Meditations

One of my favorite recurring bits that I do when recording episodes of This Week in Nerd News is that whenever there’s a particularly exciting tidbit of Destiny 2 content on the timeline, I like to update my co-hosts on the current number of hours I’ve racked in that franchise. According to Wasted on Destiny, I’m sitting at 1492 hours in the original and 2163 for the current iteration (at least at time of writing), which calculates the “active time” spent in the game doing actual activities. This puts me in the top 2% of the player base, at least when talking about time invested.

According to Charlemagne, my total time for the games sits respectively at 2196 and 3430 (which if you want to do the math, means that I’ve spent just under 2000 hours floating in orbit and social spaces for whatever reason). So over the course of the last six years, I’ve spent 234 days, right around four months of my life playing or preparing to play the same game.

That number has stayed surprisingly steady over the last few months (for a wide mix of reasons,) and with the delay of Beyond Light to November, I’ve also found myself complementing my game time with the genre of deck-builder roguelike, namely: Slay the Spire. Since May 20, I’ve gotten 185 hours. Roughly, two hours of playtime of day. Which is a surprisingly comparable number to the 2.6 hours of Destiny playtime I’ve clocked.

I’ve begun to realize that when I say I play *games,* the pluralization is there to indicate that I play exactly two games. I play Destiny 2 and one other game on a rotating basis with the intent to master all of the ins and outs. And that got me meditating on what mastery really means.

Metrics

In 2008, Malcom Gladwell posited his “10,000-Hour Rule,” an extraordinary simple idea that mastery could simply be chalked up to dedicated, deliberate practice of any particular skill and then doing so for (you guessed it) 10,000 hours.

By his metrics, I’m about 30% of the way through the process of mastering Destiny, and a paltry 1.85% towards mastering Slay the Spire. But time is not the only metric to consider. Time investment certainly is a key aspect to this concept of mastery, but certainly mastery isn’t just a function of time.

If you’d indulge me making yet another reference to Haikyu, one of my favorite moments is when Tsukishima manages to shut out Ushijima despite the time they’ve invested in the game and in their bodies. This block serves as a catalyst, a shift in the narrative arc, an incentive for him to reach further.

There is very clearly a strong correlation between time investment and skill level. But these are not necessarily causal. And this is where I will agree with Gladwell and his thoughts on his deliberate play. Destiny was my first, first-person shooter, and I was not very good at the game when I started.

I used to run the same strike (shout out to the Summoning Pits) and the same game mode (I agree with Bungie that Control is the best game mode because that’s how I cut my teeth on the game) ad nauseam. I racked hours upon hours doing the same thing, but I didn’t start becoming a better player until I started pushing myself, until I started paying attention to things like my movement, my aim. It wasn’t until I started investigating and researching that I started to break bad habits and form good ones.

My metrics shifted. My understanding shifted. I stopped looking at KDA or efficiency, ELOs, and completions. I started looking at the small moments and how they contributed to larger trends. I did incrementally harder activities to push my arsenal to the limit. I fumbled and figured out strategies I was doing week 1 were not necessarily optimal on week X+1.

And now, I can claim metrics like having completed a series of tasks that less than 30000 other people have slogged through.

And I went through a similar process with Slay the Spire. I didn’t know which cards to draft and when, I shied away from Elite enemies, and valued healing over upgrading my deck. But slowly I learned how to play more efficiently, understood the benefits of smithing card upgrades and stopped trying to rely on certain deck archetypes. I learned how to make the most of what I had on hand. Every failure brought a new lesson learned.

Every time I started a new run, I had a little better idea of what to do the next time around. And then it started clicking. How to prioritize short term problems to prepare for longer term problems. How to account for known and unknown variables. How to play patient in preparation for the big moments.

But the time spent in the game wasn’t what me made me better, it was the self-evaluation afterwards. It was the analysis of the mistakes that I made, the metadata of the runs that were successful. It was the shift in metrics.

I’ve learned that mastery is not measured in time spent, but in the myriad of ways of time utilized. Mastery is multifaceted, and I’ve learned to be careful about the metrics I use.

Manifests

Games have taught me many things: perseverance probably tops the list. But I think the lesson I’m realizing the most during the endless loop of days, starting and restarting in the same place, is that mastery does not mean you’re 100% successful 100% of the time. Mastery is not the ability to make the perfect play every single time. Mastery is not the ability to divine all the information from the field in a single glance.

Mastery to me is looking at my own manifest and seeing what tools I need at the time. Mastery is deciding which gear/cards best suits the challenges ahead. Mastery is responding to the situations that go south, the moments where things don’t fall you way. Mastery manifests in both the times of overwhelming victory and the hard fought losses. Mastery is a matter of learning how to evolve beyond what you thought was possible.

After the meditation, I don’t think I’ve mastered anything by any metric. There’s plenty in Destiny 2 I’ve yet to do (Solo Flawless Prophecy on the top of my list) and most of my runs in Slay the Spire have ended in failures.

But in the pursuit of it, I do know I’ve gotten better. I do know how to wage a war of attrition, of incremental progress, of striving to be more one way or another. And I don’t reckon another 5000 hours will magically lead to some moment of enlightenment, but I am pretty happy with the signs that say I have gotten better.

And I’m not gonna lie, there’s something nice about the simple desire to be better at something.

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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