How Destiny 2 unexpectedly became a game about coping with trauma


When Destiny 2’s Haunted Season first kicked off, it seemed geared to pit players against Calus, a villain who had been playing the game since its release in 2017, wielding a creepy new power – in other words, another relatively typical villain waiting for players to come and shoot them. However, what Destiny 2 characters have ended up battling are their own personal demons.

Bungie’s MMO shooter stalwart superheroes are the “Haunted” the season title refers to, and the story that unfolds each week has been surprisingly moving and honest about coping with trauma. personal. As Merritt K rated on Fanbytesomehow, a shooter about killing giant aliens brings up conversations about mental and emotional health — and does an admirable job of addressing these difficult topics.

Season of the Haunted’s premise is actually an offshoot of the Shadowkeep expansion, where players faced ghost-like enemies called Nightmares. While nightmares look like red, spectral ghosts, they are actually manifestations of memories and regrets. In Season of the Haunted, nightmares are weaponized against the game’s characters, forcing them to face those regrets head-on. Once Bungie solidified the direction of the season, according to senior narrative director Robert Brookes, approaching topics with sensitivity became an important part of the process of building its narrative.

“We didn’t start the season with the goal of addressing mental health as a topic,” Brookes said during a panel interview that included several Bungie developers who worked on Season of the Haunted. “But once we realized what we wanted to do – like, ‘Okay, every character in our main cast is going to be confronting Nightmares’ – we realized we wanted to approach them the same way Shadowkeep did the did, which was [Shadowkeep main character] Eris isn’t just banishing her nightmares and making them go away, but coming to terms with the loss of her squad.”

The Shadowkeep expansion launched in 2019 and was largely about its main character, Eris Morn, working on survivor's guilt over losing her friends.
The Shadowkeep expansion launched in 2019 and was largely about its main character, Eris Morn, working on survivor’s guilt over losing her friends.

“So being able to use the language that Shadowkeep had already built for us and then take it and expand on it allowed us to develop a story that felt like it was a natural place to approach the ideas of things related to mental health, because how to overcome nightmares is by accepting them… So I think it was just a natural growth of what we wanted to do.

The Hauntings season so far has focused on two main characters, Crow and Zavala, both of whom have played major roles in the game’s overall narrative for over a year. Crow’s story is about his past regrets – although he’s now an Immortal Guardian, in his past life he was Uldren Sov, a villain who murdered Cayde-6, one of Destiny’s most beloved characters. When people are resurrected to become Guardians, they forget their past lives, so Crow is a different man from Uldren. But earlier this year, Uldren’s memories were restored to Crow, and he grapples with the fear that he could return to the same dark places Udren had occupied ever since.

Zavala, meanwhile, has been the stoic leader of the Guardians since Destiny’s original launch in 2014, but lately that role, and the losses he’s suffered along the way, have taken a toll on him. Season of the Haunted fleshed out Zavala’s character more than we’ve ever seen, telling the story of Vanguard Commander’s wife, Safiyah, and son, Hakim. After his son was killed in a raid, Zavala and Safiyah parted ways, and he has been mourning them ever since, desperate to be worthy of their forgiveness and unwilling to give it to himself.

Both characters have managed their baggage through the stories unfolding this season with the help of the player and other characters. The fact that Destiny 2’s mightiest heroes aren’t able to solve these problems on their own has been central to the stories told by Bungie.

“The truest stories, they always touch on pieces of life, reality, and the kind of cultural or global zeitgeist that everyone experiences,” explained senior narrative designer Nikko Stevens. “Things like shame and doubt, or grief, those are feelings that everyone has, and often don’t get talked about. Emotional vulnerability is often stigmatized by weakness, which is kind of ridiculous. We So we wanted to make sure the way we overcome those challenges wasn’t just through cunning tactics or brute force or some kind of new power that you had unlocked. We wanted those things to come from within. And we wanted that ‘they also come from the people around these characters.

“There are these common tropes in fiction where the characters just overcome their shortcomings through sheer force of will, or they have a pivotal moment that allows them to move past something they couldn’t before,” he said. he continued. “In Destiny, our themes center around companionship, support and hope, so we wanted to use those ideas through our characters and show that even some of the strongest people in the universe, with all their powers and power, can’t defeat their own personal demons on their own. They need help, like everyone else. That was Sever’s main drive. [the weekly mission episode telling the season’s story]. We as a team… all the designers, all the artists, right down to audio and music and dialogue, we were all very aligned with this idea of ​​wanting to show that these are challenges that need to be overcome by understanding and accompaniment, not by bravado and force.”

Brookes also said that the process of writing Destiny 2 characters working through their grief and pain helped him personally, when he found himself dealing with his own grief and pain.

“When we were working on the season, I didn’t expect it to become a sort of personal journey,” he said. “But when we were on the end of development for the season, I very unexpectedly lost my mother. And after spending three months working on the heartaches of three different characters and their different emotional journeys, and then having to go through mine, just as I was finishing – that moment was almost like a surprise bonus mission that I didn’t ask for, to put it casually, but I also feel like exploring these three different ways to address the trauma helped prepare me for my own journey in that too. And it also made this season a very personal season for me, because my mom always pushed me to get this job and to get what I have. And so there’s a little piece of her in the story that I kind of hold onto.”

The Haunted's Sever Season Missions are traditional shooter levels, but they depict players helping Destiny 2 characters as they struggle with their trauma.
The Haunted’s Sever Season Missions are traditional shooter levels, but they depict players helping Destiny 2 characters as they struggle with their trauma.

While Bungie may not have entered Season of the Haunted with the original intent of addressing sanity issues, Destiny 2’s story is consistent with the studio’s recent approach to the subject in general. Back in 2021, Bungie has added a page on its website dedicated to mental health resourceswith in-game loading screen messages pointing players to the site.

Responses on social media suggest that there are definitely Destiny 2 players that Season of the Haunted resonates with. Brookes said he thinks games can be helpful in dealing with difficult topics like grief and trauma, giving players a different way to engage with those feelings.

“Mental health is a big thing just in general, not just for storytelling and for general audience acceptance, but also just at Bungie,” Brookes said. “And we wanted to do justice to that. That was our first major and real focus when we knew that was something we wanted to address. And that’s also a universal experience – everyone has been through something that persist with them.

“…Mental health is a topic that not everyone is always comfortable talking about. So sometimes games as a medium can be used to explore these things in a safer and more in a way that’s new, and gives you a bit of a distance between what you’re feeling and what the characters on screen are feeling, and we kind of wanted to explore that in a way that’s realistic and nuanced and that wasn’t easy to solve, and make our characters feel like they were people who were actually going through those kinds of struggles.”

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you purchase something featured on our site.

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