It was my first time on the moon. I hadn't been on the moon, not even in a virtual sense, since Nodes of Yesod on the Spectrum 48k. That was 1988. Damn, things had changed a bit since then.
Destiny. Love it or hate it, it is a glorious looking video game. It's the kind of video game that demands pause. In between the shooting of aliens and the upgrading of gear, Destiny is a game that asks you to stop for a second and just look at things. Most of the time that 'thing' is the sky.
I am a level 5. As mentioned before, I’ve only just made it to the Moon for the very first time. I stop to look around because it's glorious. I stop because Destiny deserves a good goddamn gaze once in a while. It's too gosh-darn good looking to be rushed through and ignored.
In my earpiece: "Hey there's a golden chest over here. Come and get it."
My buddies — miles ahead. Nothing but dots on the horizon with numbers above them. Level 16. Level 20. These guys are eons ahead of me in video game experience that is Destiny. Why are they here with a noob like me? They're playing to help me level up quicker. To help me find the gear. To allow me to play the 'hard' versions of the story missions for XP bonuses and whatnot. I appreciate the help, but I sense they're in a rush. I certainly feel the pressure to rush, to not make this experience suck for them. They are, after all, helping me out. I don't want to let them down.
They're playing with the speed and efficiency of players who have seen in all before. Worker-ants bustling past the tourist in Circular Quay; I'm the idiot with the camera gawking up at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I want to fit in so I give chase. I want to catch up quickly so I'm not such a burden. So I can play the game on that level.
But then I stop. I ask myself. What am I even doing here? Why am I speeding through the gorgeous environment when I should be taking things slowly, step by step?
It’s weird. Destiny is a game you're supposed to play with friends. I’m constantly being told that. We're constantly being told that. It is the default position of everyone, including Bungie, the game's creators. Earlier this morning I tweeted that I was considering playing a little more of Destiny by myself, as a single player.
"That would be like having a Facebook account with no friends," was one of the many tweets I received in return. People seem almost hostile to the idea of others playing Destiny alone, but more and more I'm thinking that, for the foreseeable future, this is how I want to experience the game.
Because three days after the game's release the joy of discovery — for most — seems to have evaporated. Time poor folks like me — parents with jobs, significant others and things that need doing — are already miles behind. Playing Destiny with friends who are ahead feels like going through the motions with dead, hollow eyes. There's no pleasure, no actual sense of joy and exploration, just the process, just the impatient rush of playing catch up. I don't want my experience to be like that.
Playing with others, particularly players who have seen and done it all, can be a dissociative experience. It tears you from the moment, rips you from the world. Because there are two separate things happening at the precise same time: the experience of the game and the social experience of ‘being with friends’. I’m not sure the two are compatible.
In a game like Destiny you are primarily shooting things and chatting with friends in a co-operative environment. "How's things, how was your day?" The game itself just becomes a conduit through which socialising occurs. You might as well be knitting or washing the dishes. It stops you from disappearing into the game itself.
It’s a space where you slowly start to dissolve into the idea of the meta-game. Where the fiction evaporates — you see the 0s and 1s and the veiled mystery of Destiny is lifted. I can already sense it in the chatter: the idea of talking about the game above the game, learning how to ‘game’ the game. I’m not interested in that. Not at this stage. Not a week after release.
I just want to play Destiny. Maybe I’m already at the stage where I’ll have to do it by myself?