Lessons From One Kid’s Destiny Woes

Published on: Mar 3, 2015 @ 17:51

There was quite a hubbub over a Cosmodrome-sized ‘murder’ mystery. An 11 year-old boy was told there was a Destiny glitch that would allow his characters to level faster so he used the PS4 share-play feature to remotely hand over control to a person who claimed they could access this glitch for him.

That person proceeded to murder the 11 year-old’s characters. Just deleted that level 26 Titan and 31 Warlock to an early grave. POOF! Gone in an instant, never to return.

A video of the incident was uploaded to Youtube by the victim, and many news outlets began an in-depth investigation… because, you know… that’s what news sites do.

Generally I think these sites a bit desperate for Destiny material, which is probably why I rolled my eyes when I came across this Game Informer article (or this one from Polygon).

I’ll admit, my initial thoughts were an icy, “This stuff happens all the time.”

But that was before I tried recalling my pizza-faced 11 year-old-self and my current (far less pizza-faced, but far more pizza-stuffed) 29 year-old self, and what I found, all cynicism aside, was there are some kernels of truth here.

And while they won’t make us better at Destiny, I think they just might make us better at relating to people in Destiny.

From the Mouths of Babes

Prior to being a writer, I was a teacher – a teacher of 4th grade boys much like our 11 year-old victim – and if there’s one thing I learned in the trenches of education, it’s that lessons children learn are often lessons I need drilled into me again. Every smashed LEGO set or veiled jab at another person’s failed mathematics problem is just a tiny version of my own jealousy and bitterness, but without all the benefit of sarcasm and subtlety.

And while I don’t think it worth anyone’s time belaboring the details of what shall henceforth be dubbed “Delete-gate” (because if you add “gate” to anything you have a scandal!), I do think it beneficial to ponder a few lessons learned from this event.

I’d like to look at them from two angles. First, how do people respond to events like this and can we learn something from those responses? And finally, what are we to think of a world where this sort of thing is news worthy at all?

Both of these are things I too am working through, so thoughts from the PlanetDestiny community are, as always, encouraged.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Perhaps the most common response I’ve heard goes something like: “It’s just a game. The kid should suck it up and get over it. He’s learned to be more careful the hard way.”

And that’s somewhat true. It is a game, and what we create in games, like so much else, will not last.

My save files from Final Fantasy VII were very dear to me as well, but they don’t exist anymore. It’s just a game – that’s true – and enough time has passed that I’ve gotten over it.

But it’s not all true.

Comic by Stuntmutt
Comic by Stuntmutt

What is not true is that the medium we create in somehow corresponds to the value of that creation, meaning if I pour hours into shaping and relating to my level 31 Hunter (and believe me, I love that little dude), it makes no difference that he’s made of someone else’s polygons wrapped in someone else’s texture map. I still had a hand in creating, and the loss of that created thing is still undeniably painful. It makes no difference what you create from. Creation is creation – it holds the same emotional weight.

So should the kid get over it? That depends. If by “get over it” we mean let time heal that wound, then sure – he should get over it. But if we mean he should miraculously act like the time he poured into that game, which is now suddenly and irrevocably ripped from him, isn’t painful – well, that’s like asking someone who was stabbed to stop bleeding. I don’t see how he could possibly fulfill the request.

What we must remember is that while all things pass away, they don’t all pass away suddenly and without warning. Most things slip by while we busy ourselves with other distractions – we hardly notice the passing. But when something we love now is there one day and gone the next, that hurts. It should hurt, because the attachment and emotions are real.

We should be sensitive to that, because creation makes deep roots in us. When those roots are ripped out suddenly (and we’ve all faced it) – that takes time.

The Space Between Revulsion and Apathy

And then there’s Polygon’s response. I love its headline for this story, which runs: “A horrible person deleted a fifth-grader’s Destiny characters.”

Ah headlines – so grabby, so refreshingly simple. But I can’t help but ask if this kid really qualifies as a “horrible person.”

I mean, how many of us as kids didn’t do some pretty horrendous things? I made my teacher cry by essentially telling her she was terrible at everything, and it was years before I even considered apologizing. But in my defense, she wasn’t a very good teacher. I’m beginning to realize that maybe I’m a horrible person, but I digress.

The point is, we all do things we only regret much later in life, and immature children are far more susceptible to shortsightedness – ignoring the consequences of their choices – than we are.

Perhaps this boy will look back in a few years, realize what a crummy thing he did, and apologize – that choice is on him. However, we have a choice as well. A choice about how we react to such things.

delete-gate response

The issue we face is this dichotomy between repulsion and apathy. Public response seems to jump from aloof disregard to cries for vengeance, and the middle ground is so easily lost. Death threats have been thrown about, journalists talk as though a criminal were being built before our eyes, and everyone else… well, we’ve just got better things to do with our time.

But a middle ground is necessary when dealing with children (especially for parents). We are expected to respond, but respond with eyes unclouded. To see issues between the spectrum of revulsion and apathy, to care enough without caring too much – that’s far more helpful than gut reactions. A T.S. Eliot line fits well here as a summary:

“Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.”

And that’s exactly our responsibility – to care the right amount. Some battles are worth fighting for, but they aren’t worth burning down everyone and everything in our way. That’s the challenge: finding the middle ground.

Safety First, or Trust?

It will also be said, “Serves him right. Will teach him not to trust strangers online.” And while I can’t put my finger on it, something about that response disturbs me. I ask here because I genuinely don’t know: what do we favor? Safety or trust?

Getting burned is sometimes good. One mistake teaches us more than many successes, and this boy was certainly burned. I seriously doubt he’ll make the same mistake anytime soon.

My inner conflict comes from the fear that we value security so much that trust gets short shrift. And I’m also guilty. You won’t find a person who errs on the side of caution more than me – hell, I buckle my belt when driving a single block down the street.

Again, I ask because I think it worth questioning: what do we lose when we erect barricades every time someone harms us? Do we lose out on something richer – some opportunity to meet people who are helpful and interesting? And the Destiny community is full fascinating people. We’ve met them. We know they’re out there.

No matter how much I consider the lessons I’d want to give this 11 year-old, I can’t with good conscience say one of them would be, “Don’t trust people.” Sure, it might go, “Be careful how much power you yield to strangers,” but the thin line separating those two just might be more significant than we think.

Though it makes me seem soft (and guilty as charged), I end with a stanza from Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out

And to whom I was like to give offense.

But that’s enough for deep life lessons. Let’s turn to the question really plaguing me: Why is this news at all?

All the News Fit for Print

We’ve all been there. Turn on the television or pull up your favorite news site and see some of the enticing headlines. You might begin to wonder, “How did this survive the cutting floor?” You might be asking that of this very article – who can say?

Because that’s certainly what I asked when Game Informer not only printed this story, but then proceeded to investigate it so thoroughly. If I’m honest, I despaired a bit about the state of the news – and video game news especially. It just felt so… inconsequential.

But I’ve had a change of heart.

You see, I remembered this kid is a person. While he might be a small person, he is a person who had something very real and very personal taken from him.

destiny character-gate

Is that story worthy of the news? Does it somehow merit space in the vast expanse of the Internet?

Well sure, why not?

If we can glean anything from the story of a bright-eyed kid handing over more power than was prudent to a 17 year-old, as he watched everything he’d built over weeks and months get flushed down the drain, then it’s worth printing.

Because there’s no harm in flooding the Internet with one more reminder of the human condition. It’s a lesson, regardless of our intelligence, that just doesn’t seem to stick.

And I for one could use a good refresher.

Taylor Bair
I write about the intersection between the games we love and the lives we live. When I'm not working on websites and marketing projects, I'm writing with a hot cup of chai tea in one hand and a computer in the other. Makes typing exceedingly difficult, let me tell you.