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I’ve never played a Halo, but I met Master Chief through memes

It’s impossible to fully escape the Spartan

Master Chief and other Spartans in a hallway Image: 343 Industries/Microsoft
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Despite owning an Xbox 360 as my first console, I’ve never played a single Halo in my life. Despite this, I’m weirdly familiar with Master Chief — or, at least, the meme version of Master Chief.

I don’t really know about Master Chief’s canon story, or the struggles he faces, or his relationship with Cortana. Instead, I’ve only met the character through weird memes filtered through incredibly online humor. Master Chief transcends Halo. He’s a full on part of the meme zeitgeist.

Halo is a cultural phenomenon, and it has been since the late 2000s when the meme-sharing site Halolz was founded. To this day, there are communities specifically for sharing memes about the game. Some of them are very standard stuff, like these ones from the Reddit Halo Memes community.

Halo 1 be like from HaloMemes
I swear this is always me! Unless my bf gets there first!! from HaloMemes

But some of them are a little more surreal. My personal favorite Master Chief meme is described by Know Your Meme as such:

“Master Chief, You Mind Telling Me What You’re Doing on This Ship?” is a memorable quote uttered by Halo 2 character Lord Terrence Hood. Online, the quote has been used as a setup for various jokes, with Hood asking Master Chief why he is doing something, followed by Master Chief explaining himself.

In order to truly appreciate this joke, you have to see it in action. My YouTube recommended feed is full of these little exchanges, and I love each and every one of them:

It’s hard to put a finger on why these things are funny, especially since I’m not even familiar with the original scene. Part of it is definitely the subversion of expectations; I know that Mr. Halo is a powerful space marine who fights off hordes of aliens. It’s a knee-slapper to see Doom Guy’s cousin in the nurse’s office or wrapped up in a snuggie.

Another part of it is that Master Chief is ubiquitous; if you’re at all plugged into the gaming ecosystem, you know his face. He’s featured in a million media tie-ins, from specialized bath products to car GPS narration. In Sea of Thieves, my pirate can adorn her ship with Master Chief’s face and the Spartan logo, thanks to an in-game promotion. Master Chief and the world of Halo have inspired some very popular fan-made content over the years, too, from Rooster Teeth’s series Red vs. Blue, which was a cultural phenomenon unto itself back in 2003, to the modern day, with a Spartan cosplayer known as Wholesome Master Chief having a big success on TikTok.

You can’t escape Master Chief — he’s one of the biggest boys in gaming. But I’ve only met him through an elaborate game of telephone, jokes that are far removed from the source material. When Halo Infinite comes out, I plan to meet him properly for the first time. I wonder if I’ll regard him with respect and awe as he battles back monsters to save humanity. More likely I’ll just think of Master Chief at McDonalds, playing his big DS.