Repost: The strangely Christian meta-narrative of the Destiny games

I wrote this post back in 2018, back before a lot of the storyline had been revealed. It’s only proved my point even more. I thought it was time to repost this and update it a bit.


Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m going all literary analysis on you today.

So I’ve been getting into the games Destiny and Destiny 2. These are multiplayer online shooters where you shoot aliens and collect loot. Pretty straightforward and pretty fun (and often, just downright pretty.)

Bungie Destiny 2, Nessus: Landscape painting of a forest with red trees with human figure looking at waterfall.
Destiny 2 concept art: Nessus

But the game also hints at a deeper backstory that it doesn’t explain super well, unless you’re willing to spend hours piecing together tidbits scattered throughout the games. So I’ve been watching lore videos on YouTube, where other people take all those tidbits and string them together into a cohesive story.

I’ve been increasingly delighted with the meta-narrative of Destiny.

Like most science fiction, the story operates from a humanist worldview: mankind can become gods if we just put aside our differences and work hard enough. But then the metaplot comes into play, and it’s decidedly not humanist. In fact, it swings decidedly Christian. I wonder if the writers at Bungie realize what they hath wrought and its significance.

The big picture story goes like this. There is this alien-machine god-thing called the Traveler that looks like a small white moon. It’s power is called Light. It shows up in our solar system, grants humans the Light, and terraforms the inner planets and the various moons of the gas giants. Humans go live on these planets. Humans also develop longer lives, better tech, etc, and go into a Golden Age.

Bungie Destiny 2: Man in armor stands at railing, looking at thunderstorm over cityscape with Traveler in the distance
Destiny concept art

This doesn’t last, of course. There’s an evil force called the Darkness that chases the Traveler from place to place. Its weapons are four alien races that serve it, but all who crave the Light–or hate it. They stomp humanity, destroy their colonies, and ruin Earth.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Traveler actually battles the Darkness one on one. The game is very vague about this point, and the lore videos have multiple theories about what exactly happened. Point is, the Traveler won, but it was wounded and stopped terraforming and things.

Instead, it sent out these tiny robots made of Light called Ghosts. Each Ghost resurrects a single person, basically a zombie (or revenant, since they have their soul) powered by Light. They became known as Guardians. If one of these guardians is killed, they can be resurrected so long as their Ghost is unharmed. If their Ghost dies, no more resurrections for them, it’s lights out.

Bungie Destiny warlock: human figure in armor looks at Ghost robot
Destiny warlock by TDSpiral

See the metaphor going on, here? It’s super interesting. Almost a Holy Ghost thing.

Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor. In real life, the God is the source of all Light, and He was not only before the Darkness, he already defeated it. The Darkness itself has a name and a face. Once known as the Light Bearer, he has become the Enemy, and his sin was pride. “I will become like the Most High!”

Jesus battled the Darkness and overcame it, being wounded on our behalf. In Destiny terms, the Last City in the shadow of the Traveler might as well be built at the foot of the Cross, because the symbolism is so similar.

Now, it’s really too bad that Destiny clings to its humanist philosophy. In its lore, the Traveler gives Light without making any demands of humanity. No devotion to righteousness, no forsaking sin and Darkness. In real life, there are two sides, and we have to pick one. If that was the case in Destiny, then the battle between Light and Darkness would go beyond meta-narrative and become the personal struggle of every Guardian. The story of the Warlords–guardians who abused their power–would become even more vile.

Bungie Destiny 2 concept art by Jeremy Fenske: human figure stands before ring-shaped Vex portal
Destiny 2 concept art by Jeremy Fenske

If such a choosing of sides was possible, then redemption would also be possible for the four alien races who serve the Darkness, however unwittingly. It would be possible for them to abandon Darkness and serve the Light, too, thus becoming very interesting allies.

But Destiny keeps things very Tao, with Light and Darkness equally matched and no ultimate victory is possible. Mankind doesn’t have to seek righteousness and abandon sin in order to receive power. (Which, the more you think about it, is so strange. Why aren’t Guardians forced to pick sides? There are in-game stories of Guardians who joined the Darkness, so maybe, in a way, that choice is still there, just buried out of sight.)

So, that’s Destiny’s meta-narrative, a lot of Christian ideas underlying a humanist story. And it’s funny, because if you make the game more humanist (the Light is ours because humanity is awesome), then the battle between Light and Darkness falls apart, with no real difference between them. If you make the game more Christian, with the Light actually having conditions and everyone being forced to pick sides, then the story becomes much more profound.

Note from 2021: The storyline of Uldren/Crow has brought home this point even harder. Uldren was the prince of the Awoken (think space elves), and he was a pretty miserable, increasingly depressed guy with mommy issues. When the queen died, he went off the deep end and started murdering his own people and doing a lot of other bad stuff. Eventually, he killed a main character, and our player character hunted him down and executed him. He doesn’t even put up a fight, and it’s very unsatisfying.

Well, later on in the game, a Ghost finds Uldren’s corpse and resurrects him. He takes the name Crow, and has no memory of his past. He winds up being extremely kind and merciful to the alien races, particularly the Fallen, who once had the Traveler’s blessing. He has this wonderful redemption arc that has been as satisfying as his death was unsatisfying.

Top: Crow is offered friendship. Bottom: Uldren shoots Cayde-6
Top: Crow being offered friendship by the hero leader. Bottom: Uldren executing the best friend of the hero leader.

Maybe that’s one reason the story is intentionally left vague, scattered throughout the game in hints and tidbits. Breadcrumbs for those to see who can. I’m continually shocked at the Christian terminology these lore gamers use to describe these concepts.

I think it’s a good lesson for us Christian writers. Tell a good story and don’t be afraid to pull in delicious metaphor about the struggle between good and evil. It rings true for everyone.

Bungie Destiny 2 concept art: landscape under storm clouds with Shard of the Traveler
Destiny 2 concept art: shard of the Traveler

Have you noticed any other religious points I ought to touch on? I know I’d like to dig into the Hive, evil aliens who take Gnosticism to its logical conclusion. There’s also the story of Thorn and the Last Word, which is a parable about moral relativism vs. moral absolutes. This game is packed with brain candy.

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