Alex: I’ve played multiplayer Destiny every night this week and have died so many times it’s starting to blur into a hazy fog of death. The other night, I had a dream I was being shot over and over while running around a platform on Venus. More uncomfortably, when I woke up, my first thought was, “Yeah, that seems about right.”
But strangest of all is how not strange it’s all starting to seem. When I sit down to play, now, my first thought is no longer, “Oh, man, this is going to be painful.” It’s usually more along the lines of, “Maybe, if I manage to kill someone in the Crucible, I can reward myself by playing a mission level in the story.” Having anxiety about doing anything at all has transitioned into having anxiety about playing against other real-life humans. The game itself is no longer a threatening specter in my psyche, replaced by the prospect of having to play people who actually know what they’re doing. Progress?
During my third week of training, my main focus was on trying not to panic in stressful situations, and it’s tough to say how I performed in this task. After all, I don’t exactly have the game equivalent of a Scientology E-meter hooked up to my body, trying to guess at my stress levels. Mostly, I try to practice this by making sure I orient myself when I run away so I’m not just leaping blindly into the sides of walls, hoping I’ll somehow phase-shift through them. Also, I concentrate on switching to the sniper rifle in long-range situations and not leaping into the middle of melees with multiple enemies, like some sort of Hunter version of Daredevil.
Here’s another thing I’ve taken to heart, perhaps a little too well: keeping my eye on the radar. For those of you who haven’t played it, Destiny doesn’t let you pause during a game. If you want to take a moment to pull up your inventory, or switch guns, or upgrade some armor, or go to the bathroom, you’d better hope there’s nothing around you getting ready to attack because it will happen while you’re looking at another screen entirely. It’s a real-time open-world game (of sorts), and once you’re there, you’re there. Normally, this isn’t a problem. I just wait until I’m between missions to upgrade or organize my stuff. But what it means is that I have an absolute paranoia about switching weapons when aliens are nearby. Remember when Ryan mentioned how silly it was that I didn’t switch to a shotgun when I was up against one enemy and run in to take care of it up close? Turns out that’s because I’m scared the moment I swap to my weapons screen, something with four arms and two guns is going to murder me. (Don’t even get me started on swapping weapons in multiplayer.)
When Ryan arrives, we first turn our attention to a level-11 mission on Venus that’s been giving me trouble. See, there are these guys who have invisible force fields, which make them immune to my radar. You normally don’t see them until either a) they’re shooting at you or b) you happen to look right where they’re standing and notice the Predator-like rippling in the air. These sneaky bastards have managed to throw a wrench in my whole “practice not getting anxious and panicking” strategy, because there’s nothing more stressful than something that wasn’t on your radar suddenly killing you from behind.
“Let me show you something,” Ryan offers, taking the controls. He pulls up the Sparrow (our land-based vehicle—it’s like a speeder bike from Return Of The Jedi) and does a technique I hadn’t thought of: He just zooms right by the little nest of invisible goons. True, he ends up in a final firefight much more difficult than my six-alien grudge-match scenario, but still, I feel a bit like every guy who took out a rapier and tried to fight the massive master swordsman in Raiders Of The Lost Ark before Indiana Jones just pulled out a gun and shot him.
Soon, we turn to the multiplayer portion of our tutoring session, and I begin the exciting process of getting snuffed out repeatedly, much as my entire week has gone. After several games in which I manage, happily enough, to kill one (or even two!) people, Ryan offers some criticism. For one, I’m still only using the scout rifle—but I’m not really putting myself in positions where a medium- or long-range weapon like that is effective. For example, it’s not the gun I should be using when running through a doorway. If I see on the map that there’s a guy nearby, I should run through it with a shotgun! What this means is that for every halfway decent kill I make, payback is visited upon me fivefold. Especially by some jerk named Ziggy II.
Ryan: Alex has found his first real Destiny rival.
During the early moments of a Crucible match on the Sands Of Time map, he shoots down someone named Ziggy II via a few well-placed shots from his scout rifle. But that’s only the beginning. Like star-crossed haters, they keep serendipitously running into each other throughout the match, and that favors Ziggy II, who gets his revenge times three. It’s the fourth encounter between the two where this newfound relationship gets ugly. Ziggy II finds Alex near the cave-like entrance to one of the map’s control points and outguns him again, then dances in celebration near Alex’s lifeless corpse.
“You asshole, Ziggy II!” Alex growls with indignation.
Thank god for Gamertags. If not for people’s silly Xbox Live nicknames (my personal favorite of 2015 so far is “Twerking4Jesus”), distinguishing individuals on the battlefield would be nearly impossible. That’s especially true in Destiny, a game in which everyone is represented by similar-looking people/robots/alien avatars that share questionable tastes in ornate space armor.
When we can see that we’re exchanging gunfire with “OMGMYSPLEEN” or “MasterQueef” (real Xbox Live names, by the way), it’s possible to form a rivalry with them—or at least a very crude version of one. This is not the Cold War or a Duke versus North Carolina basketball game, but it’s still easy to develop enmity or jealousy toward that one opponent who keeps finding a way to gun you down or “tea bags” your corpse. These rivalries can prove extra frustrating if you’re always at the wrong end of a gun, but they can also be used as a motivational tool and as a metric to measure your success. Plus, it’s way more satisfying to beat the devil you know, not “that guy from the blue team.”
Though it’s been 15 years, I still remember my own heated back-and-forth with someone named ChickenGod in Unreal Tournament. This was before the days of voice-chat and the tea bag, when most interactions began and ended with typing “GG” into chat at the end of games, but we always managed to find one another in matches and exchange passionate love letters in the form of bullets aimed at each other’s heads. I hate you, ChickenGod. I miss you, ChickenGod.
Alex: I still have to fight my tendency to get flustered. For example, in our final game, Ryan points out that I started off quite strong, and then somewhere around the halfway point, I started making inexplicable choices. There’s an actual moment where I just stare at a wall for a little while, as though I was frozen in carbonite.
I think I know what the problem is. I worked so hard to get better at paying attention to my radar that it’s started to get in the way of sensible reflexes. In short, I became more concerned about where I was than what I was doing. It makes for an avatar that often seems to be pausing to admire the scenery because the guy controlling her is so paranoid about looking at his radar. It’s keeping me from looking down sights because I’m so worried about missing the slightest movement. It doesn’t help that whenever I do look down my gun’s sights to try and target someone, I almost immediately get blown away. So my kills tend to be more of the successful-distance-targeting variety.
Ryan: It’s impossible to quantify how much his battles against Ziggy II or any other rival raise Alex’s game. He is more demonstratively competitive than I expected, so I suspect it’s a factor. He certainly stepped up his performance on his next Crucible match. Within the first couple of minutes, he scores a circus-style kill by tossing a knife into an opponent’s chest and racks up three kills while wandering around control point A.
By the match’s end, he manages four kills, two assists, and 10 deaths, for a .44 kill-to-death ratio. These are far from professional-level numbers, but they’re a breakthrough for Alex, who I thought might wilt on Mercury’s scorching hot multiplayer map. I’m happy for him, but I’m also slightly disappointed. He followed up that early string of kills with some poor decision-making (never cede the high ground in the Mercury map unless there is a compelling reason to do so), and he began flailing with the controls as he became flustered. If he’s ever going to best Ziggy II again, he’ll have to find more consistency and stay calm.
I take some of the blame for his late-game struggles. I said before that I thought Alex might flourish under a minimum of in-game coaching, but I threw that out the window and kept offering advice and directions this week. There were times when that seemed to help, but other times, it added to the chaos and confusion of multiplayer battles. Maybe I need a Shooter Tutor Tutor?
I’ll try to find a happy medium next week.
Alex: I only get one more tutoring session after this, so I’m determined to work extra-hard this week and play a shitload of multiplayer. I’m still far too much of a novice to get good, but I’m going to do my damnedest to not be an anchor around my teammates’ necks. Or at least not have my kill-to-death ratio be 1-to-15.