This article contains spoilers about Cayde-6’s past, FYI.
There is an astounding number of Cayde-6 RP Twitter accounts, all jostling for space with handles like @RealCaydeSix and @Hunter_Vanguard (@Cayde6 was taken in 2014, but doesn’t have any tweets). Some of the bios say stuff like ‘experienced RP’ or ‘semi-detailed RP’ and mark when they’re in or out of character with speech marks. Most of them gave up in early 2016; some still use the account for regular stuff, so Cayde-6 retweets a lot of competitions and cute girls’ selfies. Most of the accounts, whether or not they’re still active, riff heavily on noodles, playing poker, and repetitions of ‘Take me with you!’ This last one is based on a throwaway bit of Cayde’s dialogue that could trigger when you closed Cayde’s trading screen in Destiny.
He whispers, ‘Hey! Take me with you. I hate this job.’
Cayde-6 is the Vanguard for the Hunter class in the game. Vanguards are the elite Guardians considered the best of their class (one for each of the three available); a bit like the class trainers in World of Warcraft, they stay in the Tower, the player hub for the game, selling useful bits of gear and dispensing various amounts of wisdom. The Hunter class is focused on agility and high damage, light armour, scouting, and bending the rules. They are, in other words, the rogues. This makes Cayde-6 the rogueiest rogue in Destiny.
Cayde’s positioning as an irreverent joker who leans on the fourth wall — and occasionally puts his elbow through the window, so to speak — has resulted in a polarising response from a lot of players. Some love him, and find him hilarious, and some find him annoying and try hard, but the truth is that he is an incredibly, incredibly tragic figure, and he could never really have been anything else.
I harbour a deep dislike for rogues, mainly from years spent playing Dungeons & Dragons with my ‘friend’ Dean. When Dean is playing a pen and paper RPG he plays essentially the same character but in a slightly different costume depending on the setting (and, on one occasion when he was forced to ditch said character, a character that was nominally a Warlock but that I maintain to this day was three small rogues in a Warlock coat). Dean always pools all his skill points into things like Charisma and Dexterity to get scores high enough that I can only describe them as fucked up. Dean’s character is literally called Knave.
Dean shares a few traits with his character of choice. He is, for example, drastically late for any social appointment you make with him, but you also don’t mind very often (although on one occasion he did manage to critical fail in real life, when he misread the room and told me he was 90 minutes late for lunch because he ‘was having a really nice cup of tea’, and I got cross). I am telling you this partly because I like the opportunity to publicly dunk on Dean, but also because once you’ve encountered one rogue you already know what to expect from every other rogue. The shenanigans will take different forms, but oh, there will be shenanigans. They will steal things from your character while they sleep. They will run away in a fight because it’s quite funny, then return at the last minute to deliver the killing blow, sharing all of the glory by putting in approximately 1/10th of the effort.
This is true of all pop culture rogues in general, not just player-created ones. The term is ‘Loveable Rogue’, the obvious and possibly most iconic example being Han ‘shot first’ Solo from Star Wars, who is kind of a criminal douche but does the right thing in the end, but it goes back to figures like Robin Hood and ‘trickster’ gods like Loki. It’s stuck in a kind of unbreakable loop because a rogue class is designed to favour charming skullduggery, and rogues in turn tend to like pretending they’re Han Solo-esque, and so on and so forth, feeding back into itself for all eternity.
Video games have a lot of rogues them because it’s a medium where someone’s stated job can literally be ‘rogue’, as in almost every RPG ever. Cayde-6 is played by Nathan Fillion, and people often describe him as ‘Malcolm Reynolds if he were placed in an administrative role,’ Mal being another loveable rogue in space played by Fillion in the TV show Firefly. Cayde-6 is first and foremost presented as the comic relief in the Destiny series, shouting things like ‘I don’t have time to explain what I don’t have time to understand!’, and frequently describing important meetings and duties as boring and himself as ‘magnificent’. You can see how he stacks up with other characters in one of the early trailers for Destiny 2.
Destiny hid a lot of it’s lore outside the core part of the game itself. For Cayde-6, a lot of details were revealed in The Taken King DLC for the first game, as well as a special edition of it that came with a kind of journal, with notes and illustrations from Cayde-6, all hidden in a modified copy of Treasure Island, because of course. In the second game Cayde-6 is selling treasure maps, and each time you buy a new set you get a new fragment of his journal. He doesn’t read it to you or anything. Just stares at you on screen while the words float there next to him, which sort of makes me feel like he wants you to find it, but doesn’t want to talk about it.
The story so far, as pieced together by fantastic community members like YouTuber Myelin Games, goes something like this:
Once there was a man, a human man, who was a doer of dangerous things for the right price. He had a partner, possibly a wife, and a son he called Ace. He got into a lot of debt and agreed to be turned into a Exo, a very advanced robot. He wrote journal entries to his son, apologising for what he’d done, but saying it was the only chance he’d ever see him again. This Exo lived through the Collapse, a huge, cataclysmic event that was extremely painful (in a literal sense) for him, and ended the world as we knew it. This Exo was woken up and became a guardian. This Exo found a journal in his pocket and, instead of ignoring the fragments of memory he had, tried to unjumble them and put them in order. He used playing cards as markers for different remembrances. Later, his closest friend was killed and he had to become the Hunter Vanguard, confined to the Tower instead of being able to go out and explore.
This is already extremely heartbreaking, and I’m leaving out a lot of detail. It gets worse with each new set of treasure maps: the latest reveals that Cayde can’t even remember Ace, he just found the journal in his pocket, assumed it was his, and carried on writing the entries to Ace because he liked having someone to write to. ‘You’ll never guess what happened today, Ace.’ There are suggestions in Destiny’s lore that the number after an Exo’s name is how many times they’ve had their system and memory wiped, and that they might sometimes get other Exos’ memories too. Cayde lost himself six times over, as well as starting again when he was awoken as a Guardian. And instead of letting it all go Cayde-6 is continually poking at it, the way you poke at a cut to see how much it actually hurts.
‘Take me with you!’
Christ, I can hardly bear to look at him any more.
And as storytelling in all media has grown and changed and deepened over the years, we have started to add more to the rogue backstory; audiences can appreciate depth in a character, and so it’s not enough to just say ‘This character is morally flexible, flippant, and uses humour in serious situations’. Now we say, ‘This character is morally flexible, flippant, and uses humour in serious situations because…’
And the because we give them is always so sad. Kasumi Goto lost her lover and can sit staring at the last recording of him, if you let her. Ezio Auditore saw almost his entire family hanged on false charges. Stephen Bloom has been an elaborate conman his entire life, but really only to make his brother happy. Many modern interpretations of Robin Hood have retroactively added tragedy to him. Malcolm Reynolds was on the losing side of a war for the soul of the galaxy. Cayde-6 is struggling to remember a life from hundreds of years ago.
Rogues are always pretending they don’t care because… if they didn’t they’d hardly function. Having a tragic backstory is now such an inevitable part of the loveable rogue trope that it should just be folded into it. We can’t allow them to just be happy, if annoying, people. We create these characters to make us laugh but bake a gooey centre of molten agony right into them so they’re more meaningful. It doesn’t seem fair. Cayde-6 was beaten before he’d even begun, and I want to tell him I’m sorry.