven to be a multi-generational, iconic piece of music, and it deserves to be in the pantheon of game music along with Mario and Zelda.”
All together now:
Ooohhhhhh Ohh Oh Ohh Oohh Oh Ohhh Ohhhhhh
Ohhh Ohh Ohhhh Ohhh Ohh Ohh Ohhhhhhh
Ohhh Ohhh Oh Ohhh Ohhh Ohhhhhh
Ohhhh Ohh Ohh Oh Ohh Ooohhhhh Oohhhhhhhhhh