‘Bloodborne’ and Learning to Improve

Let me put this in no uncertain terms: Bloodborne is for everyone.

It’s hard becoming a better person. I want to know the right things to say, the right things to do, in every circumstance. Of course I am not perfect, but I can try to learn from past mistakes. This is, of course, easier said than done.

We human beings do not generally enjoy confronting our mistakes. It’s also not always clear where mistakes are made or who is most to blame. By the time a project or endeavor comes crashing down around you, it may be too late to find the crucial flaw in its design.

How do you plan for improvement? Recently I have been spiraling down a disheartening losing streak in my League of Legends play. I try not to take competitive games too seriously, and for the most part, I take losses in stride. It is not the act of losing that I find frustrating, it’s the inability to know exactly how to improve. Even if I can find that singular moment in a game that spells defeat, I may not know how to improve. Practice is almost always the right answer, but undirected practice can feel like an imprecise slog.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I think Bloodborne is ruining other video games for me. In an upcoming EXP Podcast on the game, my colleague Scott Juster calls the game “respectful of its player.” This is true in a way few games ever approach. Bloodborne forces me to confront my mistakes with brutal honesty and clarity. When some large beast ambushes me, pushing me off a ledge or slamming me against the ground, I know exactly why I failed. Maybe I was playing too brazenly, not taking heed of my surroundings, or maybe I was distracted by something off in the distance. My mistakes are purely my own, and the game arms me with enough information to plan for improvement. This cycle of learning, of making a mistake, locating the mistake, and mapping a plan for improvement, is one of the most satisfying cycles that I have ever experienced in a game.

In a recent Forbes article, Dave Thier decried the near-universal praise game journalists heaped on Bloodborne. As he states, “regular people also deserve to know that they will, probably, hate this game. It is maddeningly, crushingly and unendingly difficult.” I don’t know what a “regular person” is to be honest. Let’s assume regular people are those who are interested enough in Bloodborne to try it out but have never played Demon Souls or Dark Souls. Let’s go so far as to use the terrible “C” word and call them “casual” gamers. Granting even this, I still disagree with the assumption that regular people would hate Bloodborne. Let me put this in no uncertain terms: Bloodborne is for everyone.

Setting aside many of the ways that Bloodborne is easily more accessible than Dark Souls, the game still speaks to a very human desire to learn from our mistakes and improve. Even in the first section of Yarnham, when players are least knowledgeable about the world and their own limitations, the game gives you the tools that you need to develop as a player. Enemies behave consistently. Where they can use the terrain to “cheat,” so can you. Each time you die, there they are in the same place, waiting to exploit your mistakes. Like a firm coach they pinpoint clearly and accurately your shortcomings, then demand that you improve. Even later in the game small errors can get you murdered by low-level enemies. This isn’t mean. It’s fair.

The difficulty of Bloodborne is a sort of myth. Or rather, the myth of Bloodborne’s difficulty is born of a sloppy inability to describe the firm but fair process of learning by another’s rules. Once players understand what Bloodborne demands, the process of dying, learning, planning, and executing isn’t just rewarding, it’s comforting. I find myself missing the wolves, the gargantuan bosses, and the booby-traps of Bloodborne. Winning was never easy, but improving was a breeze.