“We are on the ice. This is elsewhere and elsewhen. There is a mighty aurora and it is reflected in the ice so I walk between two fires although the one below is cracked and full of corpses. I have and am a weapon.”
-Grimoire Card: Ghost Fragments, Exo
If Destiny were a building, it would be one of the most expensive, least functional pieces of architecture in existence. If you wanted to reach the seventh floor of the structure, Destiny‘s elevator would bring you thirty floors up to the Penthouse, then back down to your destination, all the while playing a wistful piece of orchestral music that might leave you with a strange sense of purpose as you exit the slow-to-open doors muttering obscenities under your breath. I can commiserate with those who aren’t able to look past such structural flaws and see the nature of the object: art. Destiny is ‘just a game’ in the same way that Twin Peaks is ‘just a TV show’. I would argue that it uses the FPS, shoot-and-loot, and MMO genres as pegs to hang a strange cloak indeed, one that shimmers like some queer beetle’s iridescent shell, if one only takes the time to gaze at its surface.
To others, Destiny is just a flying insect, and no pretty shell can alter that fact. This form of reductionism—valuing functionality over feeling—is a symptom of our cultural values: we tend to separate things into what is considered ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’, and create a hierarchy based on those two ‘opposites’. A good example of this is the discipline of History: ‘his story’, all too often, is reduced to the documenting of political dealings, violent conflict, and shifting power structures. These are treated as the landmarks (for better or worse) of our evolution as a species. Left to the wayside then is our emotional and psychological history, which we have a tendency to filter through ‘material’ results: the passing of a bill into law, a particular riot, the election of a certain official. In fact, a whole side of History (Herstory?) has been devalued and as a result remains relatively undocumented. In the same way that we write history from this masculinist perspective, so do we tend to de-prioritize, as a culture, the very things that we also claim define us: Love. Music. Art. Things we often associate with the feminine, the intangible.
I don’t blame those who misinterpret Destiny in the very same way. After all, the game does seem built around guns, knives, grenades, and rocket launchers. Your main activity is the generous distribution of death to a seemingly endless horde of aggressive, inexpressive aliens. On the surface then, the game appears to be a ‘masculine’ experience: a conduit for our impulse to ‘be strong’, ‘take control’, and ‘get things done’ (mostly through violence). And hey, to be honest, these trappings are probably the main reason why I actually tried Destiny in the first place, while not giving that same chance to, say, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. But if you came to the game expecting it to be a highly-entertaining version of a ‘masculine’ experience (and were closed to other aspects of it), I can understand why Destiny falls short again and again. The basic, three-act narrative is poorly communicated. The FPS’ing cannot, in the long run, compete with the greats of the genre. The loot system is complex and oftentimes frustratingly obtuse.
But Destiny‘s most amazing accomplishment, I would argue, is smuggling its true self beneath the cover of what dumb marketers and hardcore gamers wanted the game to be. It’s exactly what Under the Skin accomplished by making people believe they were buying a ticket to a mainstream science fiction movie starring famous Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson. Two hours later, after having experienced an art film that delivers a mind-blowing sensory and psychological experience of ‘otherness’, many felt like they had been misled. This is also exactly what The Division fails to accomplish: Ubisoft’s title is precisely what it claims to be, and is more boring for it.
So, ok. If Destiny is not, at its core, an FPS, a shoot-and-loot, nor an MMO… then what is it? Well, many things. A queer dollhouse. A delivery system for outlandish fashion to those who would usually buck against anything considered ‘feminine’. An imaginative, beautifully crafted bizarro version of our own solar system. A deep science fiction exploration of a futuristic golden age, the subsequent collapse of humanity, and what happens afterwards. A fragmented bank of experimental literary fiction (I’m speaking of the grimoire cards and item descriptions). These oftentimes disparate elements are the reason I return to Destiny again and again. More than a fun playing experience, Destiny, like all effective art, puts me in a state of narcotic wonder, a metaphysical bliss that reality, with all its drab accoutrements and systematic disappointments, usually fails to provide. It’s also pretty fun to like, shoot the fuck out of aliens in it. So there’s that.