Bloodborne was an interesting experience. Games made by From Software have a formidable reputation as being crushingly difficult titles only played by masochists. This reputation isn’t helped by said masochists as they maintain a sort of superiority over those who haven’t mastered the series. In this short blog post I will be ignoring the wonderful H.P Lovecraft inspired visuals, storytelling and tone of Bloodborne in favour of a short analysis of how From software teach the player how to play their games. Believe me entire essays have been written on different aspects of Bloodborne, go seek them out.
Playing Bloodborne for the first time was not forgiving, I had no idea where to go and was getting mauled by the simplest of enemies. I gave up for a period of time, feeling dejected and beaten. However a week later I picked it up again, figured out how to level up my character, cleared the level, beat the boss and I had the main game finished in a week and a half, playing in the evenings mostly. Playing and learning from my mistakes promoted a new way of thinking and a new way of approaching a game. Patience is the real currency of Bloodborne, groups of enemies need careful crowd control, bosses allow you to make mistakes but never allow you to make too many too quickly. Around three mistimed dodges in a row will get you killed over the course of a couple seconds. You learn early on that some enemies can be ignored entirely and that you should be picking your fights. You would think absolute caution at all times would be the solution to a problem where patience is required, however that will only get you so far.
Caution can leave you open to the worst of attacks, select regular enemies and bosses are designed to punish such behaviour with absolute sustained aggression, to which you must counter with aggression of your own. Interestingly you arguably level up alongside your character, you learn to leave your past experiences of playing fast action games in favour of this new way of thinking. By the end you begin to love the game, even though it’s a hateful, horrible experience that’s likely to kick the unprepared in their sex organs without warning or mercy. It is not for the faint hearted, if you only enjoy relatively safe pick up and play type games like I generally do, then you will struggle like me to buy a copy in the first place and find the will to keep going through the first few trepidatious hours . At least I had a basis from which to work from, here is a controller with buttons on it and this is what they do, now go and figure out the advanced stuff. You are expected to fail often but because the rules are consistent enough with what you will be doing when fighting the bosses, any progress made, however small, never feels like wasted effort. Repetition is a valid method because your time seemed worthwhile in attaining the final goal.
It is at this point I want to Segway off the focus topic, stay with me. I would like to propose an analogy to a form of school learning. However in hindsight it is not really applicable. Math is taught in a way in which the text books often are disconnected from the exam itself, thus those with enough disposable income get grinds so they can do old exam papers and be more capable of second guessing the examiner. Suppose Bloodborne had the regular control scheme throughout the game only in the final level and subsequent boss, scramble your buttons after every death. However for a fee you could you could unscramble the buttons to a control scheme you still don’t understand but can live with. People would be pissed if the maths syllabus was a game that’s for sure. It feels like an arbitrary waste of time, whilst Bloodborne avoids this problem of lacking player motivation.
Okay, so maths sucks, Bloodborne also sucks at first, both have masochistic elements to them, both have prodigies incidentally. Gamification of real life activities is nothing new, educators tend to focus on games as learning tools rather than games design as a basis philosophy for teaching wider concepts, however. The system is ran and facilitated by especially flawed people motivated by cynical factors as I mostly saw it, types who feel entitled but live in a make believe world of minimal productivity and no responsibility. I believe any change in doctrine away from what is there currently would be as Christopher Hitchens would’ve said “An improvement of a kind”. Not solving the problem, but trying at least to be seen doing something to mask the effects.
So there it is, some muddled babble about how a game taught me concepts and the the broken way in which the school system does things in comparison, keep in mind this was not comprehensive on my thoughts on the education system and neither do I wish you to confirm my bias on such matters. Complaining about how education is broken nowadays is one of my main past times, and I hope to come back to the topic a couple of times throughout my time on the blogosphere. Keep in mind I am not particularly intelligent, but I will strive to complain about these things anyway. Sometime I may talk about the artistic elements Bloodborne, especially the influences of Howard Philips Lovecraft, even though it is a well covered subject.