Bob Dunn | Game On: Be inspired, be a 'Dredgen'
I should have been sleeping.
It was well past 1 a.m. with a day full of deadlines looming just a few hours ahead.
But, something compelled me, well after most of the friends with whom I'd been playing logged off for the night, to put off rest and recuperation for a little while longer and play just one more Gambit match.
"This could be the one," I told myself, but probably not believing it. "You could finish this right here."
And, then, before the match was over, I found myself exactly where I needed to be; in the other team's base, 30 seconds on the clock, with the goal of neutralizing all four opposing players before either I or time expired.
Two dropped after a well-timed aerial assault; I wasted valuable time and ammunition eliminating the third and saw the fourth and final opponent, with the screen name "trucutru," leaping up from behind cover and having me apparently dead in their sights.
Having only 6 seconds and six rounds left, I fired whatever I had while my opponent did the same.
Eleven months led up to that moment.
The Gambit game mode launched as part of Destiny 2's 2018 fall expansion and was a new addition to the franchise.
It combines elements of going up against the game environment as well as other players, in a fast-paced goal-oriented competition.
Everything I'd heard about Gambit leading up to its release just made me anticipate it more and I'd decided early on that it was something I wanted to become good at.
Video games as a hobby are gratifying in any number of ways, but one of the more overlooked may be their capacity to validate.
Everyone wants to feel like they're good at something, that they're recognized for being able to do something at least a little better than most.
Not everyone can be a successful athlete, most of us are only barely competent in the kitchen. Gifted thespians, orators, poets, authors and vocalists are some of the rarest breeds among the human species and the accolades they receive for their talents are out of the realm of possibility for the vast majority of the rest of us.
Because most games are skill-based reward loops (do the thing to get the ability to do the harder thing, so you can get the ability to do the even harder thing, and so on) the satisfaction in seeing yourself improve over time is appreciable.
Over the course of the last year, I and the teams on which I've played have won 291 of 526 matches, and I have reached the top point ranking and reset my progress six times so far and am working on my seventh.
But there was one final goal that still eluded me. And, honestly, it's just one word, "Dredgen."
It's not even a "real" word, it's the name of a character deep within the backstory and lore of the main game.
It is, however, also the title one earns by completing a series of tasks and challenges within Gambit, including three instances of eliminating all four opposing team members in one 30-second invasion.
Which is what stood between me and earning that title.
And, yes, I know it doesn't "mean" anything in the universe's wide gaze; it's merely a token of time spent playing a game mode in which the end goal is to destroy a space monster faster than your opponents.
But, damn, I wanted it.
To me, it was a visual representation of time spent with friends, sharing both the exaltation of communal victory and the grumbling frustration that comes with having been virtually slapped around by a group of cretins who had the dual advantages of luck and skill on their side.
But more than that, it was the culmination of that goal I set for myself all those months before; to get good at this.
Over the months, I chipped away at 10 of the 11 requirements to earn the title, but the last one eluded me.
One-on-one combat against live players is not my strong suit and, one of the advantages of team play in Gambit is players can take on different roles and it was easier to leave the invading of the other team's map to others.
But, there was no other way to earn that final requirement except to do it myself. I had to get to the point of being at least good enough to knock it out.
For weeks, I took every opportunity to invade; experimenting with different tactics and combinations of characters, skills and gear.
The first few dozen attempts were comically inept. I would routinely arrive on the other map and be immediately met with an overwhelming amount of ordinance from a team that appeared to have nothing better to do than lie in wait and take advantage of someone who apparently had no business being there.
Over time, I started surviving longer and taking down more targets while doing so.
Sometimes only one, but more and more often, I could be counted on to drop two and, on some occasions, even three opponents, giving our team a little breathing room.
But, three appeared to be as far as I was going to get. Thirty seconds didn't seem to be enough time and opposing players seemed far more adept at spotting me from a distance or taking cover to avoid whatever damage I was trying to inflict.
Even in matches where I'd take out 11 foes over the course of several invasions, I couldn't collect four at once.
I began to feel the vilest depths of envy each time I'd hear the game acknowledge one of my teammates successfully pulled it off or, while in the game at-large, I'd see so many others brandishing their well-earned title.
Then, desperation set in, and I considered options like somehow communicating with the other team and convince them to take a dive.
But, even if that were to be successful, it would only remove any value earning the title may have.
So, there we were, trucutru and I, the last two standing amid a cacophony of weapons fire and explosions, each determined to wipe the other off the map with the few seconds we had remaining.
They fired, I fired and somehow, my aim was true and landed a critical precision shot just as trucutru's rocket found its mark and laid me out.
The moment hung there while I teetered on the brink of once again drifting into the despair of having come so close and falling short.
But then, the game acknowledged I'd prevailed and the words I'd waited nearly a year to see pop up on my screen arrived, letting me know I had accomplished my dual goals of satisfying that last requirement and, in doing so, earning my Dredgen title.
Despite the hour, I broke out in a victory wail made up of equal parts elation and relief.
It was done. Finally. I'd set a goal, reached it and earned the recognition that comes with it.
The following morning I Tweeted about my accomplishment and how now the air smelled sweeter and coffee tasted better.
I was only partially kidding.
It reminded me of the simple joy of gaming. Starting off hapless and over time, developing the skill, muscle memory, patience, insight and strategy to take on whatever gets thrown at you.
Games teach us how to fail and keep trying. They provide a visualization of our own progress and a simple way to take some pride in our accomplishments in ways other, more passive pursuits can't.
But, even if it's not gaming, if you find something that fascinates you and compels you to explore and examine it and makes you say, "I want to get good at that," you owe it to yourself to begin immediately. Not with the goal of being the best, but with the focused attempt to simply get better and the satisfaction that comes with doing exactly that.
Joy is often in short supply these days. Make the most of the bits you can create for yourself.
Be a "Dredgen" in whatever it is you do.
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