Prepare to Try – How a Let’s Play Series Changed My Life

link_triforce

I’ve been a gamer since I can remember. The language and visuals of video games are ingrained in my subconscious to the point where I frequently dream in video game format. I played The Legend of Zelda for hours when I was six, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and obsessively trying to find every temple and every secret, but having to start over again every day because for some reason, my save file never worked. My love of gaming never diminished, either. As an adult, my favorite game became Skyrim, and I explored its realms as intensely as I had explored Hyrule as a child.

When I heard about Let’s Plays, well… While I wouldn’t criticize someone for enjoying them, I thought it was stupid. Why would you want to watch someone play video games while jabbering obnoxiously? I understand watching them for the purposes of finding out good strategies for games you might get stuck on, but just watching a Let’s Play for fun? What are you gaining from that?

Hahaha.

tew2-1280-1507850483434_1280w

Well, one day I wanted to see if The Evil Within 2 looked like it was worth buying, so I searched YouTube for a game play video. I clicked on one from IGN, because I figured they would have a quality video with pertinent info. Oh, ugh. There are people talking over it. I bet they think they’re funny, but they’re really just obnoxious. I’ll give this video five minutes. If it sucks, I’ll find a different one.

Oh, wow, they’re actually really fucking funny.

I’ll share with you the joke that convinced me to keep watching the video, because it’s still one of my favorites:

“I didn’t even know there were zombies in it before he said.” “What did you think it was gonna be? Evil Within?” “Well, The Evil Within… so… racism, or something.”

After that video, I was hooked. For anyone reading this who is not familiar, I’ll give you a quick rundown: This series was titled “Prepare to Try,” and it was created for IGN in 2016. It started off as a challenge, pitting a gamer, completely inexperienced with the crushingly difficult Souls-type games, against the original Dark Souls, attempting to finish it before the release of Dark Souls 3, roughly a month later. Rory Powers held the controller, while Dan Krupa gave insight into the rich lore of the series, and Gav Murphy kept the banter going. Eventually, the series grew and produced play throughs of Dark Souls 3Resident EvilBloodborne, Cuphead, and more. All of which I’ve now watched at least twice and still enjoy.

Everything about the series was a pleasant surprise. It was informative, funny, and exciting. At the same time I was laughing my ass off, I was learning about the background of whatever game they were playing. I was also glad to find out how progressive their views were, as they often made remarks decrying sexism, racism, and homophobia. In the wake of fiascos like Gamergate, when so many people associate geek culture with toxic behavior and bigotry, this series stood out as a brilliant contrast to all that negativity. Their zany humor, positivity, and frequent Simpsons joke references charmed me.

bloodborne_the_old_hunters_-_lady_maria_-_13

Cut forward to 2018. I’d pretty much never been lower in my life. Financial problems, the death of a friend, and familial turmoil, to name just a few things I was dealing with. It had come to a point where I was pretty sure there was no reason to keep living, and the best I could hope for was the dignity of being able to check myself out of a miserable, humiliating existence. Insomnia set in, giving these noxious thoughts plenty of time to ferment in my head. It was too easy to think of ways to put an end to it all, too many methods that were within arm’s reach. I had to drown out those thoughts. Distract myself. So I’d binge watch Prepare to Try.

I’m not sure why, but it was the only thing that made me smile. I would still be crying, but I found myself laughing through the tears.

Struggling with depression is like climbing up the side of a cliff above a whirlpool. You search for a foothold, a grip, anything to keep yourself from falling, be it friends, pets, hobbies, whatever… Just something that keeps you above the water another day. And eventually those days turn to weeks, months, years, a lifetime. It is about survival. And whether profound or simple, anything that keeps you going becomes close to your heart.

dark_souls_3_fire_keeper_firelink_shrine

I soon found that my experience wasn’t unusual. Within the following that sprung up around Prepare to Try, there were many who said the series had helped them cope with their depression. Joining their unofficial Facebook group, I found that their fans are some of the nicest damn people on the internet, being very supportive of each other and happy to talk with fellow fans who reach out in the midst of personal struggles.

There’s a recurring joke on Prepare to Try: When struggling with some simple task like going up an elevator, opening a door, etc, they’ll ask, “Is this a Boss?” and laugh at the absurdity of laboring with what’s literally the easiest part of the game. But in a way, silly as it sounds, that’s a great metaphor for living with depression. Sometimes, getting out of bed and making breakfast is a Boss. Cleaning your room is a Boss. Walking to the store is a Boss. Things that should be easy become arduous under the weight of depression, and sometimes you beat the Boss, and sometimes, you just have to try again.

I never expected to gain so much from watching people play video games. It sounds so ridiculous. It’s one of the last things I would have thought would help me fight against my suicidal inclinations, but there’s no denying that it gave me great comfort in one of the worst periods of my life. I think their Bloodborne play through, in particular, is a great analog for life: You’re not equipped for this, everything is trying to kill you, there are spiders everywhere, and nobody has any idea what’s going on, but you keep trying. And sometimes you have to respawn and start all over again with nothing, but you keep trying.

You. Keep. Trying.

x6vfnk2a9pfamx7emzapay

I’d like to mention that, while the Prepare to Try series has ended, Rory, Krupa, and Gav have moved on to found their own channel, RKG, and will be releasing their long-awaited play through of Dark Souls 2 very soon. I encourage you to check it out, as well as the content on their old Prepare to Try channel on YouTube.

If you like what I’m doing on this blog and would like to support, consider making a donation via ko-fi.

Can You “Win” Black Mirror: Bandersnatch?

 

bandersnatch-stefan-rabbit

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Author’s note: I’m going to be referring to Bandersnatch as a game in this article, because it makes more sense to use this word within this context.

Since its release, Black Mirror‘s interactive nightmare Bandersnatch has drawn people into its labyrinth in search of secrets. While it seems that all possible endings have, at this point, been discovered, it is still up for debate which ending is the “true” ending. While, cinematically, the “5-Star” ending might seem the most in-keeping with Black Mirror‘s usual vibe, there’s something about it that seems too obvious. It doesn’t subvert our expectations, it just plays into them. We expect Stefan to end up like Jerome F. Davies, descending into a rabbit hole of paranoia and violence. Nothing about this ending is surprising.

As a gamer, I went into Bandersnatch with the mindset that I needed to get the “true” ending, and I knew well that the “true” ending isn’t always the most obvious. Silent Hill 2 and Bloodborne are prime examples of the true endings being the more depressing and unsettling. In my mind, the true ending to this unconventional story wouldn’t be the easiest to get, it wouldn’t be found at the end of the most conspicuous path, and it wouldn’t be one of the copy-paste endings with a review at the end. Seeking the highest rating for Stefan’s game was only playing into expectations, and going for the easiest answers. Notice how the first REAL choice we are given in Bandersnatch is whether or not to work at Tuckersoft, and making the more obvious choice of accepting the offer leads us to an unsatisfying ending, for both Stefan and ourself, the player. It’s only when you make the risky choice that you can progress. This fact, to me, is very telling of what the true ending of Bandersnatch is meant to be.

blackmirrorbandersnatch

There are many ways to lose a game. There’s far fewer ways to win. You can finish the game, get a review, and be fooled into thinking that you’ve successfully gotten the high score, but you’ve only done what the game expected you to. Only what it wanted you to. You played into the programming, and were controlled just as much as Stefan was. Bandersnatch expects you to go mad, kill your father, and finish making the game. To really beat the game, you have to get Stefan away from the dark fate Bandersnatch has planned for him.

There is only one ending that has you diverge from the path of slavishly completing the game. Only one that fulfills the Stefan’s wants and needs, not those of the player. Only one that actually frees Stefan from the endlessly cycling maze.

black-mirror-bandersnatch-train-ending-1024x715

The “TOY” ending, where Stefan goes back in time, finds Rabbit, and embarks on the fateful train ride with his mother, resulting in his spontaneous death in the current time line.

Changing the events surrounding his mother’s death is the only way to truly break Stefan out of the endless cycle of madness, murder, and imprisonment. While the result of changing history is bleak, it is the only ending that does not result in Stefan’s imprisonment, and is (arguably) more merciful. In his death, he is actually freed from the maze. It is the only way he can escape the confines of Program and Control.

Think about it: Throughout the course of Bandersnatch, we’re told over and over again that we need to break free. We’re challenged to escape the limitations of the programming, as impossible as that seemingly is. While we are still controlling Stefan no matter what path we go down, it is possible for us to choose a path for him that gives him closure, and allows him to rest in peace rather than driving him down a path that destroys him and everyone around him. No matter how you slice it, the “TOY” ending is the one that causes Stefan to suffer the least. It also allows him to confront his personal demons, rather than him being driven mad by them.

f772d9c636dcabf5-600x338

We are constantly being told, don’t give in. Don’t make the easy choices. Don’t go for the obvious paths. In a sense, we are playing against the game Bandersnatch itself. The premise of the game tricks us, suggesting that the only goal we have is to complete Stefan’s video game. But doing that only causes him suffering, and surrenders to the trappings of obvious and easy answers. It’s easy to give in. It’s easy to let Stefan become single-minded and only care about the game, letting his own life fall to shambles as a result. What’s harder to do is to look for the deeper, more obscure path, and release our Pac-Man from his programming.

 

If you like what I’m doing on this blog and would like to support, consider making a donation via ko-fi.

Theory: The Deeper Connection Between Bloodborne and Lovecraft

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Bloodborne.

There’s no question that the Hidetaka Miyazaki game Bloodborne is heavily influenced by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, particularly the concept of the Great Ones and other incomprehensible beings. There are three main cycles in Lovecraft’s work, with some overlaps here and there: The Cthulhu Mythos, the Dream Cycles, and his miscellaneous works. For this theory we’ll just be focusing on the first two.

There are two factions of “Gods” (for lack of a better word) in Lovecraft’s mythos: The Great Old Ones, such as Cthulhu and Tsathoggua, and the Outer Gods, such as Nyarlathotep and Azathoth. (There are also their minions, but those irrelevant here.) The Great Old Ones are mostly Earth deities, worshiped by ancient man. They are rooted in nature and the workings of the Earth itself. Then, there are the Outer Gods, which are more concerned with the Dream Lands and space. They exist outside of our natural realms, living instead in the far reaches of the cosmos and other dimensions.

kos

In Bloodborne, the main goal of the humans is to transform into higher beings, akin to the Great Ones, through consumption of the blood of the left behind Great One, Ebrietas and experiments with the Kos parasites. However, these humans attempting ascension seem awfully confused. They believe that the Kos parasites will grant them the insight needed to ascend, and begin working with water-based experiments. Kos seems analogous to the Great Old Ones of the Earth. However, there seem to be bigger fish to fry, like the Moon presence, which seems more like an Outer God. It’s not a one-to-one comparison, but I believe Bloodborne drew from this concept of there being two factions of Gods, and created a conflict between them. Someone* suggested that the Amygdala seemed to be the antagonists of the Moon Presence.

*Author’s note: My sincerest apologies, I can’t recall whose theory this is. If anyone reading this knows, please bring it to my attention in the comments below so I can properly attribute their work to them.

Furthermore to prove that the citizens of Yharnam are greatly unaware of the truth, they mistook the concept of Insight to mean “Eyes on the inside.” This makes no sense, honestly. It sounds like the result of a game of telephone, wherein the original concept was to gain insight into the nature of these greater beings, so as to reach their level of existence, but over the years, or decades, or possibly even eras, this word “insight” was mistranslated by those that followed the original discoverers of the eldritch truth, and thought that they were supposed to literally have eyes inside their brains. They therefore began experimenting on animals, and later humans, mutilating them to sprout multiple eyes.

Bloodborne™_20150404160341

My theory on what all this means for the story of Bloodborne: Humans attempting ascension are concerned with the “Great Old Ones” like Kos, but they fail in their goals because this is not the true way. The twist at the end is that, while the humans were concerned with the Great Old Ones, the Moon Presence, an Outer God, was pulling the strings the whole time, and it is the true means of ascension. The ending is a revelation that everything the humans thought was important was a red herring. It was never the way to becoming a higher being. Something that other humans could never have fathomed was there was the true means they sought. It enslaved Gehrman so that it could find a Hunter to do its bidding, and destroy the Great Old Ones for reasons that are probably unfathomable to us mortals. Who knows how long this has been going on. Perhaps every Hunter has been given a different task, each one a step towards the Moon Presence’s ultimate goal. Eileen and Djura seem to have been successful in whatever task they were given, and were returned to the waking world by Gehrman’s execution.

Notice how it’s only once you meet the Moon Presence that you ascend to being a higher being. That was the only way the whole time. The blood of the Great Old Ones, Gods of the Earth, were only ever going to turn people into beasts, because the beasts are creatures of the Earth and Nature. The only way to become a higher being, is to commune with the cosmic entities.

 

If you like what I’m doing and want to support, consider making a donation on ko-fi.