Self-improvement Through 'Bloodborne'

Next time you think about eating an entire tub of ice cream, try taking a stroll to Oedon Chapel.

Unless you’re some sort of professional video game savant, you’ll be spending a lot of time staring at Bloodborne's logo. Surprise attacks, traps, one-shot kills, and just plain sloppy play means that you’ll have plenty of time to consider your actions while staring at the Game Over text and subsequent loading screen. Bloodborne's unusually long load times enforce this period of reflection. Apparently From Software is trying to cut these times down, but during the last few weeks if you have played Bloodborne, you may have been staring (and seething) at the loading screen for the better part of a minute.

Now, is 30-40 seconds really that long? If you think about it in a geological sense, not really. However, in a world in which my pocket holds a device that allows me to access the entire sum of human knowledge in a couple seconds, 30 seconds is an eternity. After a few deaths and several angry minutes of aimless bitterness and regret, I decided to channel my frustration into push ups. As I huffed by way past 20, it became clear that I was acting out a metaphor.

Exercising: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I don’t think there’s anything that is equally as valuable and difficult to commit to doing. It’s no surprise that gamification is so strongly represented in health and sports activities: losing weight, getting stronger, or learning a new sport seem to take an interminable amount of time. Change is gradual and doesn’t always follow a clear progression path. That needy part of my brain wants those guaranteed achievements.

After a year of mainly doing body weight exercises, I resolved to brave the mire of desperation and douchery that is the modern gymnasium and start lifting real weights again. The visit to the squat rack was a short one. I was at least 50 pounds away not only from where I wanted to be and what I knew I could do. There was only one way back, and it was a slow one.

My last experience with a Souls-like game was Demon’s Souls. My strongest memories involve steamrolling all my foes and completely destroying the last boss. I was equipped with amazing weapons and armor and had put in dozens of hours into gradually improving my stats. My initial hours with Bloodborne were full of resentful thoughts about how little damage I could dole out and how slow I was.Irrational as it sounds, my character felt as atrophied as my poor quads.

Brute strength isn’t everything though. Breathe in. Lift. Contract abdomen. Oh, geez, is my left foot pointed too far outward? Wait, when do I exhale? Things are feeling really tilty… Is “tilty” a word? Correct. Too late! I guess I’m failing out and hoping that nobody notices the clang of the safety bar. People noticed, but they were polite enough to act like they didn’t. My technique was rusty, and it shows in the results.

It was the same with Bloodborne. The will was there, but not the mechanics or the concentration. It took a while to adjust to the exacting timing and disciplined fighting that I needed to survive even some of the earliest encounters. It’s quite rare to face this type of challenge in a modern game, but if you’re messing with your phone or trying to watch a video on another screen, even the lowest level grunts will end a run. Staring at that loading screen because of a lapse in technique rather than an honest try makes it feel even longer.

As is the case in the gym, sometimes I just have a bad outing in Bloodborne. Because I don’t always reach my goal or make a huge amount of progress, I’m forced to look at the larger picture. I’ve gained a bit more experience or farmed a few more items. I learned an enemy’s hiding place or memorized a shorter path through the forest. There is always something redeeming to be found as long as you focus on the overall trend instead of the immediate hardships.

There are peaks, but they’re achieved through measured progress and repetition. My mind makes checklists: hands at shoulder width, knees unlocked, breathe in, feel bar shift against calluses, push, breathe out, and do it again. Warp in, immediately run down the stairs to draw the enemies out, two strong attacks followed by a fast attack kills the first two beasts, a three hit flurry kills the third, and then it’s time to do it again. Suddenly, I’ve hit a new max or defeated a boss without even planning on it. There’s always the possibility of falling down, but I’ve cut a path that I can follow on my way back up.

Bloodborne offers a subtle feeling of accomplishment. It’s a long commitment because it requires sustained effort and an ability to look past immediate failures. It requires strength but also the technique to execute properly. So much of my improvement is just figuring out the approach and then applying what I’ve learned. There are some painful failures, but they are in service of something that will ultimately feel great.

Back to the loading screen once again. I curse the werewolf beasts of Yharnam and eye the potato chips on the table. I sigh, drop to the ground and do some more push ups. Somewhere around the 30 second mark, I realize that I have taken the boss down to about 25% health instead of my usual 50%. I also notice that I am routinely hitting 30 push ups in these interludes rather than 25. Bloodborne drops my avatar back into the city, I plant myself back on the couch, and the cycle starts again.

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