This story originally ran on May 22, 2017. With the tragic news coming out of Las Vegas this morning, it felt appropriate to revisit this topic. Let us know about the games you play for self care over in the forums.
Sitting in the tiny bedroom I was renting in the summer of 2014, I started up the Destiny PS3 beta with a mix of curiosity and trepidation.
Though I'd spent hundreds of hours playing the Halo games—especially Halo 3—with my friends, I'd never been a diehard Bungie fan: Master Chief and Cortana's story never really resonated with me, however much I respected the talent used in telling it. At the same time, Bungie's more experimental ODST and Reach had me eager to see them tell new stories with new characters, new abilities, and new worlds.
So when I played that beta, my expectations were pretty confused. Was I looking for Bungie to create a narrative universe or spectacular campaign that would finally pull me in like Halo's (or Marathon's or Myth's) had done for others? Or was I just looking for something technically joyous to play? There was a taste of the former—I was always a fan of the moon wizards, to be honest—but a buffet of the latter. Even thinking of the moving and shooting in Destiny makes me wish I could boot it up and run a quick patrol.
I left that beta hopeful, but when reviewers I knew and trusted told me that there wasn't enough to the game at launch, I decided to hold off. But at the same time, I stayed tuned in, following the rolling conversation about the game, watching as thing steadily improved through the early DLC releases. Eventually, when I bought a PS4 (so I could review Battlefied Hardline, yes, seriously), I decided to hop on board. And even though it wasn't an exceptionally exciting campaign, nor a moving story, nor a particularly challenging tactical combat experience, I really loved Destiny.
To use the term I stumbled into on Friday's episode of Waypoint Radio, Destiny became a sort of "maintenance game" for me. But what do I mean by that? Well, it wasn't immersion, really… I wasn't "disappearing" into Destiny, the way I did when Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas drew me into their worlds. It wasn't "junk food gaming," a phrase I tend to reserve for games that are empty time killers or else are pleasurable for their cheesiness or baseness. It was more positive than that, a sort of quiet self-care enabled by the clean repetition of enjoyable motions. When I finished playing Destiny on any given day (or late night), I left it feeling better.
Listen our Waypoint Radio episode about Destiny 2 right here:
This reparative quality ended up being the thing that stuck with me most about Destiny. When I start thinking about the game, I don't immediately remember the raids, as intense as they were; nor do I think first about the vistas, even though I'd gladly say that the broken city on Venus or the sinking skyscrapers of Mars are some of my favorite game spaces of the last few years. Instead, I remember the feeling playing half-aware while listening to a podcast or chatting with a friend or family member.
One of Destiny's defining features was the repetition of objectives: combing the environment for upgrade materials, completing the same "patrols" over and over, repeating "strike" missions. This repetition meant that Destiny would never take my whole attention, but it (and the fluid feeling of running, jumping, sliding, and shooting) also allowed me to enter this "maintenance" mode. It might sound cold and mechanical, but playing Destiny felt a little like an oil change for my brain.
I don't know whether Destiny 2, with its supposed focus on characters and story, will give me this again. But I'm hoping it will, because given the way the world has been, I could use a little maintenance right now.
My gut says that I'm not alone in this—or maybe even that for a lot of folks, this is how games in general work for them. How about you? What are your "self-care" or "maintenance" games? Let us know over in the forums!