I had a baby nine months ago. As you might expect, this has significantly changed my relationship with video games, at least temporarily. It has made the Nintendo Switch my favorite console of all time, because I can play it both on the big screen on the occasional evening and in my hands during naptime/train journeys/stolen moments hiding in the bathroom whilst my partner deals with the baby. It has also drastically reduced the time available to me to play games — which, given that it is literally my job to know about games, is a smidge inconvenient.
Most of all it has erased my ability to join in with things like Destiny 2 — time-limited, communal gaming experiences that rely on having several hours of uninterrupted game time at specific moments of the day. The whole world seems to be experiencing the first weeks of this game together, and it’s all passing me by. My friends and colleagues are all miles ahead of me in Destiny 2, prepping for raids and optimizing their gear whilst my very, very tired partner and I work our way through the story together. An old, dear pal gently declined my request to join his clan because I won’t be playing it seriously enough, which although true is a pretty damning summary of my situation. I’m dead weight now. I’ll never catch up.
Before starting Destiny 2 last week, I had a read through Kirk Hamilton’s long and very useful Destiny 2 tips guide, and when I reached the sentence “After a couple of days, you’ll probably only be equipping legendary and exotic gear”, I made a noise that was kind of a combination of a bark of laughter and a despondent sigh. A couple of days? I’ve still got some green gear equipped, FFS. I nipped into the Crucible for the first time over the weekend and got totally monstered by a bunch of people with a power level of 250+. “The game’s only been out for a week!” I found myself yelling. “Don’t you people have jobs?” (The irony, of course, is that the Crucible negates level advantages, so it should theoretically be one mode where not being able to play much shouldn’t make a huge difference. Unfortunately, I’m not very good.)
Speaking of the story, I have no idea what’s going on. I played quite a lot of Destiny, mostly because I have an older stepson who is obsessed with it and it was pretty much the only thing I could ever persuade him to play together, but the story and characters always sailed over me. I do know that there are aliens and that they have come to Earth and fucked with the Traveller but, beyond that, I’m just pointing my gun where I’m told to point it and having a good time.
After the second in-game cutscene, my partner turned to me and asked who all of the characters were. I realized that I mostly didn’t know, and then spent 20 minutes Googling all of it, which then meant we had to bail in the middle of the next mission because naptime was over. We now skip the cutscenes, because our playtime is so limited that we don’t have time to watch 5 minutes of earnest sci-fi proclamations that we don’t understand properly anyway. I love that the characters on the Farm have lots to say for themselves, but usually we have to cut them off and run to the next mission before the baby wakes up. I am more tired mercenary than heroic Guardian right now: where do you need me to go, what am I supposed to be doing, and how quickly can I get it done?
This is all especially annoying because Destiny 2 is properly good now, and I really wish I could be experiencing it with everyone else, rather than weeks late. (By contrast, I spent about 30 hours on Destiny in the first week and didn’t even particularly enjoy it, mostly because Destiny just wasn’t good until the Taken King. It’s true. Don’t fight it.) There are some things I know that I’ll never experience: I doubt I’ll ever make it through a raid, given the time and concentration required. Even if I did make it through a raid, somehow, there is no chance that I’d be able to find or appreciate all its many secrets. People have called Destiny 2’s first raid the coolest thing that Bungie has made so far, and I’m never going to be able to play it.
My issue isn’t the time it takes to level up in Destiny 2, or to complete the campaign. I’ll get there, eventually, and I’m sure I’ll have fun along the way. But by then most of my friends will have moved on to something else — you get the Destiny megafans, but most people will play this for a month or two then get bored, maybe popping back for the DLC. The whole point of Destiny is as a shared social experience. So it’s not just that Destiny requires this giant chunk of time upfront to get anywhere near the ‘real’ game, but that it requires it in a squeezed timeframe.
This runs through the whole structure. The requirement that a Raid must be completed before each Tuesday’s reset seems lavishly generous to the maniacs, but might as well be a sign saying ‘don’t bother’ for parents. Xur’s weekly merry-go-round of treats is for people who can take the time to check him every week. I’m told that there’s a cavalcade of daily, weekly, location-based and other challenges unlocked at level 20 and it feels like I’m being showered with ice creams at the North Pole. Destiny doesn’t just want your time, it wants it now, and it wants it at regular intervals throughout the week. Who is doing the playing here?
Of course, none of us can play everything. We all have to pick and choose, especially between games that demand a huge chunk of time. I’ve managed to spend close to 100 hours each on BotW, Persona 5 and Stardew Valley this year, so I’m obviously not starved for brilliant video games. But they’re singleplayer games I can play in little chunks. Destiny 2 represents another way of playing games that totally shuts out a large percentage of the population — people with families, demanding jobs or other life stuff that they can’t ignore. More and more of the games industry is functioning like this, driven by the success of MOBAs, lessons learned from the age of MMOs, and games like Destiny that successfully combine the setpiece shooting that was once confined to single-player FPSs with the Skinner-box addictiveness of the loot cycle and a steady drip of new content. You have to give so much of your life to games like this. They are not there to fill odd moments, but EVERY moment.
Games like Destiny give you more back the more you put in. The in-jokes, the lore, the exotic gear and indeed everything beyond the moment-to-moment shooting only mean anything to people who’ve put a lot of hours in. I think that excludes me, now. This is hardly the world’s greatest tragedy; there are still hundreds of games a year that suit the way I can play. But I’m going to have to adjust to the fact that Destiny 2 is not one of them.