A year ago, I attended a Halo wedding. It was in Orlando. The bride entered to a live rendition of the Halo 3 menu music. A man dressed as Master Chief married bride and groom. Here's what happened next.
A year past their wedding, Desirai Labrada and John Henry have become an inspiration to the surprising number of other couples who have met playing Halo. They have had their experience playing their favorite game online changed in ways they didn't expect. And they managed to squeeze into their honeymoon a visit to the house that built Halo, Bungie Studios.
"I never get tired of telling the story," Desirai Labrada told me as I spoke to her and her husband John Henry by phone yesterday to see how the couple was doing. "The story" is how Labrada and Henry fell in love playing Halo 2 over Xbox Live and were married on January 17, 2009 in a ceremony that was so Halo that every guest received a purple wedding candle in the shape of, you know, a Halo plasma grenade.
The wedding I witnessed last year had gone off with nary a hitch. Back then, I was working for MTV and managed to feature the nuptials in a segment that aired on the channel. It was a semi-public event held as part of Otronicon, an annual technology festival run by Full Sail University at the Orlando Science Center. Desirai had hatched the idea to hold it there as part of the couple's savvy efforts to get their wedding financed by donations from local companies interested in gaining some publicity.
Before the wedding, Desirai and John had briefed most of the family and friends who would be attending as to what a Halo wedding was going to be like. Afterward, Desirai said, "you would have expected more 'What the hell just happened?'" But people were universally excited the couple now says. Even mom and grandma were cool with it.
MTV was the biggest outlet to feature John and Desirai, but the couple also showed up in some radio interviews and magazine articles. They had been running a website called A Match Made In Halo and began hearing from couples — many couples — who were inspired by the ceremony because they too had met while playing Halo. John and Desirai estimate that they've heard from about 50 couples who met while playing Bungie's game. Laughed Desirai: "I don't think Bungie realizes how good at matchmaking they really are."
Having a Halo wedding doesn't exactly make you world famous but you do become more popular. You get e-mails at two in the morning from people who saw you on TV. You get spotted by a person or two at a gaming expos. The forum where you come closest to feeling like a celebrity is Xbox Live. After the wedding, Xbox Live friend requests started flowing in. "In the beginning we were accepting a lot of friend requests," John said. "But then it got weird." John recalled receiving an Xbox friend request from a stranger and a swift follow-up slamming him for not accepting it. "He sent me the most vulgar and insulting [message] I'd ever heard," John remembered. The guy then apologized. John declined the friend request.
It wasn't just the Halo wedding that made John and Desirai popular people to bother while playing Halo. It was the friends the wedding helped them make. They started networking with people in the Halo fan community and participating in charities. As a wedding gift, Bungie had sent them the then-rare Recon armor to use in Halo multiplayer. And then the thing happened that really drew the requests: John and Desirai added a Bungie employee to their friends list. The friend requests flowed on.
Desirai said she never got tired of telling that Halo wedding story, but there is something she grew weary of. "I got tired of not being able to play Halo in peace," she said. "It was like every time we signed on we got 10 requests to jump in a different room. I'd say, 'Hey, I'm playing with friends.' But they don't listen." John and Desirai started playing Halo with their profiles hidden to compensate. They started hiding their friends list from other people.
The attention wasn't all annoying. John's Gamertag would get recognized while he was in a matchmaking setup room. Suddenly people would attach their mics, he recalled. "People would say 'Oh my god, it's that guy," he recalled." Folks would notice John and Desirai's Recon armor and want to know how they got it. Desirai would sometimes have fun explaining that. "I used to get a kick out of saying, 'I was married by Master Chief," she said, chuckling. "Every now and then that would totally piss the people off and they would say, 'If you're not going to really say..."
In late summer they finally decided to go on a honeymoon. They went to the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. They met Major Nelson and folks working at Microsoft's internal Halo company, 343 Industries. They also got to visit Bungie Studios' lobby where they ran into me, right after the cops came.
They got Halo 3: ODST but they lost a little bit of their enthusiasm for playing online. By the release of ODST, everyone they ran into online seemed to have that once-rare Recon armor and John and Desirai believe that changed the mood of play. "Now that everyone can have it, it almost feels like everyone thinks they're amazing," Desirai said. "It almost seems like everyone has an attitude." Desirai dropped her play time a lot. John still goes at it but said that he too feels like the tone among the people playing the game feels more negative. Regardless, they are both extremely excited for the next game in the series, Halo Reach. "I can't wait for it," John said.
Desirai now works at Full Sail University, hoping to put together a graphic design company as well. John is taking classes there, learning web development and intending to work with Desirai on her business.
They play Halo together on their home TV, split-screen, Desirai always on the top half. They say marriage hasn't really changed the way they play Halo. His Halo 3 skill level is 43; she's in the 30s. They still have a knack for avenging each other's Spartan deaths. If John is on another team in the game and gets Desirai with a good move she will sometimes chide him: "Seriously did you just do that to your wife?" But she's being playful. They recently had a chance for a special moment when Desirai was out of town and they were back in that mode they were in when they met playing Halo 2 online, tethered by their headsets and Xbox Live. She was in New York, visiting friends. He was home in Florida. "Just hearing John's voice over the Xbox just mad me gaga all over again," Desirai said.
Where does a Halo couple go from here? Desirai hopes that she and John will be able to figure out cool Halo-themed anniversary gifts going forward. For their first, last month, they had this Halo-style cake, with the initials for their gamertags.
And in the next two months, for old time's sake, they'll get back on Halo 2. Microsoft is shutting down Xbox Live for that game by April. A couple that met through Xbox Live, playing Halo 2, has got to commemorate that. And beyond? Well, need any Halo wedding tips?