In the past two years, the pandemic has provided us with many works of art that have attempted to definitively capture humanity’s struggles. there was that movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio turns pink while yelling as loudly as possible for people to look up at the comet hurtling toward Earth. It was so on the nose that it provoked little thought: yes, we are divided, probably doomed. What about it?
No medium has come as close to portraying our situation as perfectly as video games. In the beginning, when many of us were locked up and baking mediocre sourdough, we played Animal Crossing, which means finding solace in simple tasks like fishing and gardening while stranded on an island. This year we play Elden Ring, a relentlessly difficult game that only gets harder the more you play it. That roughly sums up what it’s like to live in a pandemic.
Elden Ring has a story that has something to do with a ring, but what’s more important is the design: it’s an open-world game, meaning you can do anything, whenever you want. Players will ride through a poisonous swamp on horseback, sprint over molten lava and cross a crumbling bridge surrounded by tornadoes, fighting or dodging enemies along the way.
Whatever you choose to do, you will likely die again and again if you try, sometimes for hours. That’s because the slightest mis-timing of a button press will have you dropping dead or opening yourself up to an attack. Even the most experienced gamers will die dozens of times in a dungeon before reaching the boss – the main villain at the end of a game level.
None of this makes Elden Ring sound like a crowd pleaser, but the video game – a collaboration between creative director Hidetaka Miyazaki and ‘Game of Thrones’ author George RR Martin – is on track to become the bestseller of the year, with 12 million copies sold within a month of its February release.
At some point in the game you will face a dragon. You have the choice to fight or flee. At first you’ll probably retreat and eventually, after getting enough power and getting the right weapon or spell, you’ll return to defeat the dastardly fire breather and enjoy your victory. Moments later, however, you’re ambushed and killed by something vicious, like a… hawk grasping razor blades in its claws†
More information about ‘Don’t look up’
In Netflix’s doomsday movie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are two astronomers who discover a comet heading straight for Earth.
It’s hard to imagine Elden Ring succeeding in another era. In year 3 of the pandemic, as vaccination rates have risen and hospital admissions have fallen in some areas, offices, schools and restaurants have reopened. For many Americans, the dragon has been defeated. Yet there is a new variant of the coronavirus in other parts of the world driving another waveand in New York, cases are starting to rise again.
While some of us are wary of having any semblance of a normal life, we brace ourselves for that stupid bird around the corner that could still kill us. Our lesson learned from the pandemic – to expect disappointment and more struggle – has trained us well for Elden Ring.
Where the DiCaprio movie, “don’t look up”, was polarizing in that it took a side that criticized anyone who denied the apocalypse, Elden Ring’s pick-your-own-adventure format is more inclusive to a population that seems to disagree on nothing. In Elden Ring there is no right or wrong.
To defeat a boss, you can carefully study his moves and plan an attack, or you can “cheese” it with a cheap trick that requires no skill and ensures the win. Anyway, a win is a win. Such a flexible game could resonate with players around the world and bring them together at a time when people are choosing their own truth about masks, shots and information they read online in general.
Players usually suffer through Elden Ring alone, but there are parts that are so hard, like an ultra-hard boss fight, that people need help from others online. To accommodate this, the game sets up small statues in challenging areas that act as summoning stations to bring in an employee. Once the mission is completed, the Good Samaritan disappears.
Combat has always been a central theme in Mr. Miyazaki, who rose to fame for the modest success of the Dark Souls trilogy, the predecessors to Elden Ring, but so has the need for people to turn to one another.
Mr Miyazaki, who did not respond to requests for comment, said in: Interviews that he was inspired by a personal experience many years ago when he drove up a snowy hill. A car in front of him got stuck, and so did he and one behind him, but then another car behind him pulled forward and the third car started to push. Similar help eventually got everyone over the hill.
“We come into each other’s lives for a minute and disappear and still make an impact,” said Keza MacDonald, the video game editor for The Guardian and author of “You Died”, a book about Mr. Miyazaki† “It’s not really one player against the game. It’s the whole community of players versus the game.”
By the time I’d completed Elden Ring, with some help from friends and strangers online for about five weeks, I didn’t come out of the game more anxious or pessimistic. I ended up making plans with friends I hadn’t seen in two years.
Many of us got through the pandemic only because restrictions and health risks make it difficult to travel and congregate indoors. It was an impossible situation to navigate, and the battle continues, but we are here together for the long haul. Why don’t you turn to each other?