7 Life Lessons I Learned Playing Halo

Yesterday I had a blast playing Halo 3 for the first time. It lead me to reflect on the countless hours I’ve poured into the Halo series over the past 6 years. Sure, I might not have much to show for it, but that time was thoroughly enjoyed. In retrospect, I even learned some important life lessons that have helped me succeed.

1. Hesitation is death – In Halo, nothing will get you cracked on the back of the skull faster than hesitation. The same is true in real life. If you waste time worrying about what your competitors are doing, you’ll never succeed. Sure, if you take a chance you might get burned, but you need to accept that risk and make a move. If you fail, learn from the experience and try again. Success comes from being aggressive and actively seeking opportunities.

2. Success requires experience – Obviously natural skill contributes to Halo success, but what really makes a solid player is experience. If you jump into a game without understanding the geography of the map or the capabilities of the various weapons, you won’t stand a chance against an equally skilled player who does. The lesson here is that to acquire an expertise, you need to put in the time to learn the basics. If you don’t know the medium you’re working in, you’ll be strategically disadvantaged.

3. You can’t win without teamwork – In team Halo matches, the ability of players to work together is more important than individual skill. A group of solo artists working against a unified team will constantly be isolated and overwhelmed. To be successful you need to sacrifice personal glory to watch your buddy’s back. Once you can get past ego and start to cooperate with others there will be more success for everyone.

4. Anticipation is the key to victory – The key to making a sweet kill in Halo is knowing what your opponent is going to do before he does. This comes from experience and pattern recognition. When you can anticipate, you can place yourself in the ideal position to bury your competitors before they have the time to adjust.

5. Leverage your strengths – The world of Halo is extremely diverse. Between the numerous weapon strengths, ranges, and combinations, there is an infinite number of ways to make a kill. Different playing styles lend themselves to different strategies. You’ll be much more successful if you can recognize your personal strengths and put yourself in a position to capitalize on them while hiding your weaknesses.

6. Winning comes in streaks – Anyone who’s played much Halo has experienced streaks. One day you’re dead on, killing everyone in sight. The next, you’re getting dominated and can’t seem to find a rhythm. Streaks are part of any high functioning activity. Some days you just can’t concentrate a well as others. The lesson here is that you need to recognize your streaks so you can weather the bad ones and make the most of the good ones.

7. The Devil’s in the details – To the untrained eye, a Halo match looks like a bunch of maniacs running around shooting. In truth, it’s a precise ballet of intelligent players reacting to each other and the environment. The difference between life and death can be as small as the angle of a grenade toss or the decision to reload. The same is true in real life. You need to pay attention to all the tiny details that contribute to success or failure.

Image by DigitalTutors

63 Responses to 7 Life Lessons I Learned Playing Halo

  1. Abdul Rahman says:

    This is similar to Doom 3. No matter how good your skills is, if you don’t have enough knowledge, you’re doomed against someone of your level. Not to forget, you will be demons food. 😀

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  3. Peter says:

    Too blatantly linkbait-ish

  4. John Wesley says:

    Sorry you feel that way, Peter. I’ll try to write content no one will link at in the future.

  5. Peter says:

    That’s a false dichotomy. Of course you should write good content that is linkable, but reading fluff like this that seems blatantly designed to jump on a trend and grab some cheap traffic isn’t something I enjoy seeing when I check my feeds. I want to read interesting information, not feel like I’m being whacked in the face with someone’s marketing efforts.

  6. John Wesley says:

    The difference between “fluff” and “interesting information” is a matter of opinion. I’m a fan of Halo, and I really have learned a thing or two about strategy from playing it. The recent release of Halo 3 seemed like a timely opportunity to share those lessons and I think there’s something to be learned from them, even for non-gamers.

  7. Peter says:

    Fair enough. You just never write about video games and to be honest, the first thing that jumped to my mind was “linkbait!!!”. I still don’t know how I feel about this kind of article, but thanks for taking the time to clarify your perspective.

  8. John Wesley says:


    I appreciate the feedback, and I’ll definitely aim not to be blatantly linkbaity in the future. The goal is to create content that current readers will enjoy, but that can also become viral and grow the site. Balancing between the two is a challenge.

  9. Thanks for this. As a game-player myself, I always enjoy when pursuits which may appear to be a “waste of time”, such as video games, actually end up being extraordinarily educational.

    In video games and in every other aspect of life, valuable lessons can come from any avenue as long as we stay open to them. You’ve done an excellent job of demonstrating that.

  10. John Wesley says:

    Thanks, Aaron. It was fun to shed some light on the more fruitful aspects of gaming.

  11. ZHereford says:

    Hi John,
    I have never played, nor do I have any idea how to play Halo, but I appreciate the analogy to life lessons. There’s something to be learned from every experience.
    As in Halo, so in life!

  12. patty says:

    Halo is pretty badass. Thats for sure. Strategy is entegral. Bkah blah blah.

  13. Concerned Citizen says:

    Don’t forget the most important one:


  14. Midou says:

    lol, I don’t know so much about the other ones, but the Hesitation thing works better in Unreal Tournament, where the pace is like rabbit and a turtle in comparison to Halo (not bashing it, they each have their ups and downs)

  15. Chavo says:

    How about spending time on something that requires actual talent, rather then Finger/ Thumb Coordination!

  16. GB says:

    #8 Look Ahead But Don’t Forget The Now

    The best halo players can kill you with a sniper rifle from half a map away, but if you sneak up on them they are dead. If you look both ahead and know your surroundings you are unstoppable. Basically you will do the best in life if you have a plan and but the plan will quickly fail if you aren’t willing to change it based on the now.

  17. John Wesley says:

    I like that one, GB

  18. Stan says:

    Halo is a bunch of ppl jumping about shooting eachother 100’s of times before they die.

    Call of Duty 4 all the way.

  19. Reii says:

    Good post. I’d say that the same principles can be applied to pretty much any coop game (World of Warcraft is my poison of choice at the moment, so it’s the most obvious one which comes to mind) – or any coop activity for that matter. And, of course it’s one more argument against the inane “videogames are useless/evil/etc” propaganda.

  20. name says:

    i’m not a gamer. never played halo. my tryst ended with wolf 3d. but sometimes i do think if – now don’t quote me on this – if games like halo are an examination on how different people react, and parsing that collected data to learn strategies in actual warfare ? maybe i’m stating the obvious..

  21. Reii says:

    Well… not to belabor the obvious, but the “respawn” option in games completely invalidates any bearing they might have on real-life warfare. Both tactics and strategy change drastically even when small factors (technological advances, for instance) are introduced into the equation, never mind something as major as the fact that your forces will not “respawn in 3….2….1….”

  22. Passerby says:

    The 7 Other Life Lessons I Learned Playing Halo

    1. Pee before sitting down to play a long session of Halo.
    Playing Halo well requires a sense of mental urgency, not a physical

    2. Cussing is a tool. Random swearing and a potty mouth slows
    everybody down. But a single word like ‘F_ck’ properly
    inflected can speak volumes.

    3. The snack food with the least oil or powder is the best – Pringles.

    4. Actual Human Contact is over-rated. When the Singularity
    happens, if you play a lot of Halo, you’ll be ahead of the game.

    5. Helping a Noob learn to play Halo properly is like raising a small child,
    one which can respawn if you accidentally kill him – Halo satisfies the
    biological urge to procreate, which is good, because you’re playing
    a video game so procreation is unlikely.

    6. The ability to imagine playing Halo while stuck in traffic, using the
    other cars and drivers as targets and your steering wheel as an
    imaginary controller, helps pass the time without causing any actual

    7. Limit your intake of fluids. See Lesson #1

  23. Jim says:

    Peter is right on the money.

  24. Jim says:

    Now I’ve reread this it make me wonder if you’ve even played the same game as I have. It sounds so wrong in almost every facet.

  25. Drew says:

    This is the most ridiculous post ever. Self improvement from a video game??
    It seems like you are trying to justify all the time you wasted playing Halo as something worthwhile.

  26. Mik says:

    I used to get stoned while playing Halo2, with a bunch of friends, It reminded me of times when i used to play games like Bomberman, In which you’d all come round and rejoice together in a deathmatch.

    F*ck all of your negative comments, Games teach people lessons in a subtle context.

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  28. memals says:

    mod: insightfull

  29. T. says:

    Nice. Video games definitely are stimulating, and I speak from experience both vicarious and empirical. The smartest person I know (And how do I know he’s smart? He writes like an NY Times reporter, knows how to be humorous without being dirty, and is well-read; all traits which display themselves when conversing with him) regularly games, as do many of the other bright people in my class.

    Another benefit I’ve noticed is that good gamers have great hand-eye coordination and lightning-fast typing speeds and can process numerous streams of information simultaneously. One observation that has me stumped is that they also seem to be very sociable people.

  30. John Wesley says:


    When you think about it, gamers being social isn’t all the surprising. Although it might not be face to face, playing online with and against other humans is a social activity.

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  32. Peter K says:

    I ‘ve never played Halo – nor any video games (and, misquoting ‘T’) I have poor to middling great hand-eye coordination and I type at glacial speed and no way can I process numerous streams of information simultaneously (end misquote).
    I am pretty unsociable too I guess. But this is a good post, points well made. By the way, I thing your taking the time to reply to the other Peter and maintaining a mini-debate (reasonable on both sides) is quite admirable. No wonder this blog is so successful.
    I suspect that it could be possible to come to similar conclusions from many other competitive activities, though this Halo thing appears to cover all the bases quite thoroughly.

  33. John Wesley says:

    Thanks, Peter K. I’m glad that as a non-Halo player you were still able to extract some value from the article.

  34. Chris says:

    Good post. I like how you break it down. If i DIDN’T play halo 3 like it was my job i would definitely learn a. more about the strategic objectives of the game and 2. how video games are apart of real life and how everything affects everything in this universe whether its war or a 60 dollar video game.


  35. Adam says:

    Not to offend, but your life lessons are all based around metaphors of death… Maybe you should analyze what Halo has done to you if the lessons you’ve learned come from virtual killing, and stem to metaphors of overcoming adversity… Example: Overcoming adversity isn’t the only thing in life.

  36. Bull3t says:

    Oh right, very cool. I am not really a fan of Halo, but a good post nonetheless.

  37. Elric says:

    Winning does NOT come in streaks. It’s a perception error: human beings are prone to see patterns where none exist.

    Sports players, sports fans, gamers… all believe in streaks. But when we test the hypothesis statistically we find that they don’t exist. If you win 70% of the time, you win 70% of the time–and that will be a function of such factors as skill, experience, and the quality of your opponents. The distribution of that 70%, however, is RANDOM.

  38. Ocarina says:

    Interesting article, however, its not just Halo that can teach one these things.
    Similar life lessons can be learned from any number of video games.

    I like it though. It’s good.

    Btw, I don’t play Halo, but I am a gamer.

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  41. Jordan says:

    Jesus christ, are there a lot of commenters in need of a tampon.

    And some of you need to learn the meaning of “analogy.”

    The article is spot on in highlighting some of the truths of life, and using Halo to illustrate them is a nice touch, especially as I’ve seen many of these proven true time and again when playing it online.

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  45. Kibrika says:

    This is so cool! Even though I didn’t believe for a second that by learning those skills (the non hasitation and such) in game, you learn to use them irl, this post just made me love this site even more!
    I loved the Passerby provided Other 7 lessons!
    And I learned stuff from the comments (other than having to pee before sitting down to a good gaming session). :)

  46. John Wesley says:

    Thanks, Kibrika. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  47. amyjones09 says:

    I think these “life lessons” apply more so to the game F.E.A.R. Combat because its more fast paced and the weapons are more realistic.

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  50. Tranquility Girl says:

    Now I have the urge to buy Halo!

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  52. Vance says:

    I think the article is just fine. I don’t care for Halo much myself; I’m not really sure why it’s so popular, but then I’m biased against console FPS games. : ) (Maybe it’s because I’m so bad at them.)

    Using popular interactive media is a fine way to illustrate life lessons; many early videogames were designed to make people think, especially since they couldn’t pull off modern graphics or play videos to illustrate everything. As an avid gamer myself, I think more games could be used to help people learn important life ideals, such as team management and cooperation, but some people have problems using these skills in the real world. There are some World of Warcraft players who learn the market so well they can make huge profits buying and selling items or whatever, but they can’t manage their monthly budgets. Because of this, I think it’s important that everyone recognize when they display a useful skill and try to use it in as many aspects of their lives as they can.

  53. Blobgi says:

    Eh, it applies to pretty much all online FPS’s out there.

  54. I just read the first few comments and want to stress my disapproval. This is a great post – and even greater as it attracted my attention as someone who doesn’t play halo or rather any of those kind of games.

    Point 1 is probably the best of the lot. I shall be borrowing it (with attribution, of course) for my future blog post. Keep up the good work!

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  56. justin says:

    wow thats a nice post. never thot of a halo match like that. lolz

  57. Jerry says:

    Awesome post, Ive never really thought about the game so much.

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  59. Bradstor says:

    Hesitation can be the difference between success and failure in real life. If you stop and think “how can I do this properly?” you will end up doing it right and have long term success. Halo is short term, life is long term. This is why that one doesn’t apply.

  60. 7 Life Lessons I Learned on Success, Happiness & Creativity. I recently looked back at the last two years of my life.

  61. aheil says:

    I loved this post because it was something creative and different. The others can just be quiet about it being linkbait.

  62. Rich Adair says:

    Article is actually dead on

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