How Playing Destiny Helped Me Build Social Skills

Destiny is a futuristic first person shooter in its third year. It may have had a rough start and disappointing first year, but things are looking up with the addition of extra content in Year 2, Year 3 and promises from game developer Bungie for more.

So what is Destiny about anyway? I’m expecting the audience for this blog being a mix of gamer and non-gamer alike so I will stick with the non-Grimoire* version. What is that? As I expect people will scratch their heads at a number of terms used in this post I will be adding Destiny terminology at the end of it. For now here is the story so far:

In the future humans find a planetoid entity known as The Traveler, who then gives them knowledge which launches them into another Golden Age for technological advancement. But The Traveler has some enemies who have chased it across the galaxies all the way to Earth. The main enemy in this game is known as The Darkness*, made up of different alien races including The Fallen who invade Earth. The Traveler protects the Earth and is crippled in this process, but in its last act of defense it created the Ghosts who contain its Light* and they bring the dead back to life, and give them some of this Light which makes them powerful. They become The Guardians, and that is who you play as. There are three different classes with different abilities; Titan, Warlock and Hunter.

Before I played Destiny I was relatively new to what was known as next gen gaming platforms. I bought an Xbox One because I wanted to be able to play the next Mass Effect game, and I got Forza Horizon 2 free with it. Let’s go back a few years though. As a kid I hated playing against people. I always thought this was because I wasn’t interested in competitive play but I later found out while playing multiplayer in Forza Horizon 2 that I was actually socially anxious.

Social anxiety isn’t something new to me. When I was young I had a severe form of social anxiety called selective mutism, and I’m autistic so social awkwardness and phobias have always followed me around. When my then boyfriend’s brother wanted to play a few Mario games with me I lost badly to him and then on I thought well if I can’t win then why bother?

But after playing Forza Horizon 2 competitive play was something I longed for. When I first heard about Destiny it was advertised as a shared world; other players would literally be there as you played story missions. I felt this would be a good way to introduce me to an online world. In those early days I was still nervous to perform actions in front of people. There’s this part of the game where you have to scan a crashed ship and I waited until another player had done it to do it myself. I would then have people around me to help fight enemies in story missions until I got to The Darkness Zone which is a limited respawn level. Then, I started to miss having them around. Often when I was unaware about what to do I would watch other players and even sometimes I would watch them just to learn how they would strategize their own method of facing powerful enemy AI. I copied that and I learned it and it soon became natural part of my own strategy.

By around level 12 I found myself visiting Bungie’s online community seeking help to make me finish story missions. It was the Grimoire that made me find their site at all. The people in the community were willing to offer help to noobs like me and were patient when they joined me for a mission and helped out when they knew I was too underpowered. Destiny is the type of game where you have to level up your strength and that’s usually by collecting higher Light weapons and gear.

When playing with these people I would be very nervous to talk and I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice but overtime I began to relax and speak with more confidence. Then when I reached the endgame* I had to team up with people regularly. Now I was doing Nightfall Strikes, raids and harder story missions. I joined an Australian Destiny community and soon became friendly with all the regulars. To this day I still have over 100 people on my friendslist who I can invite to my Fireteam to help me with Nightfall strikes or a raid. Playing co-op in raids and Nightfall helped me learn about the different roles in a team and about how to listen, when to speak and to help others when they are literally (Guardian) down. It is valuable knowledge that I can take into the real world with me.

It’s not just playing Destiny helped me gain social skills and learn the importance of teamwork but I would find on days when I was so overcome with depression that I couldn’t move from my bed and my head was full of many unpleasant thoughts of self-doubt, self-hate and suicide all it took to make those feelings disappear was half an hour of playing Destiny. Perhaps it was because you can play with random people in match-made strikes and sometimes you would find a team that really worked well together, we were old friends. Or I might play co-op and just mess around with friends. And even on those days where just everything goes wrong and I’m extremely stressed and ready to blow – that’s when it’s a good time to run around The Plaguelands and practice shooting Fallen Dreg heads off and maybe pretend they were someone else.

Between year 1 and year 2 I would play Destiny for 9 hours a day. I’d start by collecting bounties* that went toward leveling up with a faction* that would give rewards like new weapons and armor, usually of higher Light. Then it was about completing Nightfall on all 3 classes and then getting raid specific weapons and armor by, yes, completing raids. Then I found my childhood friend was playing Destiny with her husband and I joined a clan that I could really communicate with and have an enjoyable time with.

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Warsat Warriors ready to raid…after we get the rest of the members to join our Fireteam.

Raiding was where my social skills were really put to the test. People had a problem with me being too quiet and not understanding directions, and I had problems with the self-made alpha of the group and just very cruel humor and people chit chatting so I couldn’t hear directions properly. But when I found a patient and understanding raid team we really clicked as a team. When somebody stumbled there would be a bit of giggling but we’d help each other out. Through raiding and the very intense and difficult Nightfall strikes I learned to listen to people and communicate more effectively, and even join in on the banter. And it was always so rewarding completing the raid. What did Bungie used to say about raiding? You’d go in as strangers, come out as brothers.

Unfortunately, after my friends quit Destiny for a while I gave up on raiding. It’s something I would like to try again, because 100%ing Destiny is like overcoming some of life’s hardest challenges for me, but for now it’s something that I avoid. Just trying to complete raids was really putting more stress on me and reminding me of how autistic I am. It put me into a low mood where I was constantly judging myself. On the bright side at least when I go back to raiding there will be something new for me to do in Destiny instead of waiting for Bungie to release more content.

When The Taken King expansion pack was released Bungie introduced a quest system that made all the repetitive play worth it. It’s these quests, especially the record books that keep me coming back to Destiny. At first I was a bit annoyed that in order to complete some quests I would have to spend a great deal in The Crucible, the PVP* multiplayer mode. But then my skills in The Crucible increased and I learned to adjust with the changing meta* by changing the types of weapons I used.

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I enjoy my time in Destiny’s in-game universe too. I love science fiction so when I first heard of this game I was all for it. It’s an online world and I really see that world as an alternate reality. My class is Titan and I take their role as protectors of humanity seriously. When I play or read up about Destiny I put myself into a state of mind where I see that The Fall really did happen and we are at war with four enemy alien races. I choose my factions just as seriously; when I found out New Monarchy attacked the City I changed to Dead Orbit. I like to experience every moment of Destiny as though it’s real. I run through The Tower* like it’s Hogwarts. I used to play the Harry Potter games where I’d just run around and explore the school. I can ride my sparrow* through Old Russia* or Venus or Mars just for the sake of it. I love my fellow Guardians. There’s a real camaraderie between clan mates and regular players I’ve co-op’d with who have become my friends. We can dance at each other for hours or communicate through gestures. They can make me laugh without saying a word. When I’m not playing Destiny I’m missing making those gestures in other games.

I find the Lore inspires my own need to write science fiction. The way Bungie takes ideas from mythology and turns them into canon in their own made up universe is something that I strive to emulate. People who aren’t bothered to look into the deep lore are missing out.

Destiny is more than just increasing my skills as a gamer and making friends in a gaming world, it’s about making friends in the real world, learning to understand human behaviour and that the good guys outweigh the bad. There are some in the autistic community who give up on making friends because of a few bad experiences. I’ve had some seriously bad experiences in Destiny but I’ve also had great moments to treasure forever. Knowing that is enough to make me want to keep playing Destiny with others, and not reject friendship in the real world too.

I’m taking a break for Destiny while I play other games. I’ll be back when another live update* happens or when I’m over the other games and make an attempt to finally get Thorn* or my exotic sparrow.* Or private SRL matches* or another attempt to raid. Or try my luck and finally get Icebreaker.*  There’s always plenty to do in Destiny and it’s the type of world that I will always be happy to return to. It’s inviting, fun, challenging and extremely rewarding.

I may not play Destiny forever. Indeed, it only has a 10-year lifespan. But I will always remember how much it has helped me.

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Destiny Year 3, Christmastime. I’ve played since Year 1 and I’ve got nothing but hope for what Year 4 will bring.

Destiny/ Videogame terminology

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online. A game-type where you can play and interact with other players online. Usually you complete quests or raids and can trade items between each other and join guilds or clans.
People would argue that because of Destiny’s lack of verbal communication with all players (you can only talk to your Fireteam) that it rules out Destiny being a complete MMO. Destiny is basically built like an MMO; you level up, upgrade gear and play the game past story completion. It’s played online and has content added to it. However, its lack of trading between players takes some of that MMO feeling away from it.

Grimoire pron: grim-wahcards you can unlock by completing various achievements or collecting dead Ghosts in Destiny. Each card has a piece of Destiny Lore which gives vital insights to the story. Among the most committed players it’s imperative to read your Grimoire cards. The Grimoire is only accessible through Bungie.net or the Destiny app.

The Darkness – Through reading The Book of Sorrows Grimoire you will find out that The Darkness isn’t a being but rather a philosophy that encourages gaining power through destruction and killing. Kind of like capitalism.

Light – Is it magic? It’s a type of supernatural power the Traveler, The Ghosts and Guardians have to wield special abilities. As some types of light are Solar, Arc and Void you may have to look into Hinduism to find your answers. It’s a bit like The Force in Star Wars which is taken from Jungian theory of a life-force.

End Game – In MMOs the End Game are challenges to complete for upgraded weapons and armor or even added on story missions after you complete the main campaign (story missions with the original game).

Bounties – Quests you can complete to level up with your Faction. You collect these bounties from a Frame (AI with limited helping abilities) on Tower grounds.

Factions – The Factions are groups who have differing views of where humanity should go next. They used to be at war with each other but now Guardians can claim allegiance to them by fighting in their name and collecting rewards as they level up.

PVP – Player vs player. Competitive multiplayer.

Meta – Originally meta refers to a type of strategy that transcends the basic rules and uses external factors to affect the outcome of the game. In Destiny weapons are balanced regularly and as a result some weapons become more powerful than others in PVP, i.e “Matador 64 is so OP now.” Following the meta means you’re guaranteed to own modes like The Crucible, but it means to regularly change around your preference of weapon, or weapon loadout.

The Tower – The last safe haven on Earth. The rest of the world has either been destroyed or occupied by The Fallen and Hive.

Sparrow – A guardians only means of terrestrial transport. Literally The Speeder Bike from Star Wars.

Live Update – Free content added to the game that is smaller than DLC (downloaded content). Because of micro transactions (real money purchases made in-game) Bungie can add this free content. Live Updates do come with new quest steps and sometimes new weapons and armor. Most importantly, they come with new emotes; gestures and dancing.

Thorn –  an exotic (super powered) handgun. Can only be obtained through quests. It’s a favourite amongst  Guardians. It’s also hated by many for its poison perk (ability) which made it a killing machine in The Crucible.

Ice-breaker – the God of all sniper rifles. An exotic that used to have self-replenishing ammo every 6 seconds. Currently only able to be obtained through Nightfall strikes.

Exotic Sparrow – A quest only once obtainable through buying Redbull is the U.S. Now it’s added to a forever growing questline. The sparrow is supposed to be one of the best, particularly in SRL.

Old Russia – Currently the only place on Earth Guardians can go beside the Dead European Zone, that is under enemy control. Hundreds of years ago humans tried to flee The Fallen invasion and the results of that encounter can still be seen in burnt out rusted cars piled before The Wall and human skeletal remains.

SRL – Sparrow Racing League. A PVP sparrow race that is super fun and just offers something different than the usually shooting modes in Destiny.

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Why Adults Play Videogames

It’s not very common to come across people who don’t understand why adults play videogames but just in case there are I compiled a list of reasons why adults do and why it’s a good thing.

NOSTALGIA

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons adults game at all is that they grew up playing videogames. I’m certainly still very nostalgic about Sonic the Hedgehog, even if he has changed a lot since the days I used to play those games. I know quite a lot of people who are nostalgic about Super Mario and you can’t say a negative word about those games to them. Gamers are very protective over their favourite IPs, so when someone like Anita Sarkeesian comes around and says their favourite childhood game is sexist they’re not just going to take it. Nostalgia is longing for the days of old and when you can relive that experience it’s like trying to savor a really amazing meal. You don’t want it to end. You’re very passionate about that topic, and any criticism to it is taken as a personal insult.

Games Are More Mature

Gamers have grown up playing video games, even today’s videogame developers played games in childhood and still do, and for the last 10-15 years games have been directed at a mature audience, as in content and storytelling that can rival some of the best Hollywood screenplays. Gaming is not just for kids and teens anymore but is for everyone because the themes in these games are so varied that’s there is something for everyone. Developers even include social commentary and adding LGBTI characters. The characters have layers; they’re like real people and have their own personality, needs and flaws.

FOR COMMUNITY

Like all hobbies we have there is a community for gamers. It can just be a place to find like minds and talk about your favourite games, but when each individual game franchise builds its own community it’s where the bond gets strong. The Destiny community is my family. Like your average family we sometimes fight and I go lengths of time avoiding them, but we also have our good times and help each other out. The Destiny community I’m a part of on Facebook is very supportive, open to differences and the more experienced players are willing to give out a helping hand to those who are still behind.
Sure, there is toxicity in many videogame communities but that’s why I stay with Destiny; you only get to talk to other people in your Fireteam. There still a lot of abuse being sent through messages, but that happens any time you get online. It’s not a good thing but it exists and no one is quite sure about how to stamp it out.
Game developers and the media are also quite open and available to players. They listen to their concerns and do modify their games to suit the needs of the majority of players, so in a way adult gamers can shape the outcome of the very videogames they play. I’ve seen this happen in Destiny and developers have had attempts at changing Call of Duty and have even taken a break from releasing Assassin’s Creed annually.
Gamers have little tolerance of something called Pay to Win, which is where a game will have the option of small purchases (microtransactions) to buy gear or packages that would help someone level up quickly or be more powerful. In PVP (multiplayer) they would be an unstoppable force to players who level up through skill. Developers like to stress that their microtransactions are cosmetic, meaning it won’t put a player at an advantage over other players in PVP.
Children couldn’t influence the development of games in this way because they wouldn’t even think to question it. Adult gamers understand a lot more about how games are developed, what they are capable of, what’s fair and what’s not and they demand a certain level of quality. Perhaps, a bit too much – it’s why I like to experience a game like a child. It’s about the overall experience and having fun rather than nitpicking every little thing. But I’m still an adult so can feel something much deeper from playing a videogame than a child.

TO DE-STRESS

Let’s face it, life is stressful. You’re denying a very important truth to ignore that fact. There really isn’t anything like having a shit day and going home and busting an alien’s head open with a shotgun at close range. You can say that’s encouraging violent behaviour but it’s better that someone does it in a videogame world than in the real world. I’ve played videogames to help me get through periods of depression and anxiety. When the former was so serious I couldn’t do much more than dwell on my troubling thoughts in bed, it was dragging myself to the front of a TV screen and putting on my favourite game that made those thoughts completely disappear. When I’ve had breakdowns I’ve had videogames to get me through it.
As someone with autism, playing Destiny helped me build more social skills and work better with a team and that’s probably the biggest breakthrough I’ve had when it comes to gaining social skills. Videogames have been more therapeutic to me than any psychologist. Also, when I first started to see my nephews a lot I didn’t know what to say to them until I started playing the games they played. I would always be willing to listen to them when they talked about a videogame like Mario, Minecraft or Skylanders but when I started to play those games it really helped me bond with my eldest nephew, Owen.

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Gamers: future and present.

BUILDING CAREERS

I hope that one day Owen can make something productive out of his love of gaming. He loves math so I think he’s most likely to become a programmer. But for those who don’t think that’s a suitable career path there are many others areas to pursue than programming. You can be a concept artist or storywriter, a game tester, or audio engineer. Then you have to whole social networking side of it; journalism and even live streaming. If you’re really good at games you get into E-Sports and win some competitions and lots of money. There’s far more to gaming than just having fun these days. Children who grow up playing games can one day work in the very industry that makes the games they loved so much, or they can give back by contributing to the gaming press.

IT’S OK TO BE A KID

There’s nothing wrong with being child-like. An adult who doesn’t have an inner child is going to take life too seriously and not know how to relax. Childhood was a time of innocence and freedom. Everyday you got up with maximum energy and just wanted to play and pursue your hobbies. It was ok to be massively obsessed with something. As an adult that’s kind of frowned down on; they either call you a geek or a nerd.
In my childhood I was into film and I watched a lot of children’s films which today as a writer is why I like writing stories about children. Not so much about innocence – my young protagonists is always aware of what is going on – but more about freedom. As adults we have a lot of responsibilities and sometimes it’s just good for us to unwind and act childish.  Playing games with our friends is just another way to unwind and have fun. For many of us we don’t even think about it, it’s just what we do.

We Know Kids Aren’t Slaves to the Screen

My nephew Owen is a future hardcore gamer. I both long and worry for the day he joins the adult game community. We can either be cold hearted bastards or the most supportive and fun people to be around. So, when one of his uncles treats his love of gaming like an addiction so much he discourages it in his own children, I was hurt. He’s a gamer and you can’t take that away from him. He watches a junior version of Good Game, which is where I get the bulk of my gaming news in Australia. I treat the hosts like old friends and I usually trust their judgement to help me decide what games to buy.
Owen’s mum has put limits on his gaming and I support that. It’s her choice. He can only play on weekends and holidays and isn’t allowed to play first person shooters yet, and definitely no mature games. There will be a day where he joins us and I can’t wait. As an auntie, I’m going to have to protect him from all the bad stuff in the community and discourage him from turning into one of the most toxic people in our community.

Kids play on consoles or iPads or phones because it’s fun. It’s no different than me, my brother and sisters hooking up a SEGA and spending hours in front of it when we were little. It’s up to parents to decide how much time they should get. Kids like Owen have so much energy that once they put a game down they run around like a headless chicken. Not all children who play on screen will become gamers, but many will. Taking that away from them is taking away a piece of themselves.

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Introducing Cooper and Owen to Sonic CD.

It’s a Different Kind of Imagination

Some people with autism (like me) struggled to have an average childhood imagination. I know I was a very literal imaginator. Playing doctor or house to me, was, well it was just stupid. I’ve always been highly visual and would need props to play if I would play at all. Sometimes I’d offer myself as a prop to other children. But imaginative play without the use of props or toys just looked pretty weird to me. So, when I hear people talk about ‘what happened to imagination?’ I’m led back to those days long before the first mobile phone was ever released, when I barely had an imagination.
In a typical developing child there will always be imagination even when they have a lot of screen time and the graphics in video games become lifelike. It just produces a different kind of imagination. It creates story tellers and creative artists from children wanting to create their own mythological beings or aliens after playing or fighting one in a game. It turns pretending you’re in a Western with friends into Halo Wars or acting out scenes with Skylander figures. In fact, Activision like to share photos of children using Skylanders in every day life, from using them as chess pieces to create stories with them through imaginative play.
Since the introduction of social media people have gone more toward visual communication over verbal and you can’t escape pop culture references in everyday conversations. A child’s imagination is going to follow this path. Gone are the days of pretending couch cushions covered in a blanket is a terrible swamp creature, instead, children can design the terrible swamp creature and parents can send the drawing to someone online who can turn that into a plush toy. Technology has advanced so much that the way we imagine things is likely to change too. We’re no longer painting on caves anymore, we’re creating breathtaking art using a pen with no ink and an iPad. Of course, if you wanted to paint on a cave you could still do that. If you wanted your children to imagine something from scratch you can encourage that too. The majority of children just won’t though, and that’s perfectly fine.

In summary, next time you hear about adult gamers know that they are part of a wider community, many of whom might not have any community if they didn’t play videogames, and that it’s not just a simple hobby, but a way of life. And like it or not children are going to come into this world and parents should not discourage this. It’s a loving place of enthusiastic people who want to have fun gaming and talk to people just like them. Gaming has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. It’s no longer just a for kids, or for adults. It’s for everyone.

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I think BT agrees with me.