Okay. So after around 70 hours of total playtime (I know some of you have played more, please don’t tweet me your playtime as a complaint), playing multiplayer, playing single player, watching Let’s Plays and streams, scrolling through the subreddit, crafting quite a lot of armor sets, and rage quitting when the damn monster tripped my trap and I couldn’t tranq it fast enough so had to run back to the camp to craft another trap, I’ve come to my final conclusion:
Monster Hunter is like Dark Souls.
Okay, okay, I admit – that’s a joke. But maybe only a half joke. MHW and Dark Souls have a lot more in common than just frustration. And these commonalities aren’t in things like difficulty or armor sets, but in the way in which someone engages with the game. In order to stay away from the meme, I’ll focus much more on MHW than Dark Souls, but hopefully you’ll see the similarities as we go.
First, lets just say that after 65 or so hours of game time in any other game would mean I’m pretty much an expert. For MHW, this is so not the case. Just recently, when playing with my partner online, we still found ourselves answering each others’ questions with “I don’t know”s. And while this is my first actual foray into the world of Monster Hunter, this appears to be normal for the series. On a recent playing of the game on their channel, Game Grumps’ Arin Hansen mentioned his difficultly of getting into the Monster Hunter series prior to World, and how he had to have someone who knew much more about the series walk him through it.
Monster Hunter World thrives on word of mouth. Not in the sense of marketing, like more indie-developed games, but in actual understanding. It puts an emphasis on playing with others – to be delving into the world with others, and through the exchange of information and experience, more knowledge is built. Community is established through flow of information and shared experience.
Let’s demonstrate this with an example from my own time with the game. After 35 hours of playtime, I can truly say that when I use the dual blades, I have no idea what the gauge is under my life bar (indicated in the image). Playing with my partner informed me it had at least something to do with entering “demon mode” which drains stamina in exchange for higher damage.
The complications and difficulties of playing Monster Hunter doesn’t just have to do with various gauges. Each weapon choice has a completely different way of engaging with it, which means any shifting of weapon type requires an entirely new set of skills and knowledge. The long sword, for instance, is built on a system of complex combos. The duel swords have a small amount of combos, but are mostly built do to the speed of which these attacks can happen. The bow utilizes button controls the others don’t have, making up for combos with different coatings which can be crafted and applied. And that’s not even getting into the variety of guns which all have their own subset of ammo and ammo types. There are 14 different weapon types you can choose from. And that’s not even including the complex system of different status affects, and numbers associated with the variety of armor, or the crafted differences possible in a variety of trees for each weapon type, which can be crafted from the pieces of monster you hunt.
Dark Souls thrives in a similar manner. World of mouth is incredibly important to the Dark Souls community, though in a slightly different way. The “story” of Dark Souls is rarely present, and esoteric when it is. The differences in actions the player must take in order to get the variety of endings is often only communicated through the community itself. What Monster Hunter does differently is the multiplayer aspect. Dark Souls is primarily a game played alone, with the option to join up with others only for boss fights, and with no voice chat really to speak of. Monster Hunter, on the other hand, encourages (despite the kinda shoddy way people connect to it) to play the whole game with others. You’re supposed to talk to one another, and share your knowledge with one another.
The focus on the game, then, is on the importance of our communication – and more importantly for our focus here – on our narratives. Information is given through narratives, through sharing my experiences in narrative form to those I’m playing with, spreading knowledge of different weapon types, things you can load into your slinger, the specifics of when tranqs don’t work during capture missions. Our narratives form the experiences of those we’re with. And narrative impacts our experience of the virtual world itself.
To give a little of actual academic backing, I’ve grown a liking with Jonathan Miles-Watson’s concept of “implicit myth” (and I assure you this has nothing to do with him being my supervisor). Originally derived from Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose view of implicit myth was something less significant than written myth (1981), Miles-Watson’s view of implicit myth is based on the stories we tell that gives a more actual meaning to the things around us (Miles-Watson 2015). At a conference, I gave an example of telling the story of a sandwich shop, which is an important place for us because of the story I tell of laughing so hard soda came out my nose. Our connection to place is often only tangible in these narratives, these myths which connect us to our environment. Its also linked to Tim Ingold’s idea of the surrounding landscape viewed through a “dwelling perspective” (2000). Landscape is not something rural and separate from us as humans. Rather, we are tied to it as it is tied to us, and it is changed through the experiences, actions and narratives shared from the humans and non-humans who are there too.
I personally don’t see a virtual geographic space as any different. The world in Monster Hunter World is formed, changed, and given meaning through our implicit myths. And we connect to this world through these myths. It forms the basis of our connection to the virtual world. So while Monster Hunter is kinda like Dark Souls, are narratives about it make it so very different. It makes the frustrated narratives about failed capture missions, or a tough fight with a Rathalos something more than just a frustrating video game. It gives meaning to the narratives we tell – making the different areas of the Ancient Forest feel special with memory of ourselves and others.