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.
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”.
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.