Magically Scientific, Scientifically Magical: The Many Genres of Destiny

by Daniel Epperly

One of the most anticipated videogames to be released in several years was Destiny. Developed by Bungie, the studio that originally created the Halo franchise (though the Halo team split off several years ago and formed 343 Industries), and published by Activision, Destiny was awaited with eager, clamoring impatience by the world’s gaming community, but after its release the eagerness and excitement turned to frank disappointment, and even outrage. The perceived failings of Destiny have been discussed, theorized and argued about ever since, but even though it may be difficult to discuss the game at all without at least touching upon the game’s controversies, that is not the subject of this article. However diminished Destiny may be from Bungie’s original vision, a discussion of the game’s genre—or, more appropriately, the game’s genres—quickly shows that the game does go beyond conventional genre boundaries. It is an effective melding of several narrative or literary genres, as well as videogame genres.

Though the game is severely lacking in solid or engaging story and character development, even at a cursory glance Destiny is quite an experiment in world-building, regardless of the success of the experiment. At the most basic level, science fiction and fantasy are differentiated in that the former deals with the rational (what can be scientifically explained), while the latter deals with what is irrational, that which cannot be rationally or scientifically explained. In other words, it is the difference between science (even made-up science) and magic. At first glance, Destiny appears to be a straight science fiction: there are invading alien forces; there are robots of various sizes, shapes, and personalities; there are spaceships, which are used to travel to other planets in the solar system. However, when one takes a closer look at the details, especially those explained and expanded upon in the “Grimoire” (Grimoire “cards” are unlocked through various means and can be read on Bungie’s website or the Destiny Companion App for smartphones), the science of this science fiction goes very quickly from “hard” sci fi (the most realistic, so to speak) to “soft” sci fi. In soft sci fi, like what you might see in the fiction of the late Iain M. Banks, technology is so advanced that it appears to be utterly magical—unbound by the limits of reason. Destiny tips right over the edge of soft sci fi and dives into the deep and endless ocean of fantasy.

Destiny Guardians image

The acclaimed fantasy and science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Fantasy is the ancient kingdom of which science fiction is but a modern province.” Though it is not difficult to differentiate between the sci fi elements and those more fantastical within the milieu of Destiny, there is no friction between the two. It is as close to a perfect blending of two genres which are utterly interconnected and yet usually separated by a very distinct line. That line remains, but is crossed back and forth, over and over again, with graceful ease.


A Guardian of the Warlock class, launching a Nova Bomb at a group of Hive

For example, one of the alien species encountered in Destiny are called the Hive. Inspired by the classical ideas of the undead, the Hive are separated into different forms—from the swarming zombie-like Thralls, to hulking sword-wielding Knights, to floating magic-wielding Wizards—yet all the Hive appear ancient, mummified, complete glowing eyes of green or red. Their architecture is dark, subterranean, and replete with great gothic columns and heaps of human bones strewn about. Even the vessels that appear to deploy Hive troops to the battlefield are called “Tombships.” The Hive are the focus of “The Dark Below” expansion, and the Raid (a challenging mission requiring communication and coordinated teamwork between up to six players) pits the Guardians (the role assumed by players) against Crota, Son of Oryx.

The Grimoire Card image of Crota, Son of Oryx

He is, quite literally, a god among the Hive. He inhabits a nightmare world hidden deep within the crust of our moon, and appears like a towering, ghostlike Knight, glowing pale green and menacing in the dark. The point is that the Hive, more than any of the other enemy races in Destiny, could not fit in any science fiction. Their existence defies scientific reason; their technologies are nothing if not based on evil magic. They are demonic, undead gothic royalty, hell-bent on wiping out the last of humanity and conquering the worlds for their gods, and the Darkness, the antithetical force to the Light.

So far, this article has only dealt with the narrative or literary genres that Destiny belongs to. As a videogame, Destiny could best be categorized as a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter—or, an MMOFPS. Though there are some RPG (role-playing game elements) present in Destiny, the MMO factor is so seamlessly blended with the majorly FPS elements that even the language used within and about the game has changed since its release. Most notably, in most FPS games, like Bungie’s original Halo games (now 343 Industries’) and the Call of Duty franchise (some of which were produced by Activision), gamers used the terms “campaign” and “multiplayer” exclusively to refer to the single-player and (obviously) multiplayer portions of the game, respectively. In Destiny, because pretty much every part of the game can be played with other players—in fact, the game cannot be played at all offline, and there are activities like the Raids which are nigh impossible to do alone—like any MMO, the terms “PvE” and “PvP” have supplanted the traditional FPS terms. PvE stands for “player versus environment,” while PvP is “player versus player”; “environment” refers to AI controlled enemies (NPC enemies), while “player” needs no clarification. Even the name and nature of a Raid, a long, challenging mission requiring multiple human players, as well as some amount of tactical awareness, originates in the MMORPG world, one of the most famous of which is World of Warcraft. Though other MMOs have different names, the idea remains the same.

Destiny could best be categorized as a “science fantasy MMOFPS.” However, such a cold, rational, even scientific-sounding title does little to bring out the complexity of the web of genres that a work like Destiny represents. Despite its many failings, which as stated before have been discussed and debated to no end (and will most likely continue to be), the milieu of Destiny is nothing short of a work of art, albeit and incomplete one. One can only hope that with future expansions, perhaps the holes will be filled in, the failing structural supports repaired and strengthened, and the epic that Destiny that its creators intended it to be, and its players hoped it would be, may yet be realized.

  2 comments for “Magically Scientific, Scientifically Magical: The Many Genres of Destiny

  1. noend
    March 21, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    I love destiny lol. That out of the way i feel like you did a very good job taking such a large topic. There are many genres in destiny and many allusions to other genres; such as when on sparrow(vehicle) one can preform tricks, tricks that look really similar to the ones from atv racing games i played as a kid. You pointed out the fact that Destiny isn’t just sc-fi that its also magical, the hive might be the only enemies that readily cary magic but all of the enemies in the game have mythological names; such as minotaur, or goblin, vandals, knights. sounds a lot like a medieval game when you take it out of context.

  2. ztruex
    April 3, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Destiny is a great game in my opinion. I argue that alot of the lore is there, even ones that weren’t highlighted ever so briefly in the game yet other than armor pieces, its just all in the grimoire. Destiny rides that balance of so futuristic that its magic in a tech sense, but also have just purely magical elements. The hive and warlocks are perfect examples of this. I would also through in the darkness based on some lore stories I find on youtube. I do not consider at this time all the enemies we fight to be part darkness. The Hive and Vex I would argue to have atleast some kind of contact with it due to what we know and cand observe. Over all great game, and still has a great amount of potential for it’s story.

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