I tried to like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I really did. If you actively enjoy these games, that is awesome. It’s just not for me. By all accounts, I should’ve liked it. I enjoy fantasy games, especially those that have—dare I say it—a darker twist. I like being challenged, and I like solving puzzles within games. That’s the fun of it for me.
That was the problem, though—these games (Dark Souls and Bloodborne, specifically) were not fun for me. In order to enjoy these games, in my experience, there are certain privileges that are necessary: time, money, and the dedication to the self-image as a gamer. The entirety of gaming as hobby, lifestyle, or whatever, requires these privileges. But in all my experiences as a gamer, these have not manifested so strongly as in the aforementioned games.
First, I’ll talk about the privilege of time.
You are thrown into the middle of the action of the story without any concrete idea about what is going on in the larger picture. It is easy to pick up the controls and hack away at enemies, but it was unclear to me as the player why any of what I was doing mattered in the larger narrative. Part of this apathy stemmed from the rate at which my character died. I know that this is a huge part of the game, and I know that “You Will Die” is the very edgy tagline of the Dark Souls series. It was more how the character dies rather than the frequency. The absolute loss of all the progress I made over the course of one or two hours would be completely undone by one lucky scythe to the face of my character.
Usually, when gaming, the difficulty of the level corresponds directly with how many checkpoints are found within that level. An easier level would have fewer than five, while a more complex level may have a whole lot more. In these extraordinary examples (Dark Souls and Bloodborne), there are maybe three checkpoints over the course of a thousand feet within the game. Not bad, right?
A thousand feet within the game is equal to about three hours of work in the game. With Bloodborne especially, there is a certain level of stealth that is required. Say there are 35 to 40 enemies within 1,000 feet of distance between checkpoints. The character has to pick off each one of those enemies at one or two at a time in order to get through that stretch in-game. If it takes five minutes or so per enemy or enemies, that takes a whole lotta time.
Then you inevitably die because, surprise! An evil dog was there the entire time and it just ate your face off. You silly gamer, you. Now you must start again with those 35 to 40 enemies from the beginning, keep that stray evil dog in mind, and pray to the gods that there is not another stray evil dog behind the next cart.
As a working student, I could not justify spending that much time on the same parts of the game for days. I’m lucky—I only had to work one part-time job while going to school. But a lot of people do not have the time in-between two or three jobs on top of a getting a higher level of education or taking care of their family. So the privilege of time is intrinsically connected to the privilege of wealth. It connects even more so when you consider that someone (such as myself) spent enough money to feed themselves for a week or two ($50 or more) to get flipped off continuously by sword-wielding skeletons and weirdly tall men in trench coats carrying scythes.
But I think the most problematic part of this type of game is the part that feeds into the ego of the gaming community. I personally did not like Dark Souls, but I did not admit it to myself until two years after I stopped playing it, specifically when I gave up on playing Bloodborne. I think a large part of this was due to my ego as a gamer. I am, as you may have guessed, quite dedicated to the world of video games. I am pretty good at them, and thus my continuous failures in Dark Souls really aggravated my ego. I made up excuses, and while they were valid, they were not entirely fair. Although I told myself I did not have the time to dedicate to Dark Souls, I apparently always had space in my busy schedule as a liberal arts student to replay BioShock for the umpteenth time.
I met a lot of people who talked about how much they loved these games and I’ve received snapchats from acquaintances playing these games with very positive captions. I couldn’t understand it—until I realized that these gamers are from privilege who are students or recent graduates, which means there is a certain level of free time and financial support at their disposal. That is not to say that they are bad people, but in my experience, it attracts a certain subset of people who have the resources and an urge to prove themselves in a world that does not have the same sense of security, economically and otherwise, that it once did when we were in the safety of the educational system.