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"The Guardians" is a placeholder name shown when a player's character in a Halo game dies of unknown causes. When a player dies under bizarre or unknown circumstances, the message "<player> was killed by The Guardians" is shown.
Guardian deaths are caused by the game being unable to explain the death of a player.
In Halo: Combat Evolved, every object is assigned ownership. As an example, any bullets generated as a result of a shooting player would have their ownership attributed to the player who fired them. However, in cases where a player is killed by objects that have no ownership, the resulting death will be credited to the Guardians. This theory can be easily tested by having a player fire a rocket or any other slow moving projectile at another player and exiting before the impact. Since the player has left, the rocket will no longer have a valid ownership attribute and the resulting death will appear as a Guardian kill.
Melee deaths in Halo: Combat Evolved are subject to the same system. If two players simultaneously melee each other, one of the deaths will be attributed to the Guardians since logic in the game prevents a melee being attributed to a player who's awaiting respawn.
Kills caused by environmental objects (such as the trains in Halo 2's Terminal) and scripted environmental objects (such as the mines in Sandtrap, the cannons in Snowbound, and the towers in Sandbox) are similarly inexplicable, and thus, credited to The Guardians.
Other examples of inexplicable kills include: being crushed by falling Scorpions; solid objects such as Crates (or traffic cones) hitting you at a high velocity; Teleporter glitches (including teleporting outside of the map, when the resulting death doesn't count as a fall); and any other unpredictable, random, or bizarre deaths.
While the Guardians' scripted appearances can be overloaded, the Guardians themselves cannot. As an example, overloading Sandtrap will disable the mines whose kills are credited to the Guardians, but the Guardians themselves aren't disabled (inexplicable kills will still be attributed to them), as they don't really exist—the Guardians are not players, characters, or objects. The Guardians are merely a "dummy" name—the phrases "<Player> was killed by The Guardians" and "I have absolutely no idea why <Player> died just now" are effectively synonymous.
On Bungie.net, individual players have a Service Record; a definitive page for nearly every kind of statistic there is in the game: kills, deaths, ratios, wins, etc. On these pages, one can find the Guardians listed as a cause of death under the Deaths section in most games that are tracked by Bungie.net (Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo Reach). The circumstances of the deaths are as they usually are; strange occurrences, explosions, etc. however it is interesting that the Guardian deaths have their own section and ratios as they are more common in the more recent Halo game releases than they were in Halo Combat Evolved or Halo 2. In Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST it is actually possible to kill with the Guardians, as the circumstances can be initiated by a player, and on the stats pages a player has a kill/death ratio with the Guardians listed as a "Tool of Destruction".
The following appearances are "scripted" in the sense that there are specifically coded animations and interactions in the levels; there are no special in-game messages, however, and these are all listed as Guardian kills in gameplay statistics.
- Forge mode: Any contact with a Kill Ball.
- Terminal: The train.
- Sandbox: the watchtowers.
- Sandtrap: the Brute Landmines outside of the level's boundaries.
- Snowbound: the plasma turrets at the boundaries.
- Standoff: the gate behind one of the bases. (Approaching this gate, or touching it at high speed, can result in death) or going over the side of the cliff.
- Narrows: standing on the ring for too long.
- Valhalla: the giant beam that shoots out of the top of both bases (use caution when flying over the top of the base in a Banshee).
- Falling to your death.
- Being splattered by an object of its own accord, such as a flying fusion coil, or the occasional empty vehicle. These can happen through means of relatively rare circumstances and explosions.
- This does not include objects that are being actively manipulated by a player in Edit Mode.
- In Halo: Combat Evolved, there is a separate message for unmanned vehicle kills.
- Being knocked off a ledge by an object.
- Forge games often lead to multiple Guardian kills, due to its physics manipulating nature.
- Being weakened by enemy forces, only to be killed by something brought about by the above.
- Being outside of the level boundaries for a short period of time, or touching a kill barrier.
- In some cases, touching the ground outside of a level for a total of between one and five seconds results in a death. The amount of time varies from map to map (and possibly between areas of maps), but it is cumulative—if a total of five seconds can kill a player, then a player can also die by touching the ground outside the level for two seconds, jumping onto a vehicle, and then touching the ground for three more seconds.
- Being killed by an AI-controlled NPC (they can be modded into maps in Halo PC).
- When two players melee each other at the same time in Halo: Combat Evolved.
- Standing near a vehicle that explodes suddenly
- There have been many cases in both Halo 2 and Halo 3 where mysterious deaths have been credited to The Guardians. This is possibly the game's only explanation for being killed by a Ghost of Halo, as a Ghost of Halo is not an identifiable player.
- A glitch in the Halo Trial causes the player to spontaneously die. When this happens, a message appears saying "You were killed by the Guardians."
- The Guardians on Sandbox could actually be Guardian Sentinels firing at you from watchtowers.