PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Exploring the Loot Cave of 'Destiny'

Between the four of us shooting into the mouth of this cave there is an unspoken agreement.

I’m shooting fish in a barrel with total strangers. We are on the outskirts of fallen Russia in Destiny, just outside Skywatch, facing a cave off in the distance. Every five seconds or so a group of Hive enemies spawn inside and quickly get mowed down by our weapons as they stream outside. We are exploiting the loot and spawn systems in Destiny to level quickly and collect all the tasty engrams that give our characters rare weapons and armor.

I am trying to understand why in Destiny, a shooter from one of the most prestigious studios in the world, this group of players choose to spend their time harvesting digital goods instead of playing the game “proper." Since players found the exploit a week or two ago, you can consistently find people alternating gunfire and picking up loot. They are practicing the mundane art of the grind in the most efficient way possible -- not exactly the most thrilling experience you could imagine.

Even so, in our rhythmic firing there is a calm satisfaction. Between the four of us shooting into the mouth of this cave there is an unspoken agreement. I wait for the Warlock to my right to fire off five rounds of his rocket launcher, then it’s my turn to do the same. Sniping the escaping enemies can become a mini-contest -- “Who will get the headshot that lets us continue?” Occasionally a Thrall or Acolyte escapes our bullets and one of us leaves the pack to play clean-up duty. We never speak, never demand someone plays the janitor role for these low level enemies, it just happens naturally.

In his excellent Kotaku review, Kirk Hamilton argues that “Destiny itself is brazenly, almost inhumanly exploitative, so it’s only natural that players would take every opportunity to exploit it right back.” He calls it “unhealthy play,” but I’m not so sure. The memes that have popped up around the loot cave are fascinating in and of themselves, but I think there is something deeper to explore here.

Sitting at Destiny's loot cave.

After all, why do we want loot so badly in the first place? I think there is something about acquiring loot that satisfies our psychological need to scratch that repetitive itch. The sounds of the weapons, the brilliant glow of a dark cave scattered with engrams, the momentary joy that you feel when obtaining a Legendary item, and even the emotional crash when that item becomes another useless piece of gears is all strangely stimulating, sure.

Even so, we also want loot not just to have, but to make us even stronger. In some video game catch-22, we want gear to play the game as intended, so we avoid playing as intended. We want to level, to take on new challenges and new adventures, which are genuinely entertaining, but to do so demands some grinding. To accomplish this grind efficiently, we look for exploits in the system, ways to take the fast lane to the content we genuinely want to consume.

This is the dilemma of the MMO. The constant loop of sub-optimal play to overcome thrilling obstacles later. It’s an investment in the future of our play session by sacrificing our immediate pleasure. The loot cave is work, a high paying albeit tedious job.

In an ideal scenario, work itself would be enjoyable, just like farming wolves in an MMO would also be enjoyable. To that extent, Bungie has offered up Strike missions, their version of classic MMO dungeons, and these really are fun, especially when facing challenges appropriate to the player's character level. Unfortunately the rewards do not seem commensurate with the effort. With a complex currency, reputation system, and a strange drop rate, planning how you might grow in power is a pain. As a result, you hit the caves.

Again, none of this is new. Many MMO fans have learned to love the grind, using their time to chat with friends, try strange builds, or more likely multitask. In that way, maybe the loot cave is no different than say chatting with coworkers or listening to podcasts while on the job. It’s just a piece of Destiny as an MMO and not necessarily a bad one. Like the player types that populate any D&D campaign, there will always be those seeking to min/max their character, exploiting anything they can to create the most powerful avatar. That’s okay. Those of us interested in narrative or RP can have our fun elsewhere.

Of course, this is not to forgive Destiny’s shoddy storytelling or generally atrocious voice acting, but the loot cave is a reminder of what the game is and always has been. This is a blend of shooter and MMO with all the occasionally unlikable design choices that implies. I think this explains some of the mixed reactions that the game has received too. Fighting enemies above your level isn’t just dangerous. It’s boring. Should we really find this surprising? Were we lied to somehow by Destiny’s marketing, or is it just very difficult to telegraph to players exactly what this amalgam would play like twenty plus hours in?

I don’t know what Destiny will look like six months from now, but I suspect I will still find it fascinating far after release. Meanwhile, back in the loot cave, I’ve decided to sit down and prevent enemy respawns. I suspect the few farmers on this server will see me sitting, know exactly what I’m doing immediately, and leave to find their pleasures elsewhere.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.