Rewinding to 2007
This is the story of the first and hopefully last time in my life I did something just to get approval from strangers on the internet.
In 2007 I was 15 years old and Halo 3 was my favorite video game. The campaign mode wasn't great (especially compared to Halo 2), but it was the best multiplayer experience I had ever played. I spent almost every afternoon after school playing local multiplayer with my friends, and I spent a bit of time playing online too. I was the worst player among my friends, but I still loved it.
Back in 2007, micro-transactions weren't a thing yet in video games, so the only way to unlock stuff was by playing the game. In Halo 3 when it launched there wasn't much to unlock, but you could unlock a few different armor variants for your Spartan in multiplayer. However, there was one armor variant that you couldn't unlock just by playing the game: the Recon Armor.
Originally, Recon Armor was only available to employees of Bungie, the developer of the game. So on the rare occasion when you saw someone with Recon Armor in the online multiplayer mode, it was really exciting because you knew you were playing with someone who actually helped make the game. But shortly after it was available to Bungie employees, they decided to start gifting the armor to a handful of members of the community. Getting the armor wasn't a matter of skill or level of commitment – the only way to get the armor was to catch the eye of a Bungie employee and hope that they deemed you worthy of the Recon Armor. I remember reading this blog post from Bungie where they talked about how to get Recon Armor. They made it very clear that you would not get it by nagging them, and they also highlighted two members of the community who they had given it to.
The one I remember is this player, who uploaded a video to YouTube of him shooting an exploding barrel, which caused a nearby traffic cone to fly towards him so fast that it killed him. If not the first documented occurrence, it was definitely the most famous case of someone killing themselves with a traffic cone in the game. Here's the original video:
So, to summarize, I was a teenager and my favorite game was Halo 3. The developers created an extremely exclusive unlock which could not be earned by conventional means. The combined effect of these was that I decided that I had to do whatever it took to get this armor. Getting Recon Armor became my life mission.
So, my first step was to brainstorm what I could do that would get the attention of a Bungie dev and be deemed worthy of receiving Recon Armor. It was obvious that making a video of me getting killed by a traffic cone wouldn't work, because that was only funny the first time it happened. Also, the reason that video was funny was because it was (presumably) completely unplanned. So I could just keep playing and hope something crazy like that happened while I was playing, but I wanted to do something I had control over, so that plan was out.
Here's what I settled on. In Halo 3 they had added a new game mode called Forge. It was basically just a custom level editor. The way it worked is you controlled a little flying robot called a Sentinel and you could create and drop any object in the game (structures, vehicles, weapons, etc.). There was also local multiplayer so you could have multiple people all working together on the same creation at the same time. It was kind of like Minecraft, but 4 years earlier and you used objects from Halo instead of blocks.
On the internet I had seen people who had creatively used Forge Mode for drawing things. They would drop weapons around a flat part of the map, then fly up to take a birds-eye-view photo of their drawing. People would draw things like an outline of Master Chief, but most of what I saw wasn't very good. I believed that I could create something much better than what I had seen so far. And of course, my hope was that if my creation was good enough and it got enough traction on the internet, Bungie would see my work and grant me Recon Armor.
Here's what I made. I decided to recreate the Halo 3 logo in Forge using every single weapon in the game. I don't think I was the first person with this concept, but I remember my version being better than anything else I had seen.
It took about two days to make (less than 10 hrs). I used the box that the game came in as a reference and dropped the weapons wherever I thought they would look good. My younger brother was helping me by controlling a second Sentinel so I could see what I was doing from multiple perspectives. The hardest part was I couldn't freeze the weapons in place once I placed them. I had to carefully drop them on top of each other and hope that the weight of each weapon wouldn't disturb the position of the other weapons. The ground also wasn't perfectly flat, so I had to balance things on top of the ridges in the sand.
When I was done, I was very proud of my creation. To date, I think it's the most artistic thing I've ever done. My friends were all impressed when I showed it to them.
I thought that if a Bungie employee saw the screenshot of what I had built in Forge, I would get the Recon Armor for sure. So all I had to do was get their attention.
Bungie had a forum where players could talk about the Halo games. I decided that my best bet was to upload my screenshot there and catch the eye of one of the community moderators. Which I did, but not in the way I had hoped, unfortunately.
The way forums work is the most recently updated post is displayed at the top of the board. I created a new post and my creation was at the top of the board for all of the world to see. Pretty quickly, I got some positive responses from other community members, but no word on Recon Armor. As the days passed, people stopped replying to my post so my post started falling down in the board, until it was no longer on the first page. And once your post isn't on the first page, it's very unlikely that people will see your post and reply to it, thus beginning the downward spiral into obscurity.
Now what? I wasn't ready to give up yet. I was still convinced that my art piece was worthy of Recon Armor. It was just a matter of getting the right person to see it. But what should I do? I couldn't just upload my picture again and hope for a better outcome. Also, I didn't want to lose the goodwill I had already earned on my first post.
So I asked my younger brother what I should do. He had a simple suggestion: "bump" it. I asked what "bumping" meant. He said that all I needed to do to get back on the first page is reply to my own thread (even just with the single word "bump") so my post would again be the first and most recently updated thread on the board. I'm not sure how my 12 year old brother knew about this trick, but it seemed like a great idea.
So, every day after school I would look at where my post was positioned in the board, and if I wasn't satisfied I would write a reply to my post. Sometimes I would try to write something that looked meaningful, like tagging someone who had previously commented and ask them some question. But I also remember sometimes just writing the word "bump" if I couldn't think of anything.
This went on for about a week until I received an email from a forum moderator saying that I had been banned from the forum (I can't remember if it was temporary or permanent). I was shocked. Not only did I not receive Recon Armor (which I felt I deserved), but they were actually banning me from the forum just for trying to highlight my accomplishment. Apparently, "bumping" was against the rules of the forum, which I guess I neglected to read. I asked my brother if he knew "bumping" was against the rules. He said something like "Yeah, of course it's against the rules. I thought that was obvious." 😖
Throughout my life, I've thought about this experience a lot. Any time I'm thinking about doing something that will require me to get approval or validation from strangers on the internet, I remember my Halo 3 logo. What I learned is that if you're creating or doing something just because you want to impress other people, you're doing it for the wrong reason and you'll probably end up disappointed. This is one of the main reasons I don't use social media. It often feels like it's less about sharing text and media, but getting as many Likes as possible on what you post. I've had friends demand that I Like their post and I reply "Why do I have to Like your post? Isn't enough that I like it?"
The Halo 3 experience is also one of the reasons I don't have analytics on my blog. By not knowing how many people are reading my blog posts, it lets me continue writing because I enjoy it instead of writing clickbait and getting that dopamine hit when I see the page view count go up on Google Analytics.
Anyway, thanks for reading.
Bonus: Actually getting Recon
Eventually I did get the Recon Armor in Halo 3. Everyone did. In 2008 Bungie released an update which included the Vidmaster Challenges, which upon completion would unlock the Recon Armor. Getting the armor was still difficult, but now there was a clear path anyone could follow to get the armor. This made the armor much less exclusive, so I stopped caring about getting it. I'm not even sure if I tried to complete the challenges. But in 2012 another update for the game was released which gave the Recon Armor to all players. But since my obsession with the armor stemmed only from its exclusivity and not the actual aesthetics, I don't think I even used the Recon Armor at that point. I had moved on to caring about other things.