Bullets are the Pennies

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  • My shirts may be 90% black, a few with cusses and even one bearing stills of the assassination attempt against Ronald Reagan, but it’s a cotton-thin coverup for my staid core. I drape myself in this artifice to hide the fact that my primary vices include hoarding digital games and music along with in-the-pulp books I won’t read for years, an intricate mental map of my co-workers candy dishes, and sushi. Now, knowing this, it’s no surprise for me to say I’ve never been a drinker, smoker, or gambler, and in a more arguably rebellious spirit, I’ve avoided them mostly because my dad has been all three.

    None of these pleasures have panned out particularly well—visiting him in alcohol rehab put young me off the stuff for my entire life so far, and he recently beat cancer after a brutal regimen of chemo, radiation, and surgery to remove his esophagus after a lifetime of cigarettes. In the grand scheme he’s been a good man who’s made some self-destructive mistakes, and I’ve never understood his habits because witnessing the consequences of them inspired me to avoid ever taking a taste. If he couldn’t handle these things, I can scarcely imagine a world where I could.

    Gambling wormed through his neurons in pretty much the same fashion, a lifetime of slots here and there, and as a professional musician throughout the 70’s and 80’s there were a lot of heres and theres. He never had enough to toss away any individual fortunes, though I’m sure if he could bottom-line the decades the profits-and-losses and tally would be damning. Like the other addictions, gambling was fun until it wasn’t, straining all the other areas of his life, and he found another group to meet with on a weekly basis. But those damn slots are the one thing I took a dip into, when he gave me a twenty once while the band was between sets in a NorCal casino and said “give ‘er a whirl and buy me dinner if you win.”

    I didn’t win, and the twenty was a wisp of a dream before the break was up. I barely remember what happened, but that’s because what happened was so banal and yet so classically dramatic. Down fifteen dollars, then back up to twenty, close to thirty even, and then a series of disappointed chimes and my hands were empty. It was a ride for sure—I was strapped in, my ability to influence the situation was minimal, and before I knew it the thrill was dying down.

    There’s been a lot of comparisons between loot boxes and gambling, but those are scratchers. Box comes your way, you scrape the silvery film away, and try again next time. I’m thinking of gambling, penny slots in particular, as I make my way through the main campaign of Destiny 2, currently free for PS+ members. Free as in the first taste I presume, conveniently timed against the Forsaken expansion as a savvy marketing measure. It’s twenty bucks to toss into the penny slots.

    Destiny 2 is the entire slot machine experience, and bullets are the pennies. It’s a game about shooting, with some splendidly rendered flash and bang, but the point is to slam that trigger and see what pops up. The reels tumble around, and sometimes you feel out the machine correctly, scoring some yellow numbers on a headshot for a quick squirt of satisfaction. Occasionally they line up for those juicy polyhedrons, then and shards and shaders and so many other currencies that all funnel into incrementally tender morsels.

    I am not slagging on Destiny 2. It’s compulsively fulfilling, and it’s given me another dimension through which to understand my father. For those slot machines, the only action is pulling the handle, with no real need for dexterity of acuity. But the gush is the same, a bath for the senses which Destiny 2 fills up in equal measure. Most games aim for this but it’s the foundation here, it’s the explicit reason for playing. Every level informs me if I’m at or above the necessary power requirements, and I usually over-prepare just because that’s how I like to be, so there’s no sense of difficulty to overcome. Destiny 2 is a dense, enormous game that brings fireteams together to better handle a variety of spongy enemies, though I am pleased to find a wide array of weapons to wiggle around as well. Though I’m still very early in my playtime, and haven’t even touched PvP or the new modes, the more I play the more clear it is that I’m in it for the chime of another kill, the ka-ching of a beefier rifle, the soothing glow of fresh armor.

    Coupled with the potential of a cash payout, the allure of the slots makes finally makes some sense to me. I’m too deep in my already irresponsible spending to add trips to Vegas or interstate-side casinos to the itinerary of my life, but I’m a little more flush with understanding for my father now. He’s taught me a lot in this life, directly and indirectly, and while I learned about a few of the heavy consequences from him, Destiny 2 helped shed a little more light on the impulses behind those desires. 

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