Yesterday I logged on to Destiny 2 for the first time in a very long while, intent on clearing out a chunk of the massive to-do list my character had accrued since this summer’s Season of Opulence update began. One of my many bounties and challenges involved killing a bunch of Fallen enemies on the game’s Nessus map. So I hung out in an area of the map where I knew Fallen spawn, as you do, and then I noticed another player tackling one of the game’s public events — random group activities open to everyone on the map — by themselves in the valley below me. I thought about joining in to help out, but instead found myself just standing on the edge of a cliff, watching them. I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
At that distance, which you can get a sense of in the screenshot above, the way video game characters move looks different. As anyone familiar with games might notice, a video game character controlled by a human being moves strangely. They zig and zag erratically, run forward and backpedal in fits and starts, often displaying only a haphazard respect for their surroundings.
From my far-off vantage point, this character’s movement didn’t look awkward anymore. It was balletic, a fireworks show where one player swiftly moved in clean arcs and decisive lunges, trading colourful beams of light with the army of robots around them. I was transfixed.
The central fantasy of Destiny is one where players are superhuman space warriors capable of channeling godlike elemental powers, like if Thor also had a fondness for high-calibre machine guns. I’ve never really felt connected to that fantasy. Destiny 2 is a first-person shooter, and like most first-person shooters, especially ones that revolve around collecting new and better guns (as Destiny does), you spend most of your time thinking about guns. The godlike powers are there for variety and getting you out of tough scrapes.
Whenever Bungie promotes Destiny 2, its trailers lean hard on the feeling that you are this epic force of cosmic power, but that feeling is always undercut by the way video game characters move — like human-shaped bulldozers, lacking the grace that might accompany godlike power, much less the grace of movement that beings have in the natural world.
When I watched someone play from far away, that changed for me. Sure, my gun was in the frame, and I was a fellow player, capable of joining them in this theatre. But I could easily imagine myself to be someone else within the game’s world. The worlds of Destiny 2 are largely absent of characters who aren’t there for shooting, but if that were not the case, maybe this is what it would feel like to be one of them.
Just a person watching a faraway titan of myth standing against an army of time-bending robots. A little too close for safety, but far enough for everything to seem less than real. Flesh and blood in awe of strange cosmic power.