In Elden Ring, the struggle feels real

Over the past two years, the pandemic has brought us many works of art that have attempted to capture humanity’s struggle for good. There was this movie with Leonardo DiCaprio turning pink as he screamed at the top of his lungs for people to watch the comet hurtle toward Earth. It was so on the nose that it provoked little thought: Yes, we are divided, probably doomed. What about?

No medium comes as close to perfectly encapsulating Our situation as video games. At first, when many of us were confined and cooking mediocre sourdough, we played Animal Crossing, which is all about finding solace in simple tasks like fishing and gardening while stranded on an island. This year we’re playing Elden Ring, a ruthlessly difficult game that gets harder the longer you play it. That pretty much sums up what it’s like to live in a pandemic.

Elden Ring has a story that has something to do with a ring, but the most important thing is its design: it’s an open-world game, which means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Players will ride horses through a poisonous swamp, sprint over molten lava, and cross a crumbling bridge surrounded by tornadoes, fighting or dodging enemies along the way.

No matter what you choose to do, you’ll probably die over and over again trying to do it, sometimes for hours. This is because the slightest mistake in pressing a button will either drop you to death or open you up to attack. Even the most experienced players will die dozens of times in a dungeon before reaching the boss, the main villain at the end of a game level.

None of this makes Elden Ring sound like a crowd pleaser, but the video game – a collaboration between creative director Hidetaka Miyazaki and ‘Game of Thrones’ writer George RR Martin – is set to become the bestseller of the year, with 12 million copies sold in the month following its release in February.

At some point in the game, you face a dragon. You have the choice to fight or flee. At first you’ll probably retreat, and eventually, after gaining enough strength and the appropriate magic weapon or spell, you’ll return to slay the dastardly fire-eater and savor your victory. Moments later, however, you’ll be ambushed and killed by something nasty, like a hawk clutching razor blades in its talons.

It’s hard to imagine Elden Ring succeeding in any other era. In the third year of the pandemic, as vaccination rates increased and hospitalization cases fell in some areas, offices, schools and restaurants reopened. For many Americans, the dragon has been slain. Yet in other parts of the world, a new variant of the coronavirus is driving another wave, and in New York, cases are starting to climb again.

As some of us let our guard down to have some semblance of normal life, we brace ourselves for that stupid bird around the corner that might still kill us. Our hard-learned lesson of the pandemic – expect disappointment and more struggle – set us up well for Elden Ring.

Where DiCaprio’s film “Don’t Look Up” was polarizing because it picked a side that criticized anyone who refused the apocalypse, Elden Ring’s own adventure choice format is more inclusive for a population who can’t seem to agree on anything. In Elden Ring, there is no right or wrong.

To defeat a boss, you can carefully study its moves and plan an attack, or you can “chew” it with a cheap trick that requires no skill and ensures victory. Either way, a win is a win. Such a flexible game can resonate with gamers around the world and bring them together in an age where people choose their own truth about the masks, clichés, and information they read online in general.

Players mostly suffer from Elden Ring alone, but there are parts so difficult, like a super-tough boss fight, that people will need to enlist help from others online. To accommodate this, the game erects small statues in difficult areas that act as summoning posts to summon a cooperator. Once the mission is complete, the Good Samaritan disappears.

Wrestling has always been a central theme in the games of Mr. Miyazaki, who rose to fame with the modest success of the Dark Souls Trilogy, the predecessors to Elden Ring, but so has the need for people to turn to each other.

Mr Miyazaki, who did not respond to requests for comment, has said in interviews that he was inspired by a personal experience many years ago while driving up a snowy hill. A car in front of him got stuck, as well as him and one behind him, but another car in the rear moved forward and started pushing the third car. Similar assistance eventually got everyone over the hill.

“We walk into each other’s lives for a minute and disappear and still have an impact,” said Keza MacDonald, video game editor for The Guardian and author of “You Died,” a book about games by Mr. Miyazaki. “It’s not really a player against the game. It’s the whole gaming community against the game.”

By the time I finished Elden Ring, with the help of friends and strangers online for about five weeks, I didn’t come out of the game feeling more anxious or pessimistic. I ended up making plans with friends I hadn’t seen in two years.

Many of us have endured the pandemic alone because restrictions and health risks make it difficult to travel and gather indoors. It’s been impossible to navigate one situation, and the struggle continues, but we’re in this together for the long haul. Why not turn to the other?