My Thoughts on Cortana’s Appearance in Halo 4:
Note: I’ve been told that, in the lore, Cortana says why she chooses to look the way she does. I’ve read, in the short story Human Weakness, that the reason Cortana chooses to have a physical appearance — as opposed to being just a random bunch of data — is so that she can tell the difference between herself and what she interacts with. There are AI who have physical appearances that aren’t human, or naked, though. I know an AI that wears traditional Native American clothing. (Endless Summer, from the novel Ghosts of Onxy.) I know an AI that looks like a box. (Black Box, from the Kilo Five trilogy.) I know an AI that looks like a hooded figure. (Beowulf, from the novel Halo: The Fall of Reach.) So: Why does Cortana choose to look like a naked human? As far as I know, that question hasn’t been answered in the lore. If it has, let me know where.
Part 1 of 3:
Why is Cortana naked? An answer is given in the Halo novels — AIs choose their appearance themselves. But, come on; people are the ones really determining how the AI look. It is later shown that other AIs in the Halo series wear clothes, so why doesn’t Cortana?
A reason has not been given by Bungie or 343 Industries for why Cortana is naked or what their intent was for making her that way.* All I can do is explain, as best as I can, why I believe what I believe on this subject.
*Frank O’Connor, the Franchise Development Director at 343 Industries, has said that the reason Cortana is naked is because it gives her an advantage; it gives her an advantage in that it puts people on guard and puts her more in control of the situation. See the following link: An interview with Frank O’Connor
Is it wrong that Cortana is naked in order to gain an advantage over others? Is she disrespecting herself?
Just because Cortana is naked doesn’t mean she is disrespecting herself. Whether or not Cortana is disrespecting herself depends on what she is doing and why she is thinking being naked is necessary to do it. Cortana is naked in order to gain an advantage over others. Such manipulation is wrong. (This reason for why Cortana is naked is Frank O’Connor’s opinion, and is not a definitive statement by 343 Industries.)
In Halo 4, though, Cortana doesn’t use the fact that she is naked to gain an advantage over others.
Look at Eve in the Garden of Eden. She is naked. But, Eve is not naked in order to seduce or control: Her naked body is an aspect of who she is. The same is true of Cortana in Halo 4.
Part 2 of 3:
At first I didn’t like Cortana’s appearance in Halo 4. I thought she had been sexualised and that she was now nothing more than something that 343 Industries wanted me (the player) to gawk at. I changed my mind when I did more research on Cortana, and read about how other people saw her.
An argument could be made that there is no reason for Cortana to look the way she does. That’s a good point. There have been reasons given by fans. (One being that since Cortana is deteriorating, her appearance is a manifestation of her psychological state.) But since in my research I have found no definitive reason (i.e., a reason given by the creators of the game) for why Cortana looks the way that she does in Halo 4, I’ve had to come to my own conclusion on this subject.* And here is my conclusion.
Is Cortana’s appearance intentionally supposed to cause sexual arousal in a player? No. There are people who could be aroused by Cortana, but having re-watched the cutscenes in Halo 4 I’ve come to the conclusion that such a thing is not 343 Industries’ intent; that if someone is aroused by Cortana, it is because of their own state of mind and not something that the game is trying to make them feel.
Cortana is a challenge to players. A challenge especially in today’s popular culture — a popular culture that seems to be obsessed with sex. Cortana is an attractive-looking character. But, her body is not what we are implicitly told to look at.
I don’t know how exactly to describe this, but I notice that whenever Cortana is onscreen the camera is focused on her face. “Look at her face, not her body,” the camera seems to be saying. And it does make sense. Cortana’s face is where her expressions are; her face is where we’ll see how she’s feeling and, as a result, be able to empathize with her.**
Cortana is seemingly a contradiction: She is naked and self-confident. I say Cortana is “seemingly a contradiction” because “naked” and “self-confident” are two characteristics you might think of as contradictory.*** But in Cortana’s case there is no contradiction.
Now to go back to what I said earlier about Cortana being a “challenge to players.” Cortana is a challenge to us because, when it would be so easy to objectify her, we are called to look beyond her nakedness in order to see the person underneath. (The fact that she is not an actual person, but an artificial intelligence, makes such a calling all the more profound.)
We need to remember that the naked body is not evil. It is the fact that we are imperfect, that we are prone to lustful thoughts and actions, that makes the naked body a source of conflict, tension, and shame. But, in the Bible it says that God created everything and found it “…very good.”**** Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it was God’s plan that we would all be naked and yet feel no shame.*****
Cortana being naked is not a problem.
When Cortana is objectified because she is naked then there is a problem because such objectification turns her into something she is not meant to be — an outlet for our sexual desires.
In Halo 4, instead of objectifying Cortana or fantasizing about her we are supposed to empathize with her — understand what she’s going through — and realize that this AI’s feelings are very human. By doing this we treat Cortana like a human being. May we extend the same courtesy to every woman (human or AI) in our lives.
*See Part 1 of this post.
**Thank you to “Alex” for pointing this out. Since finding this blog post I’ve re-watched every cutscene from Halo 4, and his views hold up. Here’s the link to his blog
***In the sentence “…’naked’ and ‘self-confident’ are two characteristics you might think of as contradictory…” I say “might” because I realize that not everyone will agree on this. I believe they are, though, and here is why.
An example of these characteristics being contradictory can be found in the Bible, in the book of “Genesis.” The first thing that Adam and Eve do, once they’ve eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and have their eyes opened and see that they are naked, is make loincloths in order to hide themselves from each other.
Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, that’s why they hide it. I believe it is this shame that is the reason that the characteristics “naked” and “self-confident” are contradictory.
According to Google, to be self-confident is to be “trusting in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement.” Such a feeling is in contrast to the shame that Adam and Eve feel after they see that they are naked. Adam and Eve feel shame because they can no longer trust completely in their own, or each other’s, abilities, qualities, and judgement.
This event can be found in Gensis chapter three, verses 6 — 11. The Bible I’m using is the following: Saint Joseph Personal Size Edition of the New American Bible: Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources: Including the Revised New Testament and the Revised Psalms. New Jersey: Catholic Book Pub., 1992. Print.
***“Self-confident” is the best word I could think of to describe Cortana. She is someone who isn’t ashamed of any aspect of their being, and who is committed to doing what they need to do rather than what they want to do.
****Genesis, chapter one, verse 31.
*****Genesis, chapter two, verse 25.
Part 3 of 3:
With her hourglass-shaped figure, big breasts and youthful face, Cortana in Halo 4 appears to be the ultimate male fantasy.
Has Cortana been sexualised in Halo 4? No.
In Halo 4 Cortana looks how a woman would naturally look.* Most noticeable to me are her toes and breasts. In past Halo games her toes weren’t visible, now they are; her breasts sag, they don’t stick out like they have in the past.** That Cortana’s breasts have gotten bigger is seen as proof that she has been sexualised. But, when Cortana’s appearance in Halo 4 is compared with her appearance throughout the series, her breasts haven’t gotten bigger; the only reason they look bigger is because they are sagging like they naturally would. Cortana’s appearance in Halo 4 is realistic, not sexualised. Here is how Cortana has looked throughout the Halo series
*Cortana’s nipples, vagina, and butt are not visible, but her toes, breasts, and bellybutton are. The reason I believe this is so is because 343 Industries didn’t want to make her nudity as explicit as it could have been. A cursory glance at Cortana and you can tell that she is naked; being so explicit isn’t necessary.
I know it is not natural for a woman to have no nipples, vagina, or butt; the point is that, out of all the Halo games, in Halo 4 Cortana looks the most like a woman naturally would.
**When I say Cortana’s breasts “sag”, I mean that they’re being pulled down by gravity, like a woman’s naturally would be.