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Death, Depression, and Destiny 2

Destiny 2

In over eight years of me writing for multiple sites, I can’t help but develop cynicism. While I inherently love when the industry produces groundbreaking content, more often than not it does stuff so boneheaded that makes me want to throw in the towel. Despite multiple stories of the good the gaming community has done, I still see too many vocal pundits find a way to make things worse for a myriad of reasons; usually arbitrary gatekeeping or some flavor of Ism. But it was always tempered with a level of emotional distance I put in place to remember the big picture: that this medium and industry are still made up of good people wanting to do good things.

It lead to me continuously keeping my social circles small and intimate. My gaming habits, professional obligations aside, stick to mostly offline single-player experiences. And, with all due respect to some of our more out and proud geeks on the internet, I mostly downplayed any association with the “Gamer” community.

But I will also be the first to admit one experience that kept me consistently coming back to it for online antics: Bungie’s online sci-fi shooter Destiny. A game that was hyped up as the next big thing back in 2014, launched to critical indifference and has been trying to get its act together ever since. I remember since I was one of its more vocal critics. It’s broad mythic storytelling of you being part of an order of righteous Guardians wielding the power of the Light to defeat unknowable horrors I found ultimately quaint. Platitudes about unity, cooperation and the idea that good always triumphs over evil rang hollow. Despite the fantastic production values Bungie consistently maintained for the series with its signature art direction and fantastic musical score, I wasn’t enraptured by Destiny; I rolled my eyes at it.

But somehow, I developed a small clan of friends and we bonded over fighting aliens and traveling to different planets. We were known as The Silver Crows, we weren’t the greatest Guardians running around, but we were like family. Teaming up to take down our enemies, figuring out the elaborate puzzles to unlock  the best weapons, and even tackling my very first major Raids in online gaming. When The Taken King content went live, I came back and was completely overwhelmed by the challenges and horrors awaiting me inside the dreaded Dreadnaught orbiting Saturn. And when Destiny 2 launched with features removed and controversial elements introduced, we complained and gnashed our teeth even as we were still running around playing the new content.

It was that rare gaming experience I had where I consistently enjoyed the company of the community, no real trolls or rampantly toxic fandom, and it helped blunt my discomfort with the state the actual experience itself was in.

Then…the past three years happened. The horrific and infuriating tendencies of the internet became irreversibly mainstream with the rise of the alt-right and the normalization of Channer culture in the political discourse. Discussion in various gaming circles devolved from optimism for the future to the normalizing of predatory monetization, and unhealthy declarations of entitlement. Even broader geek culture turned into this harsh insufferable miasma that made me sick to my stomach: just do a YouTube search for stuff on The Last Jedi and there it is ready to consume your soul.

It honestly got to the point where, despite loving games and those who make them, I never wanted to be seen as part of the gaming community. For one simple reason: I didn’t want to be remotely affiliated with the kind of self-destructive bile they were throwing.

But the greatest blow of all came a few short months ago. My grandmother, who has been a part of my life ever since I was born, a true bastion of warmth and compassion, and my very last living direct family member, passed away. A woman who embodied all of the best possible qualities of Southern Hospitality, quiet temperance, and supportive inner strength, gone. A compassionate RN of fifty years who raised four children then came back for seconds on raising me, who gave and helped with a smile on her face, adamant in her belief of a compassionate God…died within three short months to fourth stage renal carcinoma; a highly aggressive form of kidney cancer. With her final days numbered from a combination of congestive heart failure and the cancer spreading to her brain.

It was like some grand cosmic joke. Her heart was too pure and her mind too selfless to be allowed to live in this colder, crueler world.

I stopped writing for a while. Major responsibilities like handling the funeral and her estate took center stage. Everything my social circle seemed hung up on like female representation in first-person-shooters or the visual fidelity of puddles of water in gameplay demos seemed unbelievably petty and unimportant. It was just me, trying to cope with a simple crippling fact: There is no one else now, you are alone.

Even my media diet felt like it was conspiring to break me. The kind of games I played to relax were the dour gothic sensibilities of Darkest Dungeon or the highly involved arcade action of Bayonetta. One made me want to cry, and the other frustrated me even further since I knew the stress was having a negative effect on my ability to play. The latest movies I saw included Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and the most recent Avengers film, all of which end with multiple characters dying, or people coming to terms with outliving their parents or parental figures.

Then… there was Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion. A brand new piece of content for what slowly became my interactive comfort food. Marketing itself not with new weapons or challenges for my clan to overcome, but with a beloved major character – played by the lovable Nathan Fillion nonetheless – being killed off. That it would be a true, for real, death that wouldn’t be undone, and all of the new content in the game would spiral out of his passing.

What was once a simple and easily digestible experience for my emotionally sensitive state became something far too personal. I wanted nothing more than to just drop off the grid, go offline and just leave the entire world as I knew it to waste. That things had gotten too bad and people had become too broken, and even entertainment became too manipulative with their casual framing of death and loss, to allow any of it in my life.

Then… something truly beautiful happened. In my shellshocked state, I remember something I was told when it came to the mourning process: don’t be alone, talk to people. So, I talked about things as much as I could with my friends; both real and online. I was invited to dinner, and I accepted. I made some phone calls, and people listened. And in a chat party, I told my clan what was going on. A group of people that I managed to share grand experiences like conquering the Vault of Glass or toppling The Taken King as well as talk casually real-world current events, but didn’t even know their real names or had even seen their real faces.

Then, about a week later, I got an unexpected visitor. I got to meet one of my fellow Guardians, a fellow Crow, in the flesh. After almost three years of fighting side by side, slaying monstrosities and exploring the stars, this near perfect stranger politely came into my home, and became a shoulder to cry on. It was, to say the very least, one of the most selfless acts I had ever seen someone do for me. This guy drove three and a half hours to see someone he hadn’t met before, just because he knew they were hurting. Just because we shot a bunch of aliens together in virtual space.

And somehow the conversation was as natural as between two brothers.

By the time he left, it felt like something had broke through my darkness. Not just a shining beacon of a good deed in a weary world, but of something far more fundamental and instrumental when it comes to overcoming great tragedy. Something that was best summarized by Mr. Rogers: “When something bad happens, don’t look at the suffering, look at the people who are helping.” And while the initial twist of the knife was heartwrenching when it came to the death of the beloved Cayde-6, a death Bungie treated with the greatest of ceremony and respect, my clan was there to help. And, in its own way, the campaign of Forsaken made me feel like I wasn’t alone. That we were all heading into an an uncertain future made bitter and harsh by death claiming someone beloved. That we would prevail in the end.

I cannot say with any form of confidence what my future will be after this loss or if my view of the world hasn’t gone through some very specific filters, but what I can confidently say is this: Destiny and my clan helped me come to terms with one of the greatest tragedies in my entire life. A series that, I know isn’t perfect, was instrumental to my grieving process. That even if things are simple and straightforward about good versus evil or light versus darkness, it might just be what somebody needs to fight against their own demons. To remember what is important to hold on to in times of great struggle. And to be stronger for it.

 

To everyone at Bungie, I just want to say thank you. Vivat Corvos.