This past weekend, I booted up Bloodborne and started playing with one goal in mind. I was going to take down my first boss in the game. I had accidentally stumbled onto Father Gascoigne during my first play through and was definitely caught unprepared. This time, I was going for the Cleric Beast. I had a good idea of where he was, and I was prepared for a tough fight. Turns out, he was really easy. Since I had already psyched myself up for a tough boss fight, I decided to head straight for Father Gascoigne again. That was the fight I was looking for. It got me thinking about why games have boss fights, and why they are simultaneously so frustrating and so fun.
Father Gascoigne destroyed me in the first fight. I messed up my dodges and accidentally cornered myself. It wasn’t even close, but I was beginning to learn his moves. The second time I stepped into the cemetery with him, I was ready. It was a tough fight. Multiple times I rolled away from him with only a sliver of health left and barely healed up before we went right back at it. Eventually, he was left with the smallest amount of health imaginable. I wanted to run in and take him out, but he just kept getting hits on me, and I kept having to retreat and heal. Finally, I had the perfect dodge, and saw my opening. Blunderbuss shot to the face. “Prey Slaughtered” flashed across the screen, and I literally yelled with joy. My hands were sweaty, and my heart was pounding. That’s what a good boss fight feels like.
There’s a reason that boss battles are so common in games; they serve as rulers by which players can measure their progress. They’re a definitive stamp at the end of a level marking that we have overcome all that that portion of the game had for us. We’ve learned, adapted, and bettered ourselves as players. We don’t talk about how many enemies we’ve beaten; we talk about which bosses we’ve beaten. They serve as symbols. For me, as soon as I saw Father Gascoigne fall, I knew I had overcome Central Yharnam. I had fought through every alley, sewer, and street. Father Gascoigne was the final foe, and I had won. Boss battles throughout games give us continual feedback on our progress as players and serve as mini goals to strive toward within the overarching goal of the game as a whole.
This just doesn’t seem quite fair.
Whether you’re playing Bloodborne or Mario, the frustration and joy of a boss battle is the same. I have seen the same level of concentration and eventual joy in my wife while she’s taking on a boss in Mario, as I’m sure I had during my battle with Father Gascoigne. It’s all a relative experience. It doesn’t rely on graphics or content. Boss battles are intense, because of the level of investment we have in them. I remember my ferocious battle and glorious victory against the Elite Four in Pokemon Blue while sitting in the back seat of my mom’s minivan. The characters barely moved, and it certainly wasn’t based on quick motor skills, but I had been playing that game for a long time. All my friends had been playing it. I had worked my way through all of the gyms, and finally I had proven that I was the best in the game. The trainers knew it, I knew it, and, because I excitedly told them, my mom and sister knew it.
You can’t handle my mad skills!
We play games for the interactive aspect of them. We want to accomplish tasks, we want to overcome obstacles, and we want to see ourselves and our characters progress. Boss battles are a way for us to test our skills throughout the game. They’re how we gauge our progression through the game and improvement as players. Sometimes we get stuck, but that just makes the eventual win so much sweeter. Boss battles might have us screaming and cursing in frustration on moment, and in the next have us believing that we are the greatest player in the history of video games. It’s a bit of a love hate relationship, but they serve an important role in player feedback and progression.
Bloodborne is known for its large and diverse cast of bosses so I’m sure I’m in for a lot more frustration and joyful victories. I’ll continue to write about Old Edna’s boss encounters as I continue to work my way through the game. For now, I’m looking forward to seeing the next map area and probably some new enemy designs. There’s no telling what bosses I’ll run into next, but I can’t wait to see them. I have a feeling Old Edna’s going to measure up pretty well against them. If I can take down the Elite Four in a minivan, I can do anything.
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