“Even in this darkest of nights, I see… the moonlight…”
A severed horse head provides these genuinely moving words of wisdom in the video game Bloodborne. This strangely comforting moment distills the impact that From Software’s masterpiece of blood and horror had on me during the lockdown we’ve all been forced to take part in during this pandemic.
Bloodborne is not a happy game. It’s violent, grim, and, at points, terrifying. It is also so difficult that the player’s repeatedly dying is baked into the story. And yet… there is something about it that keeps the player going. Underneath all the gruesome imagery, the game implicitly wants you to succeed. “What,” it seems to say. “Are you going to let all these horrible monsters continue to mock you? To continue to run rampant over this fair city? Come on then! Show them what you’re truly made of!”
I first tried playing Bloodborne in 2015 when it first released. While I was taken with the beautiful gothic style of the pseudo-Victorian city of Yharnam, there was one problem: I was very bad at the game. I was unable to move past even the first section of the first area. The enemies were too vicious, and I was too hesitant to fight back. Any time I tried to fend myself against one enemy, it felt as if there were two more lying in wait to strike me down. I wound up quitting the game and barely touched it during the next five years. In this time, the world changed a bit.
In April of 2020, I and the rest of my family were participating in the shelter in place order. I attempted to put on a brave face, and often did, but inwardly, I was stressed beyond measure. What will happen to my job? I asked myself. Will I still be able to review movies after this? Will there even be movie theaters after this? Is Bloodshot really going to be the last movie I see in a movie theatre?! All this, plus the goading of a friend, inspired me to give Bloodborne one more go. I had exhausted virtually every other form of entertainment I had, and I finally had time enough to give the game another chance. I thought it would prove a welcome distraction. I didn’t think it would become one of my primary sources of relaxation during quarantine.
I found this relaxation in the very thing that previously alienated me: the difficulty. It is true that Bloodborne is a game that’s designed so that you will die repeatedly. Some deaths were deserved, some unfair, and a few were just downright embarrassing. But, much like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, I learned something new from every death. Death ceased being an obstacle, but instead became a valuable teacher. When someone asked me how I was doing when I was stuck on Ludwig, the Holy Blade, I said: “I haven’t lost to him yet. I’ve just figured out 20 different ways to not win.”
Of course, there were many, many times where death would be frustrating. In one instance, I had spent an hour mining 150,000 Blood Echoes, eager to spend them on some upgrades, only to lose them in an instant due to some beast getting a lucky shot in on me. And there were bosses who tried my patience so thoroughly that I seriously asked myself if I wanted to continue playing the game. One such enemy, the Bloody Crow of Cainhurst, was so difficult that defeating him took two full days. But this is all preamble to what the game truly offered: an unparalleled sense of satisfaction that I haven’t felt since childhood.
When I finally delivered the killing strike to the Bloody Crow and watched him crumple to the floor, my hands began shaking uncontrollably. And I realized something else: since the quarantine started, I had control over something. I couldn’t change the fact that I was locked at home. I couldn’t eliminate the feeling of hopelessness every day seemed to bring. But every time I stepped into Yharnam, I felt something else. I was a Hunter. And in the darkness that each day seemed to bring, in Yharnam, I could see the moonlight shining through.