Recently I took the plunge and started into From Software’s Bloodborne. From Software is known for their punishing games (the Demon and Dark Souls series among them), and I had been more than a little intimidated to try them out. The lure of Bloodborne was strong, and my early time with it went relatively well. However, after a few play sessions, I started to question several aspects of the game. Consumables didn’t regenerate, but enemies respawn. The camera is rarely your friend. The rag doll physics of fallen enemies sometimes means you will drag them after you for far longer than you might think. Some enemies (after being defeated) fall through the geometry of the world and you won’t be able to loot them, sometimes losing out on precious consumables.
If you’re thinking I got frustrated for those reasons, you’d be right.
I realized that even though I wanted to like the game, even though I was interested in the story, I had little interest in continuing to play it. And I felt conflicted about that.
In the Souls games, it is understood that you will die. A lot. And I certainly did (though more so at the beginning). That wasn’t really my issue. My issue comes down to the punishing nature of the game.
At a certain point (well after beating the first two bosses) I started feeling that the game was punishing simply to be punishing. That concept isn’t really of interest to me.
I am fairly decent at games. I’m not awful, and I’m rarely exceptional (perhaps at a few games, Dr. Mario and Borderlands among them), but Bloodborne started to make me feel like I was the worst at games. Even if I was paying attention to attack patterns and tells, even if I was dodging between attacks, I started to feel like I couldn’t play the game properly.
And some design elements felt cheap.
I happened to be in a certain zone where this angry jerk is shooting a Gatling gun at you throughout. You have to dodge his shots and move into and out of “safe” zones while also dealing with some seriously unpleasant enemies. I was baiting the enemies out a couple at a time, defeating them, then proceeding forward cautiously. I kept looking behind me to make sure I wasn’t caught unawares (another cheap thing that happens occasionally in the game), and at a certain point, it happened anyway. I was jumped by a half a dozen lesser enemies and they just obliterated me. Due to the checkpoint system, I respawned at a lantern a sizable distance away where I knew I would have to do what I’d just done all over again (baiting out the enemies bit by bit so I could progress “safely”), only this time, with less consumables. Something seemed to click (snap?) for me and I just felt done. It wasn’t the fact that I’d have to redo what I’d just done, it was the principle of the matter.
I also realized I wasn’t enjoying the game. This put me into a weird dilemma: should I press on even though I’m not having fun? Or do I put the game aside and start in on one of the many games I have just waiting for me to play them?
As I get older, I think more and more about time and the value of it. This time, this time I’m writing these words and this time that you are reading them, we don’t get this back. Time is the most precious of all commodities. It’s one of the many reasons I’m grateful for each and every person (this means YOU!) who reads anything I write. You could literally be doing anything else, and yet you are here, reading this. It means a great deal to me.
Sorry, brief digression over.
Back on track.
I found myself wondering what to do about Bloodborne. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to put it aside. For now. I am not ruling out going back to it at some point in the future, but for now, I’m choosing to spend my digital time elsewhere.
But this brought me to the question of why people play punishing games. Do they exist for bragging rights for the gamers who play them? Do they exist simply for the challenge? Are they punishing simply for the sake of being punishing? Are they for gamers with little adversity in their lives who want the feeling of overcoming something? Or, on the flipside, are they for people with a great deal of adversity in their lives who don’t necessarily feel they can do much about it so they have a tangible (digital) way to work that out?
I’m assuming it’s an amalgam of any number of those possibilities. And infinitely more.
So my question is: what are your thoughts on punishing games?
Though Bloodborne may be metaphorically on pause, I’m certainly not ruling out going back to it in the future. I’m just not sure what would drive that choice. Either way, my mind remains open to the possibility.