Monday, September 25, 2017

A Moment in Video Games: The Endgame of Destiny 2

The following piece will include lots of jargon. For reader ease, scroll to the bottom of this piece and read through a short list of definitions and then come back to the top if you're not familliar with the Destiny 2 community or with terms related to long-term multiplayer games.

Destiny 2* has been out for about a month now. I think it's actually three weeks but it's been out for a little while. Those players who have been able to spend a significant number of hours in the game have started to reach max power levels* and a significant discussion has erupted in the community over whether or not the endgame* of this iteration of Destiny is an improvement over the previous version or if it's left players with nothing to do. Last week Datto* released a video outlining his problems with the state of the current endgame of Destiny 2 and his position is pretty much correct. There is no significant meaningful long-term grind in Destiny 2's endgame. You can access pretty much everything the game has to offer with about three weeks worth of intense play. That's not a very long time in persistent online game* terms but I think it's a more sensible length of time in terms of the damage the game does on people who play it, and in terms of the companies need to pay for continued upkeep of the game over its lifespan. Let me explain what I mean by both of these things.

In Destiny 1, I put in 835 hours over the span of two and a half years. That's about six and a half hours a week or an average of an hour a day. That's a long time. That's 35 days of continuous play. Over the course of that time, there were numerous moments where I said to myself "this game is sucking up too much of my time". Friends of mine made jokes about how it was basically the only thing that I was playing for a long time which was true. When there was nothing to do I would turn on Destiny because there was always some kind of project to work on. Always something to work towards. There was a weapon to earn or a reward to complete or some achievement to work towards. It wasn't healthy.

With Destiny 2, a lot of those extremely long term slot-machine style rewards are gone. I can actually run out of stuff to do over the course of the week. I'll sit down to play for 2 hours a week and at the end of that time I'm ready to do something else. It's very refreshing because I feel like I have a much healthier relationship with the game compared to what it has been like in the past. I can go read a book or take our dog for a walk and not feel drawn towards the PlayStation all the time.

I can't be the only one feeling this way. I think the game is more sustainable and builds a healthier relationship with its players when it rewards a moderate amount of playtime instead of an excessive amount of playtime. This is a situation where if the game included more long term grind, it would satisfy its top 2% of players, but create problems for the other 99%.

Then from a business standpoint, it just makes more sense to have players give a more reasonable amount of time to games. If the player base is too large for too long after a release, it becomes expensive to maintain the place where those players can play the game. If I need 100 servers* for 3 months, that's going to be a lot more expensive than 10 servers for 3 months. It's better to keep a smaller long term player base with occasional peaks around new releases of content because it's cheaper to run the game in the long run.

I think Datto's right. There is no endgame. Lots of people are sad about that. I'm not one of them. I understand why they might want to do things this way, and I think it's better for the majority of people that play their game. Sure, they could add more activities which they will with future updates and patches, but for now I think the game is good for what it is. Something to sink your teeth into for an hour a week but something you can walk away from easily.

Destiny 2 - A video game designed by Bungie which takes place on various planets and moons in our solar system. The gameplay revolves around shooting things and using abilities which are best described as "space magic". It's previous iteration, Destiny, was first released in 2014.

Power Level - A measure of how strong your character is in Destiny 2. Destiny 2 has a maximum power level of ~300 with most players being able to reach around 265 easily.

Endgame - A term used for activities in a game which a player engages in once they have completed the main "progression" part of the game or the part where they have completed the story and upgraded their character to a certain point. Endgame activities are usually very hard, very rewarding, and require a lot of player investment.

Datto - A youtuber, and twitch streamer who produces a lot of content focusing on Destiny 2. He is generally well respected in the Destiny Community.

Persistent Online Game - A game which has a world that many players share in which they can encounter each other and participate in activities together. These types of games have experiences which can be enjoyed by a single person, but are meant to be played with others over a longer period of time.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

On Food

As I spent the last couple of months wondering what was keeping me glued to the couch every time I came home, I realized that I wasn't actually eating a lot. Amanda will sometimes accuse me of being undernourished when I seem to be particularly miserable and when this happens I reflect back on the food I've taken in over the course of the day and discover that she's usually right. I'll have had maybe a piece of toast for breakfast. If I'm at work maybe a breakfast sandwich or a bagel. And then nothing for hours afterward. I ride along for much of the day on the fumes of sugar and a few tiny morsels.

The challenge is that I am legitimately not hungry a lot of the time, and for much of the rest of the time my stomach is too queasy to keep down much real food. I know this is probably foreign to a lot of people, but the act of getting food in my stomach is a serious challenge for me. And there's a bunch of ancillary thoughts that go along with this. I think about how much the food I might eat costs. I think about the ecological impact of what I'm eating. What could have taken a few seconds turns into a process that sometimes makes me just not eat food.

Over the last two weeks I've been intentionally eating more food when I'm hungry. I've been ignoring the thoughts about cost and nutrition and environmental impact and just trying to eat food when my body has been hungry. I noticed this most dramatically when I came home from church one Sunday (when I used to skip breakfast all the time) and told Amanda "I don't feel terrible after church today and I'm pretty sure it's because I ate breakfast". I was referring to the fact that I often come home from church feeling like I need a four hour nap even though I haven't done anything while there and breakfast seems to fix this.My mood has picked up a little bit over the last couple of weeks and so I think food is part of that process. Eating when my stomach tells me too instead of constantly ignoring it might actually be keeping me going.

I guess I just never thought there might be a connection about how my brain works and what's going in my mouth. If I didn't feel like eating, not eating was okay. Now I'm starting to think that if I don't eat, I can't think clearly enough and the cycle repeats.

Monday, July 3, 2017

"I generally don't feel very good at all maam"

I have started seeing a counsellor recently. It came about because I had a few too many conversations that included the phrase "you don't seem like yourself". At some point I decided that was true and at midnight on a Friday last week I called a phone number that Starbucks has to help you set up an appointment with a counsellor.

As I prepared for my first appointment, I thought about what I would tell the counsellor about why I was there. I decided I would focus on one aspect of my life, but if I had tried to tell them about exactly how I was feeling I wouldn't really know how to explain it. "I don't feel good" was about as far as I had gotten. I couldn't explain specifics about what was different. I couldn't really define what normal felt like for me. I couldn't describe what had changed. Things just seemed difficult generally.

The kinds of things I'd use to describe what had changed wouldn't even be that helpful. Like I would say that in January I felt good. I was doing a lot of things, I was going to the gym, I was reading books, I was visiting with people, I was keeping things clean at home. Then February hit and I got sick and I never really recovered mentally from being sick. Sure things in life were stressful and that might explain part of it, but not all of it. It wouldn't explain the endless staring at the title screen of video games that has happened too many times.

They say that men are less likely to seek help for depression than women are. I don't know why that is, but I know that in my case if what I'm experiencing or what I have experienced is depression its because it feels so nebulous. It isn't like when I go to the doctor and tell him that my knees hurt. All I can really offer to a professional is "I don't like how I feel and I think I feel different at other times".

I'm doing a bit better now. The house is cleaner, I'm not as upset about work, I'm going to the gym, and I'm reading. But I still don't even know how to explain what was going on.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Three Paragraphs: Cookies

Today is Canada Day. Like all good statutory holidays, I worked today. To help celebrate everyone wore red or something Canada 150 themed. We have these t-shirts that say "Canada 150" but are also Starbucks branded on the back. I like when you're encouraged to wear a t-shirt to work. My Store Manager also brought in cookies that were Canada themed. They had white buttercream icing and they were really flaky shortbread. I ate one and it was delicious. So I said to myself "I'm going to eat another one".

About halfway through my second cookie, I immediately realized that I did not want to eat that cookie. The first cookie left me wanting more. This second cookie left me wanting it all to end. This happens to me with sweet things a lot. I open a coke and I enjoy it. Then I finish and I open a second coke and about halfway through I realize that this was a bad idea. I start an episode of television and then I start a second one and about halfway through I start to lose interest.

I think it's better to leave an experience wanting more than to take seconds and regret it later. I think the first cooking is a wise choice and the second cookie is a mistake. Moderation is key. That's what I think about Canada Day Cookies.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

20 Minutes

Let's simplify the world for a moment and imagine that there are two kinds of relationships; those that require small talk and those that do not. The former category covers most relationships. Big news requires a period of introduction and adjustment to develop a rapport with the person and after a time you can begin to talk about serious things. In the latter category that sometimes happens but isn't necessary. You can drop directly from "How are things?" to a discussion of the things that are most important to you without having to have a lot of introduction.

So when you only have two days in which to pack all of the visiting in that you possibly can and there's a whole bunch of other things going on, maybe think about people who are part of that second category and carve out space for them. You're close so it doesn't need to be two hours, but if you can find twenty minutes somewhere maybe the two of you can drop into that level of intimacy in conversation that you've built up over years of conversation.

And let's be honest. It's easier to find twenty minutes than two hours.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Three Paragraphs: Routine

*Chair Squeals* Well it's been a week since I got that cold thing I was talking about last time. I was looking through the log sheets I built to keep track of my progress on my goals for this year and there's eight days missing inexplicably. Actually that's the wrong word. It's easy to explain but if I were a spinning top right now I'd be wobbling pretty hard right now.

I find routines to be important. When I manage to do something for a few weeks in a row I feel like I'm making real changes in my life. I feel like things are happening. These reinforcing good feelings only get better as times goes on because I can't actually remember the individual moments of each day anymore. If memory is like a pen placing dots on a page as it rolls by, then my pen isn't dotting as often anymore and I can feel it. My replacement for this is to make each day as similar as possible so there's less I have to remember. If every day is the same then I can start to remember the differences instead of having to remember every part of the day.

Except that it seems that every time I get a good routine going, a cold comes along and shoves all of that aside and throws it in the garbage. I have no idea what is happening in my life right now because I haven't followed any of the usual routines for a week and a half. My dotting pen can't even find the page to dot on these days. And no amount of routine can fix the fact that when my alarm goes off I'm simply rolling over and going back to bed. Cold, I shake my fist at you.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Three Paragraphs: My Weakness

I got a cold this week. It came on some time around Monday when I was in the middle of a closing shift at work. I could feel the tickle in the back of my through that told me that my nose was starting to run. I could feel the words become hard and harder to get out of my throat. I could feel sleep start to chase me even though it was only 9 PM and I still had an hour and a half to go. I got home and headed to bed with the intention of getting up at 4 AM and heading to the gym before anyone else got there and continue working on my New Year's Resolution to bulk up in the lower body area by lifting heavy weights.

The next morning I woke up at 9 AM just barely and only because I had to get up to go to an appointment with Amanda. There was no lifting of heavy weights. Okay, I told myself that I'd just do it Wednesday morning instead. Except on Wednesday I woke up and felt like I was breathing through a straw and so I figured I should wait until Friday to go back again. At 3 AM on Friday morning I awoke after three hours of fitful sleep and decided to take drugs and go back to bed. I awoke at 8 AM and didn't lift anything heavier than a coffee mug.

Does this make me weak? Am I making excuses? I want to go to the gym but 4 AM is really the only time it's empty enough for me to not be afraid of working out, and there are an awful lot of reasons why it doesn't always work out for me to wake up then. I don't think it makes me weak, I think it makes me realistic. I'm not going to win any awards or anything but with very little practice, I'm already 60% of the way towards hitting my weight targets for this year so maybe I can take things a bit easier. Yes this is my weakness but I'm not really into self-flagellation.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Chance the Rapper

This time last year, I pulled out the top ten albums on Pitchfork's best of list. I tend to be sort of hit-or-miss with Pitchfork recommendations because they pay a lot closer attention to lyrical content than I do, and put less emphasis on the sound. However, every now and then I line up with their thoughts and the best of list usually helps me to push past some of my musical prejudices. Last year helped me to appreciate Kendrick Lamar more. This year I started listening to Chance the Rapper who I had missed in the noise of the general music press.

I'd love to share Chance with some of the people I talk to. Sometimes when I'm working at youth group I want to put music on, but the problem is that so much of the music I listen to is rooted in exploring loss or injustice or the ugly parts of life or it comes out of a place where there's honest talk about sex, or drugs, or violence, or its just mentioned because that's a part of life. I can't imagine the conversations I'd have to have with parents if they wanted to know where their kids were learning these new words from. There's adults where I have the same problem. I don't know how to articulate something like Chance's album to other people because I see so much depth in it when you go looking, but I don't think most people I interact with on the daily could get past the fact that "this is rap music". I think they'd have the same reaction my Grade 5 teacher had. "Rap music is fast talking over rhythmic music with lots of vulgarity". They don't want to parse curse words into something with more depth they just feel awkward about it.

This has got to be a complete shift in the way that people think about culture and language and I honestly don't know if I'll see it. I know if I have kids or when I talk to kids about music and culture I'll want to talk about it in a way that emphasizes that we look behind what's on the surface to understand the story someone is telling and understanding how some language gets limited to certain spheres and certain people. Maybe after a few generations of that you can get your stodgy uncle listening to "Same Drugs".

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Churchill

"Winston Churchill was a great prime minister. Except then World War 2 ended and he wasn't as great anymore."

Some friends of mine have a lot of respect for Winston Churchill. I guess I do too. World War 2 is such a crystal clear conflict. There were these people who were evil. There were these people who fought those evil people and so they were good. Then there were the Russians. Even World War 2 isn't clear. Winston Churchill seems to have been the perfect man for this time. He kept Britain together during one of its most difficult periods. He cranked out some fantastic quotes. Then the war ended and until recently I heard very little about what he accomplished as the Prime Minister of a peace time nation.

Both wars just seem so crystalline now compared to what we experience on a day to day basis. As we identify people more and more as individuals, I come to realize that I can't say "The Russians" anymore. There is Putin, there are his followers, there are his opponents, there are the people in his country who may or may not care about what he does. Millions of individual people who live in Russia but who can't be grouped as "The Russians". I think someone like Churchill wouldn't do well today. Too much granularity in the political landscape. Too much individuality. No collectivism to rally the Russians against.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Naomi's Road

When I was eight or nine years old my sister gave me a book to read called Naomi's Road. It's about a girl's experience of the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War Two. The book was perfect for me at that time because I understood about as much of what Naomi describes in the book as Naomi did. I finished the book and thought "she had a really strange life during the war. I hope things work out for her."

Today I was reading my twitter feed and was reminded of the Japanese Interment in North America. I think its history is more screwed up in Canada because of all the repossession that happened where the government basically stole the livelihood of all the people interned and left them to their own devices to figure it out. I was reminded of all of this because of a series of photographs by an American photojournalist who took pictures during the war that were locked away because they were viewed as sympathetic toward the Japanese by the American Government at the time. You can see some of those pictures here.

I feel a bit like nine-year old me sometimes. Gloriously oblivious to all of the things happening in the world and leaving situations thinking "I hope it works out for them".