There is unquestionably value in working hard at achieving a set goal. Indeed, the act of setting goals and striving intelligently and consistently toward them is the only source of genuine success in this world. When we have learned the language, improved our relationships, or lifted the weight, we perhaps reach a new plateau from which we can survey future challenges. We take a breath, do not rest on our laurels, and then push on to the next goal, stronger and more capable.
This cycle is distilled to a level of purity in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, by From Software, that I have not encountered in video games before. It is relentlessly hard at the beginning, and then, if you take the advice that I receive (practice, get better), you will perhaps crack the shell of the game, and taste your first sweet reward. You got good. You defeated the spear-wielding mini-boss. You finally collected enough beads to get a little more health. But then the hill rises again, and your newfound skills will only take you so far. You must get better again, faster, more capable. And you must learn to use the tools that become available to you. Your ninja skills, though adequate to get you through the first major boss are not enough to handle groups of archers and a miniboss combined. But, unlike the first time around when you could practice with a helpful undying friend who hangs out near your home base, you have to get better in the midst of fights that can cost you gold and experience. That’s where the game stopped for me. I didn’t find the reward to be a high-enough high to warrant the frustration of the lows. I admire those who are just naturally better than me at this game, and all the more those who are not, but learned to “get good” all the way through. I wanted to see the story, to experience the madness of the extreme difficulty of the enemies throughout the game, so I pulled out my trusty cheat-engine and fought my way through with unending health. And, even then, there were times when the game was brutally difficult. I got good at blocking, dodging, and even countering, but there were still enemies and bosses against which I felt like a ragdoll. More than once I thought, “Well, if I had gotten here without help, perhaps I would have gotten good enough to face this enemy down, but I doubt it.”
I think Sekiro is an excellent game, but it offers something from games that I actually want more from real life, and this concerns me. Sekiro is very hard; you have to be very good to beat it. If you do, it offers a sense of accomplishment that likely rivals anything in video-games. But it also likely rivals much of what we do with our regular lives. My fear is that the accomplishment offered by games like Sekiro will perhaps be, for some people, enough. I like accomplishment in video games. I enjoy achievements. I’m still trying, a couple of years later, off and on, to get a few remaining ones in Batman: Arkham Knight. I have all of them from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. I like the challenge and the sense of reward. But Sekiro’s difficulty-reward is far too intense for what I like from a game.
© The All Ports Open Network, 2019