Steven Poole stares for too long at Blood­borne’s load­ing screen

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Peo­ple who don’t play games much (or at all) of­ten ask the most pen­e­trat­ing ques­tions about them. As I was blun­der­ing around the open­ing stages of

Blood­borne one evening, my girl­friend kept pos­ing in­no­cent queries to which there was no good an­swer. I passed by a car­riage still at­tached to a dead horse – no point, I quickly de­cided, in flog­ging it – and she asked: “Can you get in the car­riage?” I had to ex­plain that in this kind of videogame you can’t in­ter­act with ob­jects that way. The same went for a cof­fin she fan­cied open­ing, and so on.

She was also in­ter­ested in char­ac­ter aes­thetics. We’d had an en­ter­tain­ing time choos­ing an avatar who looked as much like me as pos­si­ble (Trou­bled Child­hood, natch), and then dur­ing the game she com­mented: “It’s funny: you spent all that time on your face, and you don’t get to see it much.” Per­fectly true. Which prompted an­other good ques­tion: “I won­der why your braces are hang­ing loose?” Seems like an im­prac­ti­cal de­ci­sion if you’re go­ing to spend a lot of time in close com­bat with mon­sters. Surely those dan­gling braces are go­ing to catch on some­thing at some point.

But I haven’t played the game to the end to see if there is some braces-re­lated in­ci­dent. Blood­borne, of course, is the lat­est in a lin­eage of videogames that are more than de­cid­edly not for peo­ple who don’t play games; it’s tough enough for those who do. Be­cause I had com­pany, I be­gan to find it funny that for half an hour I couldn’t even fig­ure out how to ac­quire and equip some weapons. It be­came per­versely en­ter­tain­ing to be sav­aged mul­ti­ple times by a gi­ant zom­bie wolf. Later on, once I was fi­nally armed, and had spent many more hours blun­der­ing around Steam­punk Rot­ting-Cow­boy Town, I was able to see the bril­liance of its tough-but-fair fight­ing sys­tem, but I de­cided the game wasn’t for me ei­ther.

We know that in Blood­borne, much more than in most videogames, death is an ex­per­i­men­tal tool. You are sup­posed to die fre­quently. Death is the en­gine of dis­cov­ery and im­prove­ment – as it is in evo­lu­tion. I ad­mire this as an un­com­pro­mis­ing game me­chanic, but I could al­ready feel the yawn­ing load­ing times be­tween dy­ing and start­ing again threat­en­ing to take weeks off my life just by them­selves. And, af­ter all, in other re­spects Blood­borne is a very nor­mal and familiar kind of videogame. It even has a shop. (The cur­rency might be Blood Echoes, but it is cur­rency all the same.)

Nor­mal and familiar, it is true, can mean com­fort­ing and fun. Be­gin­ning a co-op cam­paign through crunchy twin-stick con­fec­tion Hell­divers, for ex­am­ple, meant notic­ing familiar me­chan­ics and trans­lat­ing them into the vo­cab­u­lary of other game sys­tems. As my friend and I started to spread Man­aged Democ­racy through the uni­verse, we no­ticed that you could col­lect Sam­ples and said, “Oh, they’re like gems” (the cur­rency in iso­met­ric Tomb Raiders). And we man­aged our au­to­matic gun turrets with con­fi­dence, since we’d done the same thing so of­ten in Mod­ern War­fare 2. In this way, the game be­gan to seem like a well-cho­sen com­pi­la­tion of favourite me­chan­ics from other games, with added hi­lar­ity from friendly-fire in­ci­dents and other pleas­antly gra­tu­itous touches.

When a game is so nearly per­fect, how­ever, the lit­tle things do start to ran­kle. There is no ex­cuse for ever let­ting one player dis­ap­pear from the screen, as Hell­divers does in some chaotic fights. ( Dead Na­tion never com­mit­ted this sin, even with many more enemies in­volved.) Worse, how­ever, is the fact that if you fail a mission you can’t in­stantly start again. Shall we start some kind of cam­paign about this?

Maybe I am too op­ti­mistic about tech­nol­ogy, but my ex­pec­ta­tion in the year 2015 is this: any videogame that is try­ing to in­cul­cate a ‘just one more try’ feel­ing – as both Hell­divers and Blood­borne so ex­pertly do in their very dif­fer­ent ways – ought to let that one more try begin in­stantly. In­stead, wait­ing around through in­ter­minable load­ing screens or more mean­ing­less presses of X in menus makes it feel as though the game is only grudg­ingly let­ting you play it. And it is dur­ing those blank pe­ri­ods that one feels most in­tensely the ex­is­ten­tial ab­sur­dity of videogam­ing. If Jean-Paul Sartre were alive to­day, he might write a play in which the char­ac­ters are locked in a non­de­script an­techam­ber or wait­ing room, with the sin­gle flash­ing word LOAD­ING pro­jected for­ever onto the wall.

Any videogame that is try­ing to in­cul­cate a ‘just one more try’ feel­ing ought to let that one more try begin in­stantly

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