Beyond Toxic in Deep Stone Crypt

We are Guardians. We protect humanity and our allies from enemies and our human faults. The cost of entry is high: We die, are reborn, and the cycle never stops. Some people say this makes us zombies. But I know it’s not true. Even though my Ghost and the light that resurrects me and gives me superpowers come from a machine, The Traveler, I have agency.

This is Destiny (Ok, it’s Destiny 2, but who’s counting), the first person-shooter MMO that makes cooperative play an art form. And dying and living again and again really isn’t all that bad. It keeps the game going for as long as you want it to. It’s not a bad business model for the game developer and publisher, Bungie, either.

The story telling in the game is inventive; the graphics and music are stunning. Like all good art, it creates situations that explore the depth and breadth of the human experience. The gameplay encourages teaming up and centers on quests, arenas of increasing difficulty, and lots of puzzles to discover and solve. (Why are there three fairy circles in front of the temple in the Divalian Mists of Dreaming City?)

Like the story telling, the cooperative gameplay explores the depth and breadth of real time social experience. Sometimes you play with a random group of strangers, sometimes with acquaintances and friends. Just like everywhere and everywhen, you meet all kinds of people: those who enjoy helping and those with a drive to compete, those who are easy-going and those who are demanding, those who are rude, and those who cheat.

The endgame content—raids—are a series of 6-person team activities with the most challenging puzzles and opponents. Deep Stone Crypt is one of those raids. It takes place in the secret laboratory of Clovis Bray, far beneath and above the surface of Europa. Bray has devised a way to pour human consciousness into mechanical exoskeletons, whether the human wish it or not. He thinks he is humanity’s savior; others view his actions as a crime against humanity. Deep Stone Crypt is as toxic an environment as you can find.

We were fighting Taniks, the final boss in Deep Stone Crypt, and using a well-known strategy that is difficult at the beginning and a snap at the end. The boss drops four nuclear cores. You grab one, run back to your designated area (where Taniks isn’t), and drop it into a receptacle. If the team pulls this off, killing the boss is simple. With a trace rifle named Divinity, shotguns, a bubble, Lunafaction boots, and an empowered well, you can sometimes finish the fight in one or two rounds.

The problem is grabbing those nuclear cores. After they drop, four people need to grab a core within seconds. It’s an everyone-for-themselves situation, even though we’re a team, because the clock is ticking. Everyone knows their role and gets the job done. Except when they don’t.

I learned the other night that a teammate can swoop in and grab a core right from under you. Surprised, I madly looked around for another core, didn’t spot one in time, and we all died. Someone asked, “What happened? Did someone not grab a core?” True to my  nature, I said, “That would be me.” Also true to my nature, I said, “Someone grabbed the core I was going after, and I couldn’t see another one.” The chill was palpable, even though we were hundreds and thousands of miles away from one another.

Later, I learned that this happens. You just look around for another core, and sometimes you don’t find one in time. No one casts blame, even though the cost of failure is high. It was 10:45 and our third try. We needed to finish by 11:00, the raid leader’s limit for the night. (I admire his discipline.) No raid leader, less than six people, no finishing the raid.

The next night, I learned that you can grab a core right out of someone’s virtual hands. Oops.

I also learned that playing with people from outside your clan, who don’t know the social rules, are drinking, and aren’t familiar with the raid mechanics, can be as painful as learning that casting blame is a faux pas. Maybe painful is too mild a word.

These outsiders were verbally rowdy. In a virtual situation, the game sets limits on a character’s actions, so you don’t get physical rowdiness. There are emotes, but none of them are rude—certainly not misogynistic—and they’re often funny.[1]

Saying these guys were rowdy is an understatement. Man, they were rude. (And one of them got drunker as the raid wore on.) These guys spent more time exploring new and inventive ways to fling crude references to female body parts around than they spent listening to the raid leader.

Not knowing the raid mechanics was more important for my clanmates (all men) than crudities and rudeness. Causing a team to wipe repeatedly makes the raid drag on—an hour becomes two, then three hours or more. Eventually, it’s two o’clock in the morning, everyone gives up, and you lose out on the rewards for your effort. My clanmates are pragmatic. Maybe they have a point. Who wants to spend three or four hours with a socially inappropriate, drunk fool who doesn’t know what they are doing?

Although you can choose not to play with crude misogynists again, it’s not in my nature to let it go. Calling out misogyny outweighs pragmatism. Giving it a pass feels like a hop, skip, and jump from enabling the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.

Once our one-off, out-clan, drunk teammate learned that a boss we were fighting is female—Fallen culture is egalitarian—it took him only a second to call the boss a cunt. I gave him a pass. After all, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and John Donne used close euphemisms of the word. (Regardless, the word cunt as used today reduces women to a body part, which is good for no one.)

But when he shouted “vagina,” he crossed a line. I said, “That’s enough.” Dead silence. I could have asked the guy if he was trying out for poster boy of the toxic gaming community. (I don’t think that fast on my feet.) I could have taken him to task for implying that a virtual character was anatomically correct for its gender. Anatomical correctness didn’t go so well for CD Projeckt Red when they introduced customizable penises in Cyberpunk 2077. Penises floating around a game environment gets old and icky pretty quickly.

Flinging around the names of female sexual body parts, especially when you don’t have them, irritates me. It’s like the scent of bananas so ripe they are rotting; meat so spoiled that even a cat turns its nose. A dog hair in your clothing prickling your skin. The gummy taste of vomit in your mouth the morning after you’ve drunk too much alcohol. (I must be channeling that drunk player.)

I don’t know why some men think shouting crude terms for female body parts creates a fun environment. No one shouts penis, prostate, or seminal vesicle. It just sounds stupid. Come to think of it, so does the other stuff.

But men come in different flavors. Although the other men in the team said nothing to support my rebuke—their reaction was what you see when someone farts in a crowded room—not one of them participated in the crudeness. I guess that’s something.

Is it enough? No. But you have to start somewhere. It might take repeated tries, regrouping to assemble a better team, learning how to execute the best tactics. Eventually, you will bring down the boss, whether it is a virtual, evil Fallen or a real misogynistic culture. You won’t get very far, though, by telling the boss it has to stop hitting you.

What to do, then?

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When I first started playing Destiny 2, I noticed other players crouching up and down at the beginning of a mission, after succeeding, after killing you in a player-versus-player match. “What’s up with that,” I thought, shrugged my virtual shoulders, and did the same. When in Rome, you know? Eventually, I learned it’s called teabagging and has to do with men’s dangly bits. I stopped. My female character doesn’t have that equipment. Shot guns, auto rifles, rocket launchers, yes; dangly bits, no.

If you teabag at my Guardian, she’ll just emote confusion and walk away. I can find other people to play with.

Setting those limits in the physical world is a better place to start than telling an entire culture it must change.

[1] The game development and gaming industries have a well-deserved reputation for being unfriendly environments for women, or worse. But game developers know that the more people who play the better, and women are about half the potential market. The more product sales and more opportunities for on-going microtransactions, the more money they make. And this means attempting to establish environments that are not toxic for women. We haven’t yet figured out how to eliminate misogynism from anywhere, so it’s going to happen in the gaming world. Game developers have learned that it pays to avoid helping it along.

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