Heroes, Villains, Humans, Beasts, and Monsters: Motivation in Monster Hunter World

He wore a chin length, silver bob haircut, blue lipstick, and short shorts. His wrinkles show his age, but his spryness shows his youthful energy. With his ginger-furred sidekick, he grabbed his Bow, a few arrow coatings, and went forth into the fray. His name is Blimsby, and he’s my character in Monster Hunter World.

In Monster Hunter World, just as it is in almost any game such as this, there are many cosmetic customization options for your player character. Clothing color, hairstyle, age, the pitch of a series of grunts and hums that the game refers to as your “voice”. Even up to the fur pattern on your Palico sidekick, there’s so many ways to make each person’s character look different from each other. There’s so many different video games that give you the opportunity to change their cosmetic look, but as for your character’s actions, personality traits, and history, everyone’s the same. There’s almost absolutely no wiggle room when it comes to role-playing your character, other than what you imagine in your head. Everyone’s a chosen one, everyone’s a Dragonborn, everyone’s a hunter.

Monster Hunter World, like most games of a similar style, tricks you into thinking you have any control over anything that happens by giving you the choice to make your player character look like an old man with a bob haircut and blue lipstick, but looking at the macro of it all, everyone who plays Monster Hunter World, no matter what their character looks like, are all essentially playing through the same exact experience.

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Now, of course, this by itself is not at all a problem. Monster Hunter World, and similar games, are role playing games, not role making games. We are essentially actors taking on these roles, and experiencing the story laid out for us through their eyes, but with any good acting, you need motivation. Background, experience, reasoning, and that is exactly where Monster Hunter World’s story begins to fall apart.

As you begin the game, you are given a cutscene giving you the only thin spread of backstory that the game offers to try and justify the actions you’ll be performing throughout the next 50+ hours you’ll spend in the New World. You are an “A-Class Hunter” who is journeying to the “New World” to study the “Elder Dragons”. Studying is a very loose term, because for the most part, what you’ll be doing as an A-Class Hunter is breaching into exotic and unknown lands inhabited by incredible and oblivious creatures living their day to day lives. You’ll be continuously taking everything from every creature that makes its home in this place. Taking flora, fauna, killing off large numbers of the population, carving off parts of their bodies, and attaching those pieces to your armor and weaponry in occasionally borderline grotesque ways. While most weapons and armor pieces look obscure enough to be made of anything, things like the Felyne Anja armor set, and most of the pieces made from the Diablos are clear contortions of flesh, bone, and teeth, haphazardly fashioned into tools used to cut down the population even further. The entire time, the only thing the game does to try and justify these actions is call it “research”.

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Some may argue that there is a somewhat more humane way to take care of the quests you’re given, and that is that instead of killing the creatures you’re hunting, you have the option to “capture” them, which is just a more roundabout way to achieve the same goal. Even so, in the end, the fate of the creature is no different. Even when you decide to lay traps and capture them, you are still awarded with their parts. You still receive scalps, hide, fangs. You didn’t take the moral high road, you just had someone else do the dirty work for you.

You slam swords, hammers, arrows, and axes against these beasts to wear them down and get them to retreat. They attack you at first, because you are a threat to their livelihood, and they need to stop you, but after enough pain and damage, they start to leave. And you follow. It limps away, looking for somewhere to hide, from you, and you pursue it because you need that sick new helm. The beasts of Monster Hunter World visibly limp when they flee from battle. They limp away to their nests, or their homes, or even as far as they can before collapsing out of exhaustion or pain, or both, and even after that, you attack it still, because it’s the only way to progress in the game. No matter if you capture it or kill it, it’s suffered enough blows that it was definitely not some sort of merciful capture, and it definitely would not constitute as “research”.

Regardless of my morals and personal feelings on how we treat these beasts, I must admit, it feels good to progress, to hunt, to create more armor and weapons. It all feels good because that’s how the games are designed, but the moral weight of the decisions and actions I’m taking feel bad and weigh heavy on my conscience. I hate it, and I hate what I’m doing to this animal, but it feels good to progress, and it’s exactly what the character I’m playing would want.

I understand what it means to play a role. I understand what it means to step into the shoes of this hunter and experience their story, and I know Monster Hunter World shouldn’t be made to allow me to just chill with all my animal friends and not fight. If I wanted to peacefully hang out with animals, there’s many other games that would let me do that. All that I ask is that Monster Hunter World give me motivation, that it give me a reason as to why this character is killing these creatures, why I’m wiping out droves of the local population for this so-called “research”. Hell, it can be done in a simple cutscene, and I could have been happy with it.

I will continue to play, because it’s a very good video game, but there will always be a regret in my mind. A nagging feeling that a key part of the story is missing. The motivation is absent, and I have no clue why I’m killing these innocent beasts, but for now, I’ll just have to make up a reason myself. Hopefully that will put my mind at ease.

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Asphalt Orpheus: Creating Company Out of Loneliness in Burnout

When you make a deal with the devil, no matter how good it seems, there’s always a price to pay. You’ll find yourself racing down the seemingly bustling city streets of France, Thailand, or Paradise City. You’ll find yourself traveling the world, racing, driving, crashing, winning. You’ll be fixing, exchanging, and modifying your cars as you explore the world that has been laid out for you and only you. You’ll find yourself doing these things over and over again, and as you do, you’ll look around, and you will be completely alone. The promise of exploring an open world full of different environments and locations seems tantalizing at first, but the trade-off is hours upon hours of solitude. Just you, the road, and hundreds upon hundreds of empty vehicles.

Burnout Paradise and Burnout 3: Takedown are games that hold special places in my heart due to the many hours I’ve spent driving along the streets of those games with my brother, my friends, or by myself. With the countless times I’ve played these games, however, the question has always come up among the people I was playing with, or it would manifest itself in my head while I was alone. Where are the people? There are no humans walking the vast streets of these cities. If you really pay attention, there are no bodies in all the vehicles. There seems to be no life at all. Where did they all go? I don’t want to have to reiterate the many different theories on this that have been proposed by so many, but this forum post on GameFAQs pretty much covers them all.

Regardless of whatever possibly cataclysmic event took place, it’s impossible to avoid it, you are alone in this world. In fact, you might not even be alive yourself. For any other game, this could have made for a depressing and lonely experience. In spite of that, the Burnout series has set in place one specific system into the game that actively combats the creeping, lonely feeling, and in fact, makes for an enjoyable and borderline social experience. I’m talking ‘bout Crash FM, bay-bee.

Crash FM was first introduced in the franchise-defining Burnout 3: Takedown. It’s the name of the in-game radio station that accompanies you in almost every event you participate in. With Burnout 3: Takedown. the team at Criterion made a decision to change up their style of soundtracking the game by licensing tracks from newly-popular pop punk and emo pop bands. It could have been seen as a strange choice to use genres like this instead of a more, racing oriented music genre like classic rock or metal, but deciding to focus the soundtrack towards this specific voice of music helped out immensely in combating the isolated feeling that comes with the game that has no sentient figures other than the autonomous cars roaming the streets.

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The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, gave both Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Paradise T for teen ratings, and during the early 2000s, there was no more relatable genre of music to the teenage condition than pop punk and emo pop. For all the teenagers praising at the altar of the bands signed with Fueled By Ramen or Victory Records, Burnout 3: Takedown, and later, Burnout Paradise, more-so than any Tony Hawk  or Grand Theft Auto game that came before it, were virtual playlists of their favorite songs and artists. The lyrical themes of pop punk and emo pop songs of this era encapsulated the teen experience fully, and the problems that come with growing up and dealing with your burgeoning maturity. Songs like “I’m Not Okay, I Promise” by My Chemical Romance, “Sing Along Forever” by the Bouncing Souls, or “My Favorite Accident” by Motion City Soundtrack, all deal with issues directly relatable to teenagers and people going through those developmental stages of life. This went hand-in-hand with the accessibility and success of the game. If it was all dad rock and hair metal, it wouldn’t have struck such a resonant chord with the teen demographic, and the new and original approach to racing gameplay didn’t hurt much either.

It’s songs like those that, in a world as lonely as the world of Burnout, make you feel like there’s someone there with you, feeling all the same feeling you are, and going through the same things you’re going through. They also included the addition of letting you select to play only certain songs, that way the relatability and enjoyment is completely tailored and personalized by you. This theme of relatability in the soundtrack continued into the sequels, Burnout Revenge, Burnout Dominator, and Burnout Paradise. Criterion found success in not just relating to their target demographic by having engaging and interesting gameplay, but by including relatable music to keep people playing.

At this point, the music alone helps to sooth the exponential emptiness of this world, but Criterion went a step further, by adding a disembodied DJ voice. If relatable pop punk didn’t combat the sinking, lonesome feeling enough, giving you a dynamic, human voice gave the world of Burnout a sense of vibrancy and life that it didn’t have before. In Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Paradise you have DJ Stryker and DJ Atomika respectively. There are DJs in Revenge and Domination too, but the DJs in Takedown and Paradise are different for one simple reason. They have names. They aren’t just a mysterious, disembodied entity pumping you with radical tunes all day, they’re mysterious, disembodied entities pumping you with radical tunes that have names, personalities, and a friendly attitude towards the player and everything you do.

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You never get to physically see Stryker or Atomika, but you get to hear them speak to you. They’re with you through the entire game, along for the ride, experiencing every up and down right there with you. In Paradise, by traveling around in Paradise City, you’re able to find the Crash FM building. It stands there, ominous, astonishing, and resplendent. It allows you to get so close, yet so far from the only thing in this game that’s close to being human. You aren’t able to enter, but you know that somewhere in the many floors and rooms of the Crash FM building, DJ Atomika exists. It’s a painful tease at human interaction, but it’s effective in allowing the companionship of DJ Atomika to reach that much further to the player.

This relationship between yourself and DJ Atomika evokes images of the myth of Orpheus, and the relationship between Eurydice and Orpheus. Orpheus was a musician, prophet, and poet, soothing the spirits of his fellow Argonauts with the hymns he wrote and performed on his lyre. Later in Orpheus’ life, he suffered the tragic loss of his beloved wife, Eurydice. This tragedy that befell him left him a broken and lonely man, spending days pining for his lost love, performing sad hymns with his once powerful lyre, which had now grown dreary. Then, one day, he gathered his senses and decided to confront Hades, god of the underworld, to allow him to bring Eurydice back to the land of the living with him. He performed beautiful hymns on his lyre for Hades,  and Hades, being moved by them, agreed to allow Eurydice to return but on one condition: he was not allowed to look back upon Eurydice as they exited the underworld. This broken and lonely man, longing for the companionship he once had, agrees. He still may feel alone, looking out onto the land of the dead, not being allowed to look upon Eurydice. He doesn’t know for sure that she’s following him the whole way, but he needs to trust that she is.

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There are obvious parallels between the story of Orpheus and your experience with Burnout. DJ Atomika’s voice, and the music they play, give you a sense of companionship throughout your journey, but on one condition, you’re never able to look upon each other. They are alone in this world, just as you are, never able to leave, never able to look upon the player character. Solitary, hoping you’re out there, hearing the songs they play for you, hearing the messages they speak to you. They have to trust you’re there, and you hear them. You are the Eurydice to their DJ Orpheus, hearing their emo pop hymns and feeling their presence, but never able to face each other. Companionship comes in many different forms. If you’re lonely enough, it’ll find you in the most unlikely of places, whether that be to the depths of the underworld, or Paradise.