Bloodborne is one of the most frustrating, maddening, fantastic games I have ever played. It also, somewhat paradoxically, helped me manage my IRL anxiety. That is not a sentence I expected to write before booting up my first From Software game, from which I peaced out around Shadows of Yharnam because I had other things to do with my life than spend hours on a bullshit three-on-one boss encounter, but I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed the time I did sink into it. Even that kinda seems like the wrong verb to use for a Souls game: enjoyed. The difficulty level, patronising simplicity of the “YOU DIED” Game Over screen and general inscrutability mean that, largely, the language we use to describe playing a game by Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team it supposed to be more akin to some kind of a trial, a challenge, something you persevere through. In actuality, I found it pretty comparable to my own coping mechanisms.
It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday night and a man sat on the table next to me in the Manchester Piccadilly Starbucks is shooting people in the face. He’s playing a game on his iPad where you first select from a selection of rifles — hunting, military — and then aim them at medium-poly targets on what looks like an everyday city street. He drags his finger across the touch screen and pinches to zoom his scope at a target. He presses a button and the view switches, the camera follows the journey of the bullet through the air in slow motion. It sails across a road, over the tops of blocky parked cars rendered in simple polygons, and then tears through a man’s cheekbone. His jaw starts to fall off as a low-res cloud of gore blooms. WELL DONE! Says the game. ONE MORE CRIMINAL OFF THE STREETS! And I sip my cold cup of tea and wonder if there’s not something to this reactionary idea of video games deadening us to violence.