Reality is challenging enough—I’d rather not have to face even more challenges when playing games.
Last year, Capcom finally unleashed Alatreon in Monster Hunter: World: Iceborne. This was it, the game’s first “black dragon,” the hardest challenge players would face and one I had been looking forward to since March.
Having spent months psyching myself up for this hunt, I made sure to approach Alatreon the “correct” way. I’d done my research, looked at what strategies other players were using to do it. I’d even brought out a weapon I normally didn’t use, just because it had elemental properties – a requirement for the beast.
And even then, I knew I would still lose.
So, it was with this that I went into my first hunt. And as expected, I got my butt kicked. No matter how much I dodged or how much I picked my shots, Alatreon owned me. But it was fine; I knew it could go back and fight it again until I finally learned how to kill it.
And so I did. As soon as my character was sent packing back to the quest hub, I went about figuring out what went wrong, changing my equipment and formulating a new strategy before heading off to hunt Alatreon again.
And hunt it again, I did, throwing my character back into the fray before the dragon once again sent me packing.
And once more, I rushed straight back into the fight, eager to show the monster that I wouldn’t be discouraged. No matter how many times I took a beating.
Or so I thought. By my fourth attempt at Alatreon, I decided I had enough. Even though the fight wasn’t over, I ended up just abandoning the hunt and closing the game afterward.
It just wasn’t fun for me anymore. I used to be able to enjoy the long hours of grinding and learning a fight—something had changed; the world had changed.
Back when I was constantly playing and grinding in Iceborne, the world still wasn’t locked in a fight with its own monster—one that no amount of metagaming or grinding has shown a solution for, so far—the coronavirus.
These days, the stress of just having to deal with all that the virus has wrought hasn’t exactly left me in the right headspace to enjoy Iceborne or other hard games like it.
Are games still an escape?
Most video games are escapist in nature, letting players escape from their mundane lives and experience adventures in faraway worlds, away from their everyday lives. Hard games, like those in the Monster Hunter and Dark Souls series, are the same. The added difficulty makes the experience much sweeter by providing players with a sense of accomplishment. Sure, they’re hard, but that makes beating these games so much more rewarding.
At least, that’s how it was for me. In the real world, I was just a “regular guy” working to make ends meet. In-game, I was a master hunter who had slain scores of monsters and turned their hides into fancy hats (it’s a Monster Hunter thing).
Yes, it had taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears for me to get where I was in-game, and it still took an effort to maintain that status with every new update Capcom added, but the satisfaction was worth it.
With the ongoing pandemic, however, my life is suddenly much more challenging. While I was lucky enough to have a job still, all the other challenges that living under lockdown, as well as the looming threat of the virus, started to wear on me. No longer was I looking for something that would challenge me and give me that dopamine rush once I beat that challenge. Instead, I simply wanted to escape to somewhere less stressful – and apparently, I wasn’t alone.
It seems that a lot of other people have shared this same sentiment of merely wanting to escape to a less stressful videogame world during the lockdowns. The massive success of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a testament to this, with the game selling over 11 million copies and counting.
Sadly, I don’t have a Switch, so while I have played other Animal Crossing games, I wasn’t able to join in on the island-hopping fun this time around.
For me, my escape to less stressful games meant a return to games I knew I had already mastered, as well as those who didn’t really need me to accomplish anything.
As part of this, I started playing driving games again, such as old Gran Turismo games and Assetto Corsa—not to race, mind you, but just to drive around not really caring about beating anyone, except maybe my own lap time.
It let me live out fantasies such as driving Lewis Hamilton’s championship-winning McLaren around the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps or doing absurd things like taking an F3 car around Tokyo’s expressway system (thanks to the excellent Shutokou Revival Project mod for Assetto Corsa).
This same sense of just aimlessly playing around in-game with barely any rhyme or reason has also affected how I play fighting games (my competitive genre of choice). Instead of going online to fight people, I find myself simply playing training mode endlessly – no more footsies, neutral or mind games for me; I just want to hammer out 100-hit Double Ultras in Killer Instinct. (Read: Fighting in the time of COVID: the problems of online play and how both the community has adapted)
Sure, playing games this way doesn’t give me the same high as a challenging hunt in Iceborne would, but I don’t really need that high right now. Instead, I just want to spend an hour or three away from the real world.
Difficult games take more from you
Perhaps what I enjoy the most about the games I’ve been playing is that feeling they give me of having control of the time I put into them.
Hard games like Monster Hunter often ask the player to dedicate time for learning, to understand their mechanics if they want to be successful in beating them. These are games where players have to dedicate hours to do certain tasks repeatedly until they figure out the solution.
With a boss like Alatreon, this involves constantly fighting it repeatedly, learning its patterns and tells, and looking for openings. This is on top of special mechanics that the game may not tell players directly. In Alatreon’s case, it has a damage check where, if players don’t deal enough elemental damage, it can wipe an entire party in a single attack.
Once a player learns all these things, then the feeling of accomplishment is quite a rush. The downside, however, is that it can also feel crushing if a player doesn’t get anywhere at the end of a play session. This can be especially frustrating for players who have limited time or energy to dedicate to these games.
I know that’s the case for me right now. Most days, I already feel tired going into a game that I don’t really feel like having to dedicate a lot of energy playing it.
With the games I’m playing right now, there’s very little time commitment needed. I can go in and out of the game and not feel frustrated at the end—nothing to chase after if I’m just driving aimlessly around Tokyo.
That’s not to say I’m avoiding games that require me to go after an end goal. It’s just that, when I do so, it’s games that aren’t exactly known for being challenging or have options to make my playthrough easier.
I recently ran through Rise of the Tomb Raider since it was free for PS Plus subscribers. While I had started the game on its “normal” difficulty, I soon switched it to “easy.” Not only did this leave enemies with less health, but it also snapped my aim directly to an enemy whenever I hit R2 to aim over Lara’s shoulder.
Meanwhile, with Ghost of Tsushima, which I plan to get as soon as I settle some bills, I’m already researching how to do a stealth playthrough, since stealth in that game is notoriously overpowered and can trivialize most, if not all, of it (note to Sucker Punch: please don’t nerf stealth before I buy the game). [Ed: He’s already done with Ghost of Tsushima]
A new take on an old game?
Lately, I’ve found another game where I can get a lot done without having to commit a lot—Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. Yes, the same game I quit because I couldn’t be bothered to put in the time to beat one monster.
And no, I still haven’t beat Alatreon.
However, the game’s summer festival event is up. This means that there’s a lot more to do than banging my head against a black dragon. Iceborne’s seasonal events reward players for simply doing hunts and quests, regardless of whether or not they’re the latest, hardest one. Combined with the fact they also open up a lot of limited-time events, this means that I don’t have to worry about Alatreon.
Now, I’m free to just do whatever hunt I want, alone or in a group, wearing my “so overpowered I don’t really need to think” build that lets me tank attacks with a big shield, then blast away with an oversized, draconic heavy bowgun (a shotgun on steroids).
It’s a kind of playstyle that some players think is too good—why learn monster attack patterns when blocking not only mitigates the damage but also puts them in the perfect range to eat a barrage of, guaranteed critical hit, shotgun shells for maximum damage?
Even Capcom seems to know as much. The most recent monsters, such as Alatreon, are designed to discourage the playstyle. They’re purposefully stronger against bullets and require elemental damage—something heavy bowguns are terrible at.
But, with the summer festival, all that doesn’t matter. I can just go and run hunts against the older monsters—the ones my build is super effective at—and reap the rewards.
Yes, my set and playstyle can trivialize what should be a hard game. Yes, I’m not taking on the latest, most difficult challenges.
But to me, it doesn’t really matter.
All that matters is that I can spend some time away from the real world in a fictional one where all my problems are a shotgun blast from being solved.
All that matters is that I’m having fun. (Read: You should live your life with music playing in the background)
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