It is my job, as a columnist on a rotating weekend plinth, to have an occasional opinion about video games. Not just any opinion, though. I've won a Games Media Award, you know. And once you receive a perspex oblong from a profit-making industry event, it behooves you to have superior opinions. If I wrote a column called "Does anyone else think the last third of Bioshock just trailed off a bit?", you would be well within your rights to drag me into the streets and park a juicy man-queef on my tummy.
So you can imagine how difficult it is to have a startling and thrilling new opinion about Bloodborne. Not having an opinion on Bloodborne doesn't seem like an option. I won't spend £350 on a new console to play a game, then not attempt to recoup some of that money by having a think about it.
I can't say it's good. That'd be like getting into a clap-last contest with a glove on a bicycle wheel. I could say I hate it, but my courageous stand against - well, the truth - might be unfairly mistaken for being rubbish at it.
Hey, there's an angle - I could own my crapness: what a brave and self-effacing article that would be! How that Cleric Beast took me ten hours to reach, and after my third death at his hand, before I realised there was a shortcut, I made a ceremony of ejecting the disc and putting it back in its box, knowing that I would immediately take it back out of the box and put it back into the console.
But as a man who has reviewed games in the past, it's essential that I maintain the illusion of excellence in all things at all times, so if I was going to write an "I'm crap at Bloodborne" piece, I'd have to balance it out by boasting about how smart I am at loads of other famously tough games. And quite frankly, I'm not.
Just look at the pitches I've discarded, in my attempt to have a great Bloodborne opinion piece!
You're All Playing Bloodborne Wrong - By Playing It At All
Cop a load of this opinion - I was going to refute the fundamental appeal of interactivity. In this column, I would argue that I squeezed just as much pleasure as anyone else out of the Soulsborne series, simply by listening to podcasts. I'd refer to the interview in which Hidetaki Miyazaki talked about enjoying books he didn't understand by imagining the blanks, and draw an insulting parallel between his nascent genius, and me sitting on a bus, listening to Midnight Resistance. The moral would probably be "steal better people's opinions - you'd be surprised how many people won't question you".
You might find this controversial, in fact I'm banking on it, but I actually think Dark Souls 2 was the best one!?
Whoof. Now there's an opinion. I would pepper the opening paragraphs with the phrases "hear me out" and "bear with me, this is going somewhere" - then go on to qualify the opening statement so thoroughly that by the end, I'd actually be contradicting myself. But what a headline it'd be! What a brave, clickable headline!
I don't get the appeal of hunting for staggering windows in an enemy's attack patterns with a camera that frequently knocks me out of view, knowing that I'm going to be resurrected three minutes away from trying again.
You're kidding, right? I'm not going to admit that. "Not getting" something is far worse than openly hating it. Especially if you openly hate it with really aggressive language. Who doesn't love an Angry Gamer? In fact, search for any negative emotion followed by "Gamer", and you've got yourself an exploitable YouTube persona. "Doesn'tGetItGamer" wouldn't survive a week in the nuclear company of FuriousGamer and InternalisedGamer.
In praise of... ragdoll corpses and mute protagonists
Because nothing is more satisfying than silently wading through a bunch of rubberised crow corpses. Also, keep your stupid politics to yourselves, protagonists - I prefer a hero that keeps schtum, so I can shout my *own* political beliefs at NPCs. Also, let's stop NPCs having dialogue too, so I can make them all agree with my frankly correct hero.
Fetishising difficulty is emblematic of the unchecked privilege that is written through your life. Yes, you - the reader of this article.
Don't tell me you wouldn't love to hate that article. There isn't a person alive who wouldn't hate that article, for different reasons. In fact, if you're a genuinely awful person, please a) write this column, and b) get paid for making the world a more terrible place. I don't really comment on the internet, but I'd never stop reading the comments to this one. (As we've established, I'm a big fan of not taking part in interactive media.)
But no. All of the good opinions have been had. Which leaves me with no other choice. I've got to have a sincere opinion. Bloodborne, so far, has been like embracing a knife. My failure, and lack of understanding, has left me bereft. The ability to reliably stagger a Brick Beast has been amply met by my inability to decode even Father Gascoigne's attacks, forcing me to cheese it around the gravestones. My lack of progress makes me feel hollow. It's an emptiness that can only be filled by learning, co-operation or resentment. Learning would show self-sufficiency, but it doesn't come. Companionship would show social skill, make me feel like part of something bigger. But I fear that my companion would look at my poorly-timed swipes and disconnect in disgust, leaving me more alone than before.
This means the resentment drips in. It's natural to want to dismiss value that you cannot easily see. To deny the existence of pleasures that you cannot experience. It's not healthy or right, but it's natural. There's a part of me that wants to hate Bloodborne. It's a part of me that I'm actively ashamed of.
What keeps me going is the sincere, aggressive joy I see on Twitter. The playful arrogance, the hard-earned jubilation. It's a club that I want in on, and from watching people on Twitter gather and offer help to Dark Souls latecomers, it's a club that would gladly have me. I just need to... get it.
Last night, someone came into my pub from a local game dev, and conversation briefly flickered across Bloodborne. He said that they just weren't his kind of game. He said this without any sense of loss, or deprivation. I felt like I was being offered an easy way out. Instead, I thought:
"One day, I'm going to be better than you. And you are going to want to be me."