In terms of its reaction; in terms of how we talk about it. In terms of how we play it, Destiny might be one of the strangest video games ever released.
The marketing said ‘Become Legend’. What did that mean? I think for many of us it signified the start of something -- for want of a better term – epic. What does ‘epic’ mean in this context? I’d suggest it means a couple of things: a sense of scale, a broadness of scope. Many of us expected Destiny’s ‘epicness’ to be expressed in a narrative we could sink our teeth into, or a lore-dripping universe we could explore and discover on our own terms.
Skyrim with guns.
It’s been interesting watching those expectations wither in the face of harsh reality. Destiny is not the game we expected it would be. Some might argue it isn’t the game we were promised. Destiny was not broad in scope; on the contrary it felt small and muted. Destiny did not have a sense of scale, it ultimately became a series of missions we played over and over again for loot. For a short period of time Destiny was nothing more than a small cave, where players would gather and fire weapons into a black hole for rewards. Destiny stripped back to its fundamental core: a literal, actual Skinner Box.
Today that marketing line feels hollow and bent. It’s video gaming’s ‘Your Country Needs You’. In hindsight it looks, feels and sounds like propaganda. We were promised adventure. We were promised japes. Instead we’re dug in on the trenches.
But really we’re not. We’re really not. It’s tempting to draw a clever metaphor between naïve consumers and soldiers signing up for adventure, but it’s disingenuous and lacks perspective. Because here’s the thing: we can turn the game off at any point. We can play other video games. We can do anything we bloody well want.
But we’re not. We are still playing Destiny. We are still playing Destiny.
This is perhaps the most interesting thing about the game: despite its failures, despite its issues – ongoing issues, new issues, issues that spring up with every new update – we still play Destiny because, fundamentally, Destiny is ‘good’. Destiny is a ‘fun’ video game that feels enjoyable each and every time you pull the trigger. Despite the frustrations circling like demented vultures, Destiny is endlessly engaging to the point where we will happily replay the same content and endure the mess that is the meta-game. Combine that with the random nature of the game’s rewards?
Man, that’s quite a psychological hook you’ve got there.
It leaves us with that massive paradox. We have a massive group of people who actively bitch and complain about Destiny yet continue to play the game on a daily basis. I’ve met these people. I know them in real life. I’ve heard them complain!
Now back to that marketing, because it’s fascinating. It’s a pitch perfect indicator of how far Destiny has come in such a short period of time. It’s the canary in the coal mine. Once upon a time Destiny urged its players to ‘become legend’. That message is long gone. Destiny is no longer about becoming ‘legend’. Destiny is about getting the “sweetest loot” so you can go “HAM on some Hive”. I’m not even sure what that means.
“CALL ME WHEN YOU LEVEL UP BRO.”
It’s taken Destiny three short months to get to this point. To the point where it has completely abandoned its initial messaging and embraced the meta-game. Destiny is no longer about adventure, it’s about in-game items. It’s about leveling up ‘bro’. Has any game gotten to this point in such a short period of time? To this day, ten years from the game’s initial release, Blizzard sells World of Warcraft on the strength of its lore and its story. It’s taken Bungie three months to abandon any and all pretense that Destiny is anything other than a video game where you shoot bad guys for better gear.
Can we at least just pretend for a while that there’s something more going on here? Can we just pretend?
Apparently not, because when the people who are trying to sell you the experience are pulling back the curtain in such a blatant manner the time for pretense is over. This is Destiny, warts and all, and I suspect we’ll be playing -- and complaining about it -- for a very long time to come.