The Esoteric Practices of Destiny’s Dads

When I first started playing Destiny (a first person console shooter with MMO elements made by Bungie) on September 29 of 2014, I enjoyed venturing out into the game world by myself. I remember facing a tank called the Devil Walker out on patrol where I died 53 times before it finally went under and being in awe as I explored these beautiful futuristic worlds, but after a few weeks I knew that if I wanted to keep advancing in the game, I needed help. Because I was late to play and pickup Destiny, one of my friends had promised to help me do some of the end game content like a raid, once I was properly leveled up. At the time, he was the only person I knew that played the game.

Screenshot footage of the Devil Walker in Destiny.
Screenshot footage of the Devil Walker in Destiny

Before Destiny’s first expansion, the Dark Below, came out on December 9 of 2014, I had participated in four raids, and the majority of them were not “friendly experiences”. I remember the groans and some quibbling over not doing certain things in the right way that would cause us to quickly have to start over. I also remember that, since I was new, I was keeping everyone back. Destiny does not provide any matchmaking services for the raid, so people have to use LFG sites to find other random people to play with.  I realized that not having an understanding of the mechanics for the raid really hampered my ability to contribute.  I had to learn what everyone else already knew. To be on a level playing field with everyone else I wanted to experience the new raid in the Dark Below as quickly as possible. This was my first foray into participating in any form of MMO title, so I wanted to do my best to not only experience a raid, but to do so early on in the release of a new expansion, where everyone was still learning what to do. With this goal in mind I invested a lot of time in the days just after the Dark Below was released to get my level up to a point where I could participate in the raid. On December 19th at about 2:20am I was so happy because I had finally gotten to a point where I was going to contact my friend that same day and say “Hey, I’m ready to take on this new raid, let’s go for it!” Just over three hours later at 5:30am, my wife pushes my shoulder and says “Honey, I think my water just broke”, and with that my journey of being a dad and balancing it with my family, work, and video games started.

Word cloud of 3 hours of postings done on an LFG site for the game Destiny looking for players in 2015, removing words "looking" and "need."
Word cloud of 3 hours of postings done on an LFG site for the game Destiny looking for players in 2015, removing words “looking” and “need.”

Reading around and performing one or two of the previous raids made me realize one thing, it takes a lot of time and coordination to get six people to work together. My first few experiences did not result in completing the raid, which left me feeling like time was wasted. The word cloud above was done by analyzing an LFG site for three hours one day in June of 2015.  I remember in the LFG site it would be common as the word cloud seems to indicate that people who needed to play with random people would place messages either promoting themselves as being at the max level or wanting someone “experienced”, and would even mention having or requiring others to have specific weapons, like the “rally”, a reference to a once popular and highly sought after gun in the game called the Gjallahorn. These all point to the seriousness that people want when working with random people in end game content like raids.  It also makes sense why people decide to join raid groups or clans as Destiny calls them: they want people who are not only trustworthy to show up, but are going to help them actually get the loot at the end of the raid and not run the risk of playing with random people like me. It seems that being able to participate in MMOs is a very discriminate process.  To reach the end-game content, you almost have to join a group and invest heavy amounts of time in that group so that you can efficiently get the desired loot. However, now as a dad, my time was filled with helping raise and nurture a baby. Besides, I’m not a gamer that has a lot of time, and to be completely honest, I’m not very good, and with few friends playing the game, playing with random people was going to mean that I had to invest a lot of extra time inefficiently. So herein lies the conundrum for me. I don’t have much time, so I needed the support of a clan to help me get the end-game content I desired, but at the same time I didn’t have the time necessary to become a true member and embrace a clan’s norms, rules and work ethic. However, I was driven to keep playing and to want to balance that with work, my wife and the baby. At this point, I had heard of a group called Dads of Destiny, which now has over 30,000 members broken into subgroups that plays Destiny.

Dads of Destiny Header

This group and the clan that I was in were largely responsible in helping me go beyond seeing what I would say are typical practices that happen with many clans. Dads of Destiny members balance their role and responsibilities of being fathers with their love of gaming and desire to reach the end-game content in an MMO.

About 3 months after our baby was born, I decided that our sleeping schedule with the baby regular enough that I could start to participating in end game content that required more people, so to help me in these activities, I found two members of the clan who needed an additional person to do a nightfall strike, a three person end game team activity. In the middle of one of my first strikes with my clanmates, my 3 month old woke up and needed to be consoled or rocked back to sleep. After a couple of minutes, I realized I needed to leave the team. While I immediately knew my priorities, I also still had this feeling of letting my clanmates down, in the very first activity that I had done with these people, but, as soon as told them what happened, I remember that they said in stride not to worry about it and that if I was still available that I could join back in after the baby was consoled. It wasn’t the groaning or the angriness that I’ve encountered before, but more of this, “hey it happens, go do what you gotta do” type of response, which was great. This is a common belief and something that others have responded or made reference to as being a great benefit to Dads clans, just about how comfortable they feel being able to leave during a team activity in order to tend to fatherly duties, like changing diapers.

My experience has been echoed by other dads who have been interviewed: “To have a group that can roll with you and understand when you need to go afk [away from keyboard] to deal with an upset infant is a big deal. Try that with any bunch elsewhere and profanity will follow (and a boot to orbit).” Another member shared a similar sentiment, “I’ve never been one to plan my video gaming quite so intensely, and I appreciated the idea of a group of people for whom Destiny was not their top priority. Nobody minds when anyone drops out for whatever reason, and that’s a major plus.” Such ideals come front and center in the core values that the Dads of Destiny group have, which claim that family comes first, then work, and finally gaming. In my own participation in one of the clans. I’ve noticed that there have been several times where I don’t attend to a schedule, I almost never signup to participate in a raid, but merely login when the baby is asleep and look to see if anyone needs help. Prioritizing day-to-day fatherly duties over gaming and leaving when participating in team activities makes it very difficult to be taken seriously, since others cannot rely on the fathers to be present the entire time during an activity. Rather than adopting culture norms that are sometimes present in many of the clans about having dedication or being a serious gamer or being available at a certain time, fathers in these groups have established their identity of being a dad as a central norm to the group. It’s important that we realize that these fathers have brought their identity and norms to a game that does not cater to their interests or schedule.

Art of the three different destiny classes, Hunter, Titan & Warlock.  Many of the Destiny missions can be done with 3 people whereas the raid is the only 6 player cooperative mission.
Art of the three different destiny classes, Hunter, Titan & Warlock. Many of the Destiny missions can be done with 3 people whereas the raid is the only 6 player cooperative mission.

These dads are taking their core values and instilling them into the game and the community, not the other way around. While this is evident in their charity drives for cystic fibrosis, they have also came to the aid of a child who made a mistake in Destiny and trusted his account to a complete stranger – the eleven-year old allowed another individual to take control of his account in order to receive help promised by the perpetrator in the game. Unfortunately the perpetrator wantonly deleted characters and weapons that the child had spent over hundreds of hours accruing to use in the game. The minor went ahead and posted his actions on YouTube, where the video went viral for the Destiny community. When a suspect was identified in this act, the reaction and comments sent to the suspect simply highlight the nastiness often displayed to others on the internet, as the suspect (who was actually innocent) mentioned that people told him they wished him dead, and wished cancer on his family. General apathy towards other’s feelings also presents itself with the person who actually committed the act, as when he was interviewed about the matter, showed no remorse, and was quoted as saying that one needs to “suck it up and move on with life.” Members of Dads of Destiny, rather than accept this as the norm, offered to help the minor in the game by playing with him in groups to help him regain the equipment that he once had even if it meant they were taking time away from participating in lucrative missions. The fact that they were willing to shoulder the responsibility of helping this player so that he could reach level quickly, which would provide little benefit or what most of the communities’ gamers would see as “wasted time” seems to respond in ways that violate the stereotypical interdependent norms present in MMOs.

It is this constant going beyond gaming that demonstrates how this group does not fit the typical profile of a gaming group, which can be found in an interview done with the founder of the Dads of Destiny group, who when asked about Dads of Destiny, stated, “I’ve been helped by this group quite a bit, with regards to when my daughter was teething and potty training. The advice I’ve had from dads has been fantastic…Personally, I really do hope that it grows and the community bands together more as a support group than a gaming group.” When the baby was on a non-regular schedule, I could never predict when I was available to play, so what I would do is just see if there was anyone participating in end-game content that needed an extra person, and if that wasn’t the case, then I would join others who needed help doing side-quests and missions. People often help for no sake other than to help, even when they cannot be provided any rewards from doing so, and everyone that I have encountered while playing have been very patient and supportive of their teammates, even in frustratingly difficult challenges. It seems the dads are not their to simply master the game, but are their to support one another and to balance their game aspirations with the values they uphold as fathers, to help others and steward them towards good. I didn’t use this to this effect, as I was just looking to get some help and to reciprocate by helping others in the game.

About 18 months after joining, I finally was booted from the group for inactivity with playing in the group and contributing to their social space. By this point, I only had gaming bonds with the group that i had played, but my schedule didn’t allow me to play much, and when I did play, I decided to play with a close friend of mine who was new to Destiny. This meant that I wasn’t active in my clan anymore, and they waited about six months to take away my clan membership. With all things that revolve around group membership, there could have been some political motivations for why I was removed, and at first, to be honest, I felt angry & betrayed. However, now I’ve come to accept the fact, that there are probably other people who need the help and need the group and membership more than I do. Some of the people I played with initially have joined other clans, or moved on to play other games, or are still there, helping out and being active. For me, I play very sporadically as I balance out my desire to play with spending my time with my family and work. What I’m certain I’ll do is what I learned from the Dads, that I will shape my gameplay experiences based on my identity as a dad and not the other way around.  I’ve been deciding what, where and how to play Destiny; not the other way around. That’s not to say that I have complete control. My family and work still gets to help decide when I get to play, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

Osvaldo

Osvaldo Jimenez is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of the Pacific. His interests lay at the cross-section of video games and education, thinking of ways to better design, create, evaluate, and critique video games and their use in a variety of settings. He received his BS, MA, and PhD from Stanford University. Feel free to ask to join Osvaldo in his quest to increase the 352 hours he's logged into the PS4 version of Destiny, either by helping out or if you need help yourself. He can be reached at - ojimenez AT pacific DOT edu

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