Destiny to Destiny 2 More Than A Journey in Gaming

The summer of 2014 was three years after Donna’s death,. I was (still am) in the throws of my grief over her death. The world around me that summer had transformed into a strange land of endless vistas that I wanted nothing to do with. Seemingly endless horizons opened after three years of caregiving and three years of grief. It was all meaningless.

I knew these vistas were there for exploration. It felt as if I was standing on a beach on day that was cloudy and cold looking out onto the ocean. I could come and go as I pleased and where I wanted to within reason. I didn’t. I kept trying to go back. Not to reclaim Donna but continue what was, without her. I was living in the same home, walking the same streets, doing the same routines, making meals for us, and all the rest. I was stuck in an emotional amber. I was half heartedly not looking to escape.

That summer a friend was posting on FB about a new game from a company called Bungie. The game was Destiny. That was all I knew. A video game. I had a PS3 which Donna and I used for movies. It was an expensive DVD player. I barely knew how to use the controller. Bless Sony, you loaded a DVD and toggled a bit to watch a movie.

I was still on the beach looking at the endless ocean deciding if I wanted to set sail somewhere anywhere. Gaming? Isn’t that what all the cool kids were doing it. Small investment to make for learning something new. Even today I am not sure why I was interested. I think it was a way to fill time as I waited for my time to roll forward. Perhaps it was magical thinking, I can do this easily and I will be new.

Introduction To Gaming

Early that summer another friend, a kid compared to my age, came over and brought a game called Boarderlands. He dropped the DVD in the PS3 sat and texted while giving me directions on how to use the controller. Square, Triangle, X, toggle, etc. I barely knew WTF he was saying. He left. I sat there not sure what to do next. Suddenly what was I thought was cool and fun was not. It was an exercise. It was learning. Learning alone in the dark is, well different from owning a small business.

So for a couple of months I played Boarderlands or thought I was. To misuse a term, I just ground my way around trying to shoot, jump, find loot, kill things, and get frustrated. I would play and stop. Low frustration tolerance is a thing. I would keep coming back. Load the DVD, launch, looking at the graphics and trying to figure out what was going on. I would start at the same point. Do the same map. Move in the same way. All along missing what gaming should be about, discovery. I was confusing discovery for technical skill. What I know now is that if you set out to discover your skills improve because you are engaged longer.As my kid friend says break something. (There is an entire school of learning theory dedicated to experience integration.) As opposed to being frustrated and cursing at the flat screen alone in a dark room while the neighbors listened.

Destiny dropped. That September I got a PS4. Thus begins my fractured entry into gaming. I did not know there were ways to play this game or any game. I thought all you did was launch and do random shit. Randomly. In hindsight teams of code heads and designers spend thousands of hours designing something not just to work but engage. Here I was insulting a shit load of serious people. As look back insulting myself.

I learned two years into Destiny that stories/lore are key to a game. Stories help you understand the game and keep you interested especially when you are frustrated or bored or failing. Stories are motivation.

There was language to learn. Strike, Raid, loot, maps, aliens with names that should be Bob or Joe or Gail or Susan. Who the fuck can remember Sepiks Prime, Phogoth, Aksor, Valus Ta’aurc, etc. etc. It wasn’t until year two that I learned I could cash shit in with Xur. I am the forever slow child.

I would sit with the controller in hand moving the face buttons, shoulder buttons, triggers, thumbsticks, etc. Frequently and still I look down to see where my thumb is or is going. I look down and look up noting I did this and this happened. Took me a year to figure out that I can convert engrams to stuff. I kid, it was a few months.

Rationalizing was a big go to in playing. I liked to walk and run though my maps. The truth was I didn’t know there was something called a Sparrow to drive around with. When I did discover the Sparrow I drove like a drunk teenager.

I could wax poetic about playing Destiny. Playing Destiny alone poorly. Embarrassed that I was not a cool kid. But that misses a couple of points.

Insight Into Gaming

This week a friends husband and I were chatting about life at this point in our lives. The whole finding meaning and purpose thing as we wait to expire. Career turns into waiting for Godot. He said to me ‘Mark I am so impressed by your going to PAX and getting into gaming.’ I thought ‘Wow I am a cool kid to someone.’ I have been so focused and frustrated that I am not @mynameIsByf, or Miguel, or Shaun, or @mesasean or @MissyGotGame or @laceduplauren or @Deej_BNG, and on and on. Yet the frustration of what I say is a glass half empty filled with a clear poisonous liquid misses what I have written here, here, here, and here about PAX and the community I’ve met and what I’ve learned since Destiny was launched.

I have learned that PvP is something I suck at. Not sure if that is by choice, fear, or my DNA. Do my moves and weapons suck? Do I suck. I learned that PAX is an amazing place for community and adventure. I’ve learned that there is something called Twitch. That there are YouTubers who show and explain game play. I’ve learned that my fear of not being as good as ‘them’ may not disqualify me from asking to play. Though I am still chicken shit of rejection. I’ve learned that I can run and gun and standing still is dumb as shit. I’ve learned my HUD is important. I’ve learned that I get lost on a map easily but can find my team, if I try. Operative word here is try. There are no gas stations in Destiny to stop and ask directions. I’ve learned that when playing in a group you don’t shout and swear into the mic when you get killed. I learned there is more to learn.

Destiny 2 Launch

I watched the Bungie intro event for Destiny 2. Three years ago I wouldn’t have known what that was or how to watch. I watched it like an Apple event. I was able to comprehend about 80% of what they were talking about. The players I follow on YouTube and Twitter have videos explaining what I heard and the 20% I was confused about. I am thinking about what I want to be a Hunter, Titian, or Warlock. I now know enough to learn more about the story so I can start from the beginning and progress. I am going to engage well and engage with others. The greater reality is today I am looking at new games. Steins Gate, The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch, Pinball Arcade.

End Game

It has been three years since Destiny was launched. Three years that I’ve been relentless in trying to get better both in life, death, and games. It has been three years of having a game carry me though some dark ass shit. Three years of letting Destiny down. A lot has happened and lot has not. Both those are good since it is as much as the white space of our lives as what is there on the page. I guess looking back my self described gaming failures may in fact be some success less about gaming and more about learning.

PAX Boston Thoughts & Observations

I’m on the train heading home with a few hours to consider my passage from my first PAX to my third. Here are three short takes from the first PAX, early Destiny, and gaming. Here, Here, and Here.

My First PAX: A Short Reflection was just that, a short reflection. As I reread it my premiss remains the same. The gaming community is embracing, supportive, and clearly engaged with each other through the art and science of gaming. I was stuck again by those same thoughts this time with three years and three PAX events. There is a diminishing of my eyes wide open shucks OMG response. I find myself being more focused on my engagement with specifics of the event and less on the magnitude of it all.

You can’t help but be struck by the size and energy of PAX. Estimates this year are 70,000 plus attendees. What strikes you when riding the escalator down to the show floor are the acres of booths large and small standing in neat rows with lanes between them. Vast areas are set up for table top games with over 100 tables and PC stations of 100s of computers for game play. Some of the booths are large Samsung, Blizzard, Nintendo, Twitch, etc. Most are small which is a testament to the independent community bringing forward games of all kinds. Big gaming is not trying to crush the little companies. Looking closer from this aerial vantage point you see movement of people along the corridors. Currents of water in rivers churning and flowing. Tall heads like white caps bobbing. Eddies of people caught at booths slowly moving in a rhythmic dance to see and touch. And ever so slowly breaking away to flow to a new river bank to stop. On the floor in the middle of it you are carried by flow of people and the structures blinking brightly along the banks.

At PAX there are these volunteers called Enforcers. They wear red T-shirts identifying them. Their role is to help attendees from things as simple as find the bathrooms to helping organize the crowds lining up for a lecture.

PAX Enforcer
The enforcer stands tall

The magnitude of PAX is apparent when there is major session as with Mass Effect and its new series Andromeda. Enforcers are stationed every 100’ guiding those coming to queuing up. The main room where this event was being held holds about 1,000 people. Attendees were lined up hours earlier to attend this session and there were two to three times that many waiting to get in. No one cut the line no one got angry being turned away, community, community, community.

Walking the venue and the floor I noticed continuum of participants. Mom’s and Dad’s with small children, toddlers, babies, and teens. They are all engaged with the PAX surrounding them. It was not a parent taking a child to Six Flags it was mom dad gamers sharing the child’s wide eyed enthusiasm. The family that games together stays together. The babies and toddlers had ear protectors on. That did not minimize the saucer sized eyes and giggles as they absorbed this world. A child pulling at a hand steering dad to this or that. Watching a mom and dad at a gaming table having lunch with a toddler while setting up a table top game defined this as less about uniqueness and more about the simplicity of a family moment.

At the other end of the spectrum were the older folks like me in walking in groups laughing and talking as they went from session to session sharing impressions of what was learned. I wonder, have they been gaming forever or like me are they the new old gamers expanding the time till they expire with this activity. It sure as fuck beats Florida. What was their game of choice?

Between these life bookends are the teens and adults. Decked out in gaming logos. Carrying bags of swag, chattering. and laughing. There is no single uniform for this army and that is the uniform, the independence of statement wrapped around in the flag of your identified hero. There were the ones standing in long lines waiting to play a new game or use a VR headset. And doing so with no impatience talking to each other sharing their thrill being here. And the thrill of heading home or to school to brag about the new game or headset. They would stand five deep at small independent gamers booths to check out a game, buy swag, or look at board games. They are the raw energy that encircles PAX and creates a gravity pulling us all in. They believe in magic, hope, and fantasy. In the end they are the infectious nature of this community. They are looking for new, different, fun, fast, and more. And here is an oasis of unlimited of possibilities and challenges.

The cosplayers were a world to themselves. The costumes went from elaborate to subtle. Not one said no to a photo.

Dressed to Thrill Us All
Great costume

Walking with my major gamer bro Shaun and Diana I marveled at how they would identify character the cosplayer was, in a heartbeat. I think Shaun did not know one of the dozens we saw. Watching Shaun and Diana rate and respond was a lesson in their world and how they see gaming and comics. It is similar to those into cars rating a muscle car vs. a sports car. Different in that Shaun and Diana had played that game read that comic where the car lusters were wanting to drive the car that they may never afford. Some of these costumes were so intricate and detailed as was the makeup. All I could think this was a labor of love and being photographed.

Real Gamers
Playing with Nintendo’s Switch
Hand made dragon canon

There were individuals or groups of Power Rangers or Guardians from Destiny. There were comic and retro game characters. What spoke to me about this was toward the end of the day the cosplayers would be seen sitting on the floor playing a board game, talking, and sharing their day being who they want to be. Shaun pointed out a boy of about 14 years who had a prosthetic arm had his costume build around that arm. That is the magic of gaming and families.

Cosplayer from Destiny

Finally I noticed those with disabilities confined to wheelchairs were as engaged and thrilled about being there. Though I wondered the degree of challenges they had to overcome just to get there. To PAX’s credit they ensured that group had special access and the attendees made them welcomed. Fuck I was bitching to myself about carrying my messenger bag with my computer. Have passion will travel fits here.

I was lucky enough to be a plus one with Miguel for a Bungie community event. Three years ago in Seattle I went to a similar event which was close on the heels of Destiny’s launch. I pretty much stuttered effusively at that one. This one was less so but pretty much in awe of the world. Again I felt blessed and thrilled to be here. This made my weekend and PAX more memorable. I wrote a piece on the eight stages of gaming basically making fun of learning to use a controller. Sitting with friends and others talking about now I was feeling more controller control they pointed out what I kind of knew, they too had to learn and play repeatedly. The difference was they’ve been doing this for years and years.

At this Bungie event was a YouTuber I’ve been following BYF. I asked one of the Destiny people which one he was since I never met him. I went and introduced myself told my old new gamer story and how his videos have helped me fill in blanks. What a fucking gracious kind smart and embracing human he is. He was as real and genuine as I could have hoped for. This brings to life the reality of this community and how embracing it is for all who are entering new or not.

There is a take away from this PAX event. I’m glad I left the house to do this. Again my world opened a little and I found a bit more of me in me and the world. Six years in now I find myself being more confident at living in this world. Dare I say living at all. I am ready to consider some new games to learn. And more outside gaming. In a way this community and Destiny is moving me forward to learn and do more.

There is no closure on my personal grief. There may always be a slow dance with grief as a partner for self discover through the memories of everything, even something as simple as PAX. Though I wonder how much Donna would tease me about being a geriatric gamer with less than stellar skills.