For the last few weeks Bloodborne has dominated all of my news sites and social networks. Seems like everyone I know has bought a copy. I knew I wouldn’t like Bloodborne, so I held out for as long as I could without buying it, but when a friend asked if I wanted to come over and try out his copy, I caved.
I did not enjoy the game. And yet, after I went home, I found myself buried in Bloodborne news and tweets and posts all over again. “Maybe I should give it another shot,” I thought. “Maybe I should just buy it.”
If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? I would, because the alternative is a lifetime of loneliness.
I didn’t actually buy Bloodborne. Somehow, I escaped the fervor unscathed! But it’s still going on. I might still end up buying the game. And I didn’t even enjoy it.
I went back to my friend’s house a second time and asked him if we could play Bloodborne again, instead. “You didn’t even like it,” he protested.
“I just want to understand what everybody else is talking about,” I whined. “Everybody else likes it. There must be something about it that I don’t understand.”
There is—but it’s something that I’m never going to understand. So please resist the temptation to leave me a lengthy comment essay about why Bloodborne is so special. It’s not about Bloodborne specifically—it’s about the fear of missing out.
For all my talk about classism in gaming spaces and resisting the temptation to buy every game and every console, I still hear the siren call of capitalism and fall victim to its charms from time to time. Like most people, I have an embarrassing gaming backlog packed with titles that I’m far more likely to enjoy than Bloodborne, but I still feel obligated to purchase big-name content even when I know it’s not going to appeal to me. Why? Because if everybody else is talking about something, it starts to feel super important, and the part of my brain that knows I’m not going to enjoy Bloodborne can be overpowered by the part of my brain that wants to participate in the culture around me.
I’ve made this mistake before. I convinced myself that I cared enough about Destiny to make it a day-one purchase. The hype for Destiny felt inescapable, and in the excitement I forgot that I don’t like MMOs and I don’t like long grinds. The entire structure of Destiny, beyond how pretty it looks, does not appeal to my taste—and I know exactly what kinds of games I like! I should have known ahead of time that Destiny wouldn’t be for me, yet I bought it anyway. Why?
In today’s hyper-connected internet age, blah blah blah. We all just want to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. I don’t even like Orange Is The New Black that much, but I still watched all of the second season in a timely fashion so that I could participate in every conversation that everyone around me was having. When I stopped watching Game of Thrones, I found myself justifying that decision, over and over, to people who couldn’t help their gut reaction of abject shock that I had ducked out on an Important Cultural Zeitgeist. Do we even need advertising anymore? It seems like my own friends have taken on the brunt of insisting that various media franchises are going to blow my mind. And they’re not even getting paid for it! Uh, as far as I know.
Is it possible that Bloodborne entered the social media whirlwind because it’s a legitimately good game, and it went viral because it deserves to have attention paid to it? Sure—the Souls games have attained cult status, and the folks who honestly enjoy games like Bloodborne are probably too busy playing it to notice the stream of free advertising paid to it by their peers. But what about the rest of us, who already know we won’t like the game and would prefer to hear about something else? How many of these Bloodborne buyers are just participating in the culture of the game because they feel socially obligated, like I did? And how is that social obligation created, exactly? Is there some enterprising advertising agency who has figured out which media properties deserve our obligatory consumption, and which ones will fade away unnoticed?
I don’t think there really is anything insidious going on behind the popularity of certain triple-A games, since the occasional indie game may achieve inexplicable viral success as well. I google “how does virality work” every other week or so, and the results still don’t satisfy me; very little has been determined about why certain franchises become wildly popular and others languish in obscurity. I can’t explain to you why it’s imperative that you watch Breaking Bad, but I can tell you that it’s become harder and harder for me to escape its inexorable pull … even though I tried the pilot episode and I really didn’t like it.
I didn’t like Bloodborne, either. I played it for a few hours, I gave it an honest shot, and I read several essays about it—all out of a sense of obligation. I wanted to feel like I had given it a real chance. But that’s way more consideration than I’ve given any other game this week, including my own backlog full of games that I’m pretty sure I’ll actually like!
If everybody else tells me to give something a chance, I’ll do it just to get them to leave me alone—and then I’ll keep on doing it so that I don’t have to argue with them about why I didn’t like it. The obligatory “backlash” phase against popular media is just as tired and cliché to witness as the participation in it, and it never lasts very long. I might be able to eke out an “unpopular opinion” piece on Bloodborne, but I don’t even care enough about it to bother. The simple act of not liking something shouldn’t be newsworthy, and yet every time I abstain from one of these big-ticket items, I feel like I’m fighting a tidal wave. It shouldn’t be that hard to maintain a neutral disinterest in Bloodborne, yet I could feel my neutrality transforming into hatred with each passing person who questioned my decision to abstain. I didn’t hate Bloodborne at first, but I might have to start if everybody else keeps telling me that I just don’t “get” it.
None of this has to do with Bloodborne specifically. In fact, you could replace the word “Bloodborne” in this article with any other piece of popular media. Our human desperation to be liked seems to dovetail nicely with a desperate need to get everybody else to like the same media that we like, because being a fan of such-and-such has become such an inextricable part of us all that we feel the need to proselytize. If we all participate in the same experiences, then we’ll finally feel validated. Does it even matter what the experiences are, or whether they are “good”? Who can say what’s “good” about anything, anyway? Perhaps the only gratification we need is in the act of participation itself. It’s not just about playing the game—it’s about watching the Let’s Plays with hundreds of other people in the chatroom, it’s about live-tweeting the experience alongside everyone else, it’s about being part of the group during the time-sensitive window right after the game gets released. Because in three weeks, all of this will have been replaced by something new.
At this point, I guess I should put on a beret and dismiss you all as lemmings brain-washed by capitalism or whatever. I will resist that urge, though, because I don’t think capitalism is the whole story behind our craving for acceptance and shared experiences. Marketers may do their best to take advantage of that craving, but the craving itself isn’t a bad thing—not even when it comes to Bloodborne. This series of tweets that create a Bloodborne fan-fiction about the “Mayor of Yharnam” warmed even my jaded heart … and, of course, brought me back to square one when it came to wanting to be part of the Bloodborne fandom. Doesn’t it look like they’re having so much fun? Sigh.
I am never going to judge anyone for experiencing that much joy about a shared experience. But I do think it’s worth pointing out how difficult it has become for any of us to be neutral about any of these cultural artifacts. Bloodborne isn’t actually a “love-it-or-hate-it” game—it only seems that way, because we’ve collectively demanded either total participation or absolute rejection. I played the game for a few hours, and my boring as heck “hot take” is that I wish I had spent that time playing something else. That’s not a very interesting opinion, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not as unpopular as it appears.
So, please, allow me to not care about Bloodborne. I don’t want to have to pretend that I like it, nor do I want to devolve into hating it. I just want to sit this one out.
Let’s see how much longer I can last.
Maddy Myers is Paste’s assistant games editor. She tweets @samusclone and co-hosts a weekly gaming podcast called Isometric at Relay FM.