Pop CultureSeptember 15, 2017

Could Nioh: Defiant Honour cure my gaming ennui?


Like a rugby dad whose kids have quit the code, Don Rowe’s passion for video games these days is muted, overweight and plain old sad. Why? And what now? 

The thing about Nioh: Defiant Honour is that…it’s all getting a bit too bloody much eh.

I mused when reviewing Dragon of the North that these games have made me question why I play video games in the first place, and in Defiant Honour I ran up against that same question. I’m not so sure I have a good answer anymore.

Everyone needs a hobby, this I understand, but as life drips by like honey from a spoon I find lasting satisfaction harder and harder to come by. Joy is fleeting at the best of times and the momentary rush of putting some nefarious, multi-tentacled beast in the dirt more ephemeral still. What I’m saying is that getting up from a long session in front of the TV feels increasingly like getting up after procrasturbation. It’s just dirty and kind of regret inducing.

The fault lies not with the game, but inside my own head. Defiant Honour took giant strides towards patching up what few faults Nioh shipped with. There are beautiful set-pieces, increased enemy variety, new weapons, new allies, new guardian spirits. It’s everything it needed to be, everything I demanded it be. And yet it was the last straw.

I remember watching my best friend drift away from gaming when we were young. I just didn’t get it. What was wrong with him? I wonder now what he realised back then, if it was a cognitive decision or just some lingering gut feeling. Could he even explain it?

It’s not like I have anything ‘better’ to do – too many steps down that treacherous path and you come face to face with the irrefutable realisation that actually everything is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and most of what 99% of us do is a waste of time. Sinking a couple of hours into some middling literary fiction is no more ‘useful’ than beating the next level in whatever it is you’re playing.

But what part of gaming makes people happy? Is it the achievement? The narrative? Escapism and the general need to be entertained? It’s hard to say but, just like some Zen inquiry, if I look deep enough into my own reasons for gaming, they’re as empty as the void.

The aftertaste remains however; a bilious mucus, green/yellow/brown. I don’t know shit about philosophy or psychology (or anything really), but if that Maslow bloke is right, then life is mostly about self-actualisation, and peak experiences are the sign you’re on the right path. It’s been a while since I had such an experience, and I’m not sure gaming ever came close to providing one. But still I hammer away on the old console.

Maybe that’s where the guilt comes from. Sinister, surreptitious guilt, hooking its roots around whatever piece of the marshmallow up top is responsible for happiness. And not homeopathic guilt, watered down to the point of complete impotence. This is the pure stuff, flown straight of the jungle via aqua-plane in vacuum-packed bricks. Snortable guilt.

There’s something in the consumeristic cult that surrounds gaming that makes things worse: the energy drinks and the neon lights and the hype cycles and the incessant hypersexualisation of anything resembling a woman. The loot crates, the cosmetic skins, the fucking microtransactions. Buy, buy, buy! News today that Wendy’s intend on inserting dynamic ads into games promoting the Baconator. Gross.

I’ve gone off reading a few times over the years, generally in the midst of bouts of depression. But gaming is supposed to be the depressive’s crutch. Seriously, problematic gaming and depression go together like dark rooms and depression, or excessive drinking and depression.

Maybe it’s symptomatic of the same thing that keeps most of us paralysed and blinking at the Netflix dashboard; there’s too much choice and not enough choosing in this world. And this glut of potentiality makes any decision at least somewhat compromised anyway. Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe this is all a self-centered whine, and who wants to read that?

Ah well, bring on the next Elder Scrolls. I guess.

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