The Unwinnable Game

Pleasure in losing.

I’ve often thought of difficult games as places where people who aren’t that skilled do things that aren’t that hard. What does it prove if you win, anyway? Games are usually designed to end. People who find hard games rewarding believe less in the challenge than in the associated feelings. Anger, anxiety, excitement, joy — the constant flow between these states can be an experience unto its own, one able to intertwine with other elements of the game to create something sublime.

The sublime of hard games hit me in spring 2016, when I played Dark Souls. It was the start of an enduring love, partly because it engendered a feeling I hadn’t felt before. What if I can’t? How long do I fight a boss before I must rationally conclude that it is impossible for me to win? And if I concede, is it congruent with the message of the game, which says that both giving up and not giving up can make us lose our sanity? I finished my run with 563 deaths.

Many games have come out since. Some offer far harder challenges. But I didn’t want to play them. I wanted Souls. I began a new character in Bloodborne, a Wretch, a class that starts at the lowest level the game will allow: four. This is called Blood Level 4, a challenge in which the player may not level up.

Soon, the question came back: what will make me lose my sanity, giving up or not giving up? With only 9 bosses out of 22 defeated, and walls everywhere I turned, I deleted my character. The game beat me. Well, true to the series’ message, the universe didn’t end. Can I say that I experienced the Souls message more authentically than ever before?

By Andrei Filote

Andrei Filote lives and writes between the Alps and the sea. You can tweet him @letominor.

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