By Kaitlyn Bell, Ball State University
In his study After the End, James Berger says “the post-apocalypse in fiction provides an occasion to go ‘back to basics’ and to reveal what the writer considers to be truly of value” (8). I believe this is especially true in Bungie’s video game Destiny. The plot of this massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is based around an alien entity known as the Traveler. The Traveler, an alien, mechanical orb with life giving powers, came to our solar system and brought with it what became known as the Golden Age. Human lifespans tripled under its influence, and technology advanced at an unprecedented rate. This couldn’t last forever, of course, and things eventually came crashing down. Agents of “the Darkness” found the Traveler and damaged it critically, but the specifics on how are left vague. Its last act was to create Guardians — superhumans who can wield energy called “the Light” — and Ghosts, incredibly complex little machines that act as a helper for their Guardian and bring him or her back from death.
The principle belief of Guardians is that they must work together to protect The City, where they and Lightless citizens make their home in the crippled Traveler’s limited protection. This is where I see proof of Berger’s concept. Bungie decided when they made this an online game that the most important thing would be cooperation, and I think that’s a strong statement given today’s common perception of what happens after the end. [BA1] Watching a show like The Walking Dead, it’s easy to believe that if civilization as we know it were to fall, we would all turn to killing each other. Instead, Destiny imagines that the strongest among us would emerge to protect the weak. Moreover, it places you in the shoes of the protector. It tasks you with driving back the Darkness, because Bungie believes that what’s most important in society is the human drive to support and protect each other. To get players to feel that drive, immersion was essential to Destiny’s development, and video games can accomplish that immersion in ways other forms of media simply can’t.
When you read a book, you know you’re not the hero in the story. You’re turning the pages for someone else to play out their own story. Of course, you relate to the character, and that is often unquestionable. The thing is, you can’t relate to the character in the book the same way you can relate to an avatar you made to look like yourself in a video game. Watching a movie creates an even more powerful divide, because you’re watching all these other people perform feats and have conversations, and you’re certain that none of them are you. By contrast, when you’re playing a video game, it can be easy to forget that the protagonist isn’t actually you. Not just because you can make your avatar look like you, but because you see through their own eyes, effectively making them your eyes. Playing a horror game, you might flinch or scream when you get scared, even though you know that you’re not actually in any physical danger. Playing RPGs (roleplaying games) driven by the player’s decisions, you will almost always play through making the decisions you feel you might make under those circumstances. It is because of this phenomenon that Destiny is able to not only suggest that the most important human quality is our ability to work together, but it can also reward and encourage that behavior.
I’ll speak from personal experience here. I’ve played Destiny alone and with my roommate. When I played alone, I thought it was the best game ever. I had fun, I loved it, but looking back I can see that was because I hadn’t become aware of my isolation. Now that I’ve played with someone else, I hate having to play alone. It is so much more rewarding to share the experiences of an MMORPG like Destiny with someone else. My roommate and I most enjoy playing in the Crucible, an arena that pits players against players. This is where cooperation is most rewarding for us. When we’re in the Crucible, we are an indomitable duo (not really, but it feels that way). If one of us sees a threat, she calls it out for the other. If one of us is in a losing fight, she falls back to the other so we can overcome it together. When we play games like Destiny, we fall into this cadence of teamwork that I don’t see replicated in any other aspect of our lives, and I know other gamers who have had the same sort of experience. Knowing what that feels like, I can’t imagine any other medium ever being able to compare to video games in the same way. Berger is absolutely right to say that content producers will bring the things they consider most important to the forefront of anything they make, and video games allow players to relate to those things on a deep, personal level. Being an online game, Destiny encourages its players to support and protect not only story aspects like the City and its citizens, but also the other, real, living people with whom you’re playing the game. In this way, Destiny is actually fostering camaraderie and empathy between players, encouraging relationships that can’t be found through other mediums.
This is an important move for post-apocalyptic media to be taking, and one that seems to only be possible in video games. So far, there’s been no post-apocalyptic show or movie where every person is instinctively and unwaveringly allied against whatever brought about the apocalypse. However, we do see this behavior in Destiny. If more video game developers take this initiative, we could start to build a notion in our society that would encourage solidarity in the face of an apocalypse, rather than encouraging a divide-and-conquer mentality.
Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. University of Minnesota
Press, 1999. Pp. XI-57.
Bungie. Destiny. Activision, 2014. PlayStation 4