Opinion: Monster Hunter World makes us think harder about the kill.
As a newcomer to this series, the first time I saw an injured monster in Monster Hunter World lying down, like a dog crawling under the deck to die, I thought its AI had glitched out. After all, this was a video game enemy, a ‘monster’ – it’s in the name. It shouldn’t lie down in defeat, it should keep fighting me, tooth and nail, until one of us drops dead. As a relatively unimportant part of Monster Hunter World’s ecosystem, that was surely its destiny.
But it didn’t. It lay there, having limped away, its body torn open by my weapon, muscle shredded and flesh skinned. I hesitated, but admit to a brief flash of selfish glee – it’s given up! I can kill it! – and swung my sword at its resting head. After another short skirmish to finish it off, I was rewarded with a ‘Main Objective Complete’ popup – here we were, back in Video Game Land, where things made sense – and I was soon skinning its corpse for parts. That first time, I admit I didn’t really enjoy doing it. I mean, I attacked it when it was lying down.
Its behaviour was not a glitch, of course. The monsters in Monster Hunter World limp and retreat and suffer. They try to run away in between bursts of fighting, and you must doggedly follow them using your ‘Scoutflies’ that may as well be blood-splatters, were the game classified higher. When they fight it’s often frenzied and imprecise, their self-defense mechanisms activating in a flurry of panic at being disturbed in their natural habitat.
In their world, you are the cat, and no matter the size, they are the mice, their tails sliced off and chunks hewn from their bodies as they’re dumbly distracted by poisoned cheese. Once, a group of us tracked down a sleeping Rathian. We paused before attacking her; I like to think we were all collectively second-guessing ourselves, but in reality we were probably licking our lips, calculating how to hurt her most in such an exposed position.
Though Monster Hunter World presses themes of heroism upon you, playing it ultimately made me feel not like a hero but a cheap and dirty colonialist, slicing through a delicate circle of life with my dual blades. While I love the game for a plethora of reasons, I found myself clawing at a meaning for the carnage.
Consider Shadow of the Colossus. When you fell a Colossus and as the adrenaline starts to subside you are reminded of its sad majesty as it falls to the ground, shattering the earth under it, blood shooting out of its head like a silk scarf. Look, the game is telling you, at this beautiful thing you have destroyed. Or even the monsters in the Souls series, who feel like god-like gatekeepers to an angry, deliberate ritual – it’s you or me, buddy, though most likely it’s me, over and over and over again.
But Monster Hunter World’s monsters aren’t so respected. They are, simply, prey, for you to injure, capture or kill, ostensibly to further the cause of your character but really for the pleasure of us, the player. Monster Hunter World tries to weakly press on us that we should study them, that some Palicoes can talk to them because they’re not big dumb creatures, that they understand. And yet we are driven to hurt them anyway, again and again.
Perhaps lack of meaning is the point, though. Through another lens, Monster Hunter World is simply a more honest reflection of the vicious, violent food cycle many of us willingly take part in without self-examination, turning our heads away from the reality right in front of us. Wittingly or not, Monster Hunter World instructs us to think about the pain we are subjecting onto an animal.
And it’s telling that even though I feel a twinge of guilt when I see a monster limp away and lie down, I still drive home that blade over and over, before I line up to do it all again.
Lucy O’Brien is Games & Entertainment Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. Follow her on Twitter.
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