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Alex spent months searching Destiny for a specific piece of armor, but not because it was extremely powerful or because it granted his character special abilities. No, Alex, who goes by the name QuantumVexation in Destiny, spent months after finishing the game searching for this one piece simply because of the way it looked. In Destiny, all Warlocks wear robes, but in this piece — part of the Nerigal Savant III armor set — the bottom part of the robe glitches out on female Warlocks. It’s one of the few ways to have a Warlock wearing a cropped coat, making the Warlock class look more like another class, Hunters. Alex wanted this particular look and didn’t stop until he found it.
And so he trekked on, replaying the part of the game where the item drops over and over, grinding — which is video-game speak for a repetitive task — for a broken robe.
“Endgame fashion is a gift that keeps on giving, even after I’ve completed the activities the game has to offer,” Alex, a moderator at Destiny subreddit /r/DestinyFashion, told Racked. “The game was was the end of its life cycle and most players were out of incentives to keep playing ... but the pursuit of this item gave me reason to keep playing the game I loved so much, long after every powerful gun lay in my hands and every challenge imaginable had fallen before my team and I.”
Destiny 2 is a multiplayer first-person shooter created by Halo developer Bungie. The gameplay shares elements with multiplayer role-playing games, like World of Warcraft, in that players share a world and are sent on quests to push the story forward and acquire more powerful gear. The player-versus-environment game sends players, known as Guardians, through the world’s solar system on missions that build upon themselves. As the story progresses, the missions get more challenging. Players collect weapons and armor — which has both in-game and aesthetic benefits.
The beginning of Destiny 2 sends players off a cliff. Stripped of power, Guardians fall toward a war-torn Earth. Days pass. The Guardians’ pristine white suits are tattered and stained. It’s a literal expression of power — that they have none. The rest of the game requires players to restore their power through experience. Through their armor, Guardians wear their experience literally on their sleeves. Fashion is power in Destiny 2.
Destiny 2’s armor draws from a number of different areas of art, like graphic design, modern and medieval fashion, and paintings. The fashion mimics real-world fashion, albeit with a clearly whimsical and apocalyptic feel. Forms don’t stray too far from what we’d consider clothing in the real world: Pants are pants. Guardians wear jackets, gloves, and hoods. Color palettes are relatively muted, though often pieces will be heavily ornamental, whether that means a pair of gigantic metallic horns or a furnace as a chestpiece.
Each class is distinct within Destiny 2’s fashion framework, too. The Hunter class is quick and utilitarian, and their fashion reflects that with its sleek lines and light armor. Warlocks deal more in magic, often wearing long robes with intricate details. Titans are hulking tanks that can withstand tons of damage, so their armor has a more medieval, knight-like appearance with a fantasy twist. All classes have a utilitarian feel, but there is certainly no shortage of flair in Destiny 2.
Let’s look at Mask of the Quiet One, an exotic-grade helmet for Titans. A fully chainmail facade is flanked by a series of horns. A strip of purple light shines through the front, directly down the middle. It feels like a piece of medieval fetish gear, but the glowing void adds an element of fantasy. Many of Destiny 2’s exotic pieces, like Mask of the Quiet One or Eye of Another World, align more with high-concept fashion, the kind of stuff you see on avant-garde runaways, while others take on a minimal aesthetic.
“At the beginning, I didn’t care as much [about what my Guardian looked like] because you don’t have much [options], so I just use what’s best for the most part,” Anthony Blanca, creator /r/DestinyFashion, tells Racked. “Once I start getting to a point where I’m doing endgame activities … I begin putting more effort into finding and putting together a look.”
Blanca created the Destiny fashion subreddit two years ago, after Destiny, the first of the two-game series, was released in September. Fashion in Destiny was a way for Blanca to differentiate himself from others playing the game, and Destiny being a multiplayer game, there were plenty of other players.
“It’s so boring when everybody looks the same, you know?” Blanca said. “Every person is different in real life, so it’s awesome when games give the players the opportunity to express themselves through their appearance.”
But before Blanca’s subreddit, there wasn’t a place to share in-game creations. The page has since been consistently flooded with new posts, and was recently revitalized by the launch of Destiny 2. Players celebrate each other’s style, but they’re also fighting for upvotes, Reddit’s site-wide points system. There’s a desire to not only harness a unique style in Destiny 2, but to share it with others, too.
Players taking to customization is hardly a new phenomenon in gaming. Character-creation tools have been around for more than a decade. A 2007 New York Times article called “Hey, Man, Let’s Play Video Game Dress-Up” chronicled avatar communities for PlayStation 2 game WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw and its “Create-A-Superstar” mode, both of which still exist in one form or another. Where a game like WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw or its modern equivalents differ from Destiny 2 is in how the attire is acquired. Character-creation screens in wrestling video games may have some options available for players to unlock as the game progresses, but there’s no such gameplay loop fashioned around collecting better gear.
The process of putting together a look in Destiny 2, whether for power or aesthetic, recreates the experience of shopping to some extent. Each piece of clothing has a number attached to it that adjusts a piece’s power. Armor comes in three different categories: restorative armor, which boosts recovery; heavy, which makes a character more resilient; and mobile, which gives extra speed or mobility. There are moments when players can walk up to a merchant and buy a piece of gear, but most of the time, it’s about time.
Imagine it like this: A sneaker enthusiast waits in line for three days to pick up a pair of Virgil Abloh’s OFF-WHITE x Nikes, but when she gets to the front of the line, there’s no guarantee she’ll get the pair she wanted. In fact, she opens the box and it’s not the right shoe, so she gets back in line to wait another three days to nab the shoes. She repeats this process until she gets the pair she’s looking for. She keeps the pair even though they aren’t the specific sneakers she wanted, paying in time and energy rather than money.
Of course, that’s not how shopping works in real life. Pay money and the shoes are yours — guesswork or gambling isn’t part of the process. In Destiny 2, players pay with time, experience, and perseverance. Each invokes power or status, albeit of different kinds, even when it’s not intended. Clothing and armor pieces in Destiny 2 tell a story of what a player has invested into a game — the hours and repetition — and follow a player to where he or she has been. It’s for that reason that fashion is often an endgame goal in Destiny 2, prioritized after the player’s beaten all the bosses and conquered every dungeon. By replaying these moments, there’s gear to be won and a virtual closet to be filled out.
But the closet being virtual doesn’t mean Destiny 2’s fashions don’t have real-life implications. In September, Bungie was criticized for including a piece of armor in Destiny 2 that bore a symbol resembling a hate group’s logo. Road Complex AA1, as it was called, is a piece of survivalist Hunter arm armor that features two chevron designs sandwiching four vertical white lines.
“But if you’re looking at it horizontally, Road Complex AA1’s design bears a strong resemblance to the logo of Kek, a satirical ‘religion’ created by members of the white nationalist movement that describes itself as the ‘alt-right,’” Polygon wrote in September. “The Kekistan banner is modeled after a Nazi war flag. The Kek logo sits in the center instead of a swastika, and green replaces red in the color scheme. Note also that the E inside the four K’s looks like three vertical bars.”
Regardless of Bungie’s intention — the developer says the resemblance was accidental and has since removed the piece of armor — the original Road Complex AA1 gauntlets have power in its imagery. It doesn’t matter whether Bungie meant it or not: The repurposed symbol is recognizable as an image of hate, and that resonated poorly with Destiny 2 players.
The symbols on the Road Complex AA1 have since been removed from Destiny 2. Instead, the armor bears no symbols at all, and the color remains a bright lime green, despite the imagery being removed. The now-bare arm covering is a reminder of the political implications of an in-game image, and how it interacts with real-life experiences.
It’s now just another piece of armor in the never-ending search for the perfect gear set: are they the right shade, the quickest boots, or the most shapely headwear? The gear will keep on coming, which is why Destiny 2 players will keep on playing. New content will continue to be added in subsequent expansions to the game (the first Destiny 2 expansion, Curse of Osiris, was revealed at Paris Games Week and will be released in December), but the core gameplay loop will likely remain unchanged. Get your mission. Kill some guys. Collect your loot.