I’m playing a videogame. I play as one of a culture of people who hunt monsters in a fantasy world inhabited by humans as well as fantastical beasts and other races. People put up contracts for monsters they want killing, each with a little story attached about what the monster has done and who needs it slain. I kill them for goods and money as I travel from town to town.
Gameplay has RPG elements, but feature real-time combat which is simple to learn but difficult to master. The music is phenomenal. Equipment is earned and equipped, forged from foraged items and slain monsters. Despite the tense monsteriffic action, a sense of humour runs through the game like jam through a sundae.
In actuality, I’m playing two games, both of which follow that premise to the letter. Despite that, they are two of the most different games imaginable. They are, of course, The Witcher III and Monster Hunter Generations.
Imagine two television series which could both be described with the same synopsis like that. It just doesn’t happen, not without somebody calling one or the other a rip-off. Games are different because, more than any other form of media, people consume games from cultures all over the world. I could count the films I’ve seen in the last year which weren’t made in the UK or the US on one hand, yet I play videogames from Poland, Japan, France and Canada regularly.
To return to Witcher and Monster Hunter, the difference which can be so keenly felt is easy to identify. In one, the monsters are magical and alien, treated with fear and mistrust. Subsequently, so are the Witchers. In the other, the monsters are always portrayed like animals; living, breathing things which exist as part of the balance of nature. Monster Hunters are valued members of the community.
The world of the Witcher exists in the wake of a catastrophe known as the Conjunction of the Spheres. Ocurring 1,500 years before the events of the series, it saw multiple dimensions collide, leaving magic, ghouls and monsters behind in the world.
This is a distinction between fantasy visions, but perhaps it tells us something about the difference between the two cultures. Maybe it speaks of the difference between Poland, a land surrounded by warring European nations for centuries, constantly invaded or used as a battleground, and Japan, an island nation steeped in Eastern philosophy and tradition.
Perhaps this is just the result of a game set in one continuous world, where the same combat controls apply around humans and monsters, and a world in which hunts are specific and separate quests, like classic videogames.
Maybe this is even a result of one developer making a game for a solo player, about being absorbed by a world and a story, while another made a game with a multiplayer focus, where friendship and community are key.
Or maybe I’m just thinking too hard about it because all I’ve been doing for weeks is firing up the Xbox to play one or firing up the 3DS to play the other, and all I can think about now is being hired to go kill monsters.
Do you think I should go outside?
By Luke Summerhayes