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.
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.
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.
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.