All screenshots from the 'Destiny' website
Originating from the Tibetan word that literally translates as "Eastern people," the Western conception of the term "Sherpa" is that of a mountain guide, someone who applies his or her acute knowledge of a vast and hazardous environment to escort any wide-eyed adventurers seeking to explore the terrain.
This expression has also been incorporated into the language of video game culture, a language that has previously given us gems like "Pubstomper" and "Grognard" (seriously, look them up). In particular, the Destiny community has adopted the word as a way of identifying high-level players who are willing to assist fledgling Guardians through raids, strikes, and missions throughout the galaxy. A good Sherpa doesn't "boost" players, but instead acts as a more effective and personable form of the in-game Ghost character, gently guiding the player via friendly conversation and only offering direct combat support when necessary.
There is even a reddit page, r/DestinySherpa, devoted to connecting Sherpas with potential protégés. This kind of a service is somewhat an act of charity and selflessness on the part of the Sherpa, and thus begs the question as to what exactly is in it for them. Are these people bored by the lack of high-level content for Destiny veterans and just looking for any excuse to play? Or are they a small reflection of a community that has thrived and flourished out of the continuing popularity of Bungie's epic shooter?
As a relatively new Destiny player myself, I have frequently been on the receiving end of a Sherpa's gracious assistance. As such, I decided to conduct some field research and directly ask these players just what it was that motivated them to provide aid to people they had never met in real life, and probably never will.
It's easy to assume that the role of the Sherpa is typically filled by massively experienced players with nothing else to do. But while it is undoubtedly true that the lack of end-game content has been depressingly bleak since The Taken King, Destiny fans still love to play the game, and Sherpas are doing more than just killing time.
A player known as ShipIT9, who frequently offers aid as a Sherpa, admits to me, "Some do it because there's no content." He says the real takeaway for his is "the satisfaction one receives from hearing people complete something they though they'd never complete." He adds, "The more people there are who love something as much as you do only makes for a more prosperous game and community, moving forward."
Being a Sherpa is an opportunity to nostalgically reacquaint yourself with missions and raids you might not have played for a while, with the added joy that can be found in conversing with new players and witnessing their reactions to everything that unfolds before them for the first time. It's the same reason I enjoy introducing people to a viewing of The Raid, even though I must have now seen that movie about a hundred times already. The expressions that crawl across my friends' faces as the unadulterated carnage unfolds before them makes the experience worth it every time.
For other Sherpas, such as player PS_Petrucci, the joy of teaching and upholding the mechanics to beating a raid in "the right way" is what inspires them to lead. According to PS_Petrucci, encouraging players to appreciate the developer's craft by educating them in the true ways of authentic raiding "has been the best part of Destiny for the last few months."
It's important to remember that Sherpas were once the same unprepared low-level Guardians that they now help out, which factors into their motivations. "I remember when I first started out, I had Sherpas helping me all the time," says Squirrt, a regular in my fireteam. "I don't think I would have got into Destiny without them getting me through those harder challenges. What I do now is my way of giving back to that community." The Destiny economy is full of various trinkets and coinages, but it's apparent that one of the unspoken currencies is a pay-it-forward system that acts as a welfare net for the uninitiated.
It's also worth saying that Destiny has one of the most successful modern gaming communities, in terms of pure activism and sociability. Bungie's vision of a shared-world shooter has been a way for complete strangers to become good friends, to join loyal fireteams and bond with spirited competitors. Millions are sharing a zealous passion for a game built specifically to be enjoyed with others.
Sherpas are just one of many positive symptoms of the healthiness of the Destiny community, made up of players who find genuine joy and value in helping one another out. ShipIT9's final remark to me sums this up best: "Destiny came to me in probably the hardest point in my life, and if it wasn't for the friends I've made and times we've shared together, I don't know where I'd be today. I feel indebted to the community because it's done so much for me."
At a time when many other video game communities can often be overflowing with vitriol and abuse—though I'm certainly not saying that the Destiny player base is completely free of such negativity—it's refreshing to jump into a world with an established network of gamers who are more than willing to lend anyone a hand. Whether you loved or hated the game when it first came out, you cannot deny that Bungie has created something special with the Destiny community.
Follow Alex Avard on Twitter.