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‘Destiny 2’ Is Just Another Game About Dad Issues (Commentary)

When you break it down, it seems like every video game is actually about father issues, but in ”Destiny 2“ they happen to be robot gods and alien warlords

(Note: This post spoils just about all of the “Destiny 2” story campaign, so read at your own risk.)

You wouldn’t think from looking at it that “Destiny 2” is a game about dads. You’d be wrong, though.

It’s an ongoing trend in video games that, broken down far enough, they’re mostly about dads. That’s likely an outgrowth of the people in charge of game development being mostly men, and as that cohort ages, games continue to mirror the things on their minds. Games about saving princesses have morphed into games about protecting daughter figures, and explorations of the issues of having parents and being parents are all over the place in video games. Even this year’s edition of popular football franchise “Madden” features a storyline that stars Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali as the football-playing main character’s dad.

And “Destiny 2” cannot escape the pull of dealing with dad issues, even as it’s also about blasting alien invaders in Earth’s distant future.

The world of “Destiny” is a weird one. In the future, Earth is visited by a huge, benevolent robot called the Traveler, which gives off an energy called Light. That Light is to “Destiny” what the Force is to “Star Wars,” and in the video game, it gives Guardians (the players) superpowers that allow them to die over and over again as they fight aliens, with no lasting repercussions.

But in “Destiny,” the solar system is infested with aliens that want to destroy the Traveler and kill everyone, and the only safe place is the Last City, where most of humanity congregates. Guardians protect the City, hoping one day that the Traveler will wake up from its weird hibernation and restore the solar system to its former glory.

“Destiny 2” starts with a massive invasion of the Last City by the Red Legion, an army of aliens called the Cabal who are led by a dude called Dominus Ghaul. And Ghaul, as it turns out, is trying to steal the Traveler’s Light for himself.

At first, it sounds like Ghaul’s motivations for the invasion and the attack on the Traveler are of the usual Evil Warlord Seeks Power variety. But through various cutscenes in the game, we find out that Ghaul doesn’t actually want power for power’s sake — he wants parental approval.

Ghaul spends much of the game interrogating the Speaker of the Traveler, a Guardian designated as representative and scholar of the giant god-robot. At one point, Ghaul explains his origin story — he was a born a runt, and in the Cabal’s Spartan-like society, that meant that he was ridiculed and tormented by other trainees in the Cabal military, before eventually being cast out as an orphan and left for dead. But instead of dying, Ghaul was taken in by the Consul, another angry, vengeful outsider, who trained Ghaul to become a powerful commander and to help him exact revenge against the Cabal Empire.

Yup, the driving force behind Ghaul’s attack on the city and the Traveler is parental approval.

And Ghaul’s arc in “Destiny 2,” such as it is, has him dealing with dads that are just never satisfied. After torturing and interrogating the Speaker, Ghaul starts to wonder if bullying his way into getting the Light is the wrong approach. He’d rather earn it than get the Light by cheating. But that’s not okay, says the Consul, who wants Ghaul to get on with the whole “becoming a god” thing so he can do what the Consul never could and get his revenge. Like a Little League dad ruining Saturday after Saturday with pop fly drills, the Consul insists on living the successful warlord life vicariously through his adoptive son.

Eventually, Ghaul snaps and kills the Consul.

But Ghaul’s not done with dads. He’s killed and surpassed his own father in a weird Freudian power grab, but now he wants to be judged worthy by the ultimate dad: the Traveler. So he zaps himself with the Light he’s captured and fights the player in the final showdown of the game. You defeat him, of course, but then Ghaul blasts himself with so much Light that he’s basically made of the stuff — and he demands the traveler say it’s proud of him.

At this point, the Traveler — which in “Destiny” lore has been dormant for thousands of years after sacrificing itself to stop an onslaught of evil that nearly destroyed humanity — wakes up to tell Ghaul he’ll never be good enough. And then it vaporizes him.

The sleeping robot dad-god literally wakes up to tell this dude it does not approve of his lifestyle or haircut. That’s cold.

As for what’s going on with the player through all this, well, you could read some dad stuff in there, too. Most of the game is focused on finding and reuniting the leaders of the Vanguard who were scattered in the aftermath of the invasion of the Lost City. Every Guardian other than the player lost their immortality when Ghaul attacked, so for the first time, your leaders in the game — the people who tell you what to do and give you their approval when you successfully do it, your “Destiny” parents — are contemplating their own mortality. Though they’ve split, you eventually convince them to stay together for the kids. They mount a counteroffensive to retake the City, knowing it might actually cost them their lives.

The big difference is, they’re proud of you when you surpass them and save all their lives. They figure out how to have a healthy relationship, and after almost losing everything, the other characters learn not to take their blessings for granted. Well-adjusted parents and children are good, and abusive parental relationships are bad.

It’s easy to miss all this since most of your time in “Destiny 2” is spent gunning down wave after wave of bad guys of a variety of flavors. But that doesn’t mean that in between, you can’t stop to contemplate your own relationship with your own dad, and other dadly possibilities.