By Tauriq Moosa
Monster Hunter: World (MHW) is a game about killing indigenous creatures and conquering foreign lands, to mine and harvest resources for personal gain and glory. Considering the history of my and other African countries is the history of colonialism, I would’ve recognised such attitudes even as a child. It’s easy to miss the relation between the game’s sense of entitlement concerning “conservation” and hunting mysterious creatures on foreign lands to displays of colonial might. Proving yourself to empire by posing in front of a carcass was part of strengthening the image of the conqueror, bringing “civilisation” to wild lands and native people. MHW doesn’t confront its colonialist tendencies, so much as attempt to dress up such attitudes under concerns of large dragons and the mystery of their movements. Yet the plot is akin to a triangle player in a death metal band: your focus occasionally drawn to it by the sudden diminishment of everything else, not through genuine curiosity.
Enjoying MHW no more makes you a supporter of colonialism than a hater of animals. It’s simply what leapt to mind for me within a few hours of play. There’s a reason this game is called Monster Hunter: World, not Innocent Animals Going About their Day Hunter: World. “Monsters”, by definition, require defeat. It’s also a basis of depersonalisation, allowing brutality to continue where otherwise it would not. Consider the almost magical quality naming an animal has in preventing people from killing and eating it: Monsters don’t have names, only categories and biological markers.
This is a game that asks you to target these creatures, without giving them a health bar, because they’re not worth such contrivances. Instead, you must watch for physical signs as these “monsters” weaken, limp away, struggle under the weight of injuries you’ve dealt them. They have homes and habits, which your sword or arrow has interrupted: You cannot fault the game for sticking to its ideas of being a hunting simulator.
Of course, not all non-humans get your blade (or at least deliberately). The most adorable cat friends, called Palicoes, accompany you on your journey, filling their conversations with cat puns. You can dress them and arm them, watching their tiny forms run alongside you as you work your way through different areas. They’re friendly, cute and happy to see you; they sleep in your hut and play with tiny toys. If you want something to literally pet though, a tiny cute pig in a onesie bobs around the hub world yearning for affection.
What this shows is that there are variations on how to interact with non-human creatures in MHW. I love this idea of providing a range of inter-species interactions rather than simply kill or enslave. It should, by now, be a crime when playable characters are unable to pet animals in the game or only interact with them through bullets or blades or as transport. Why could Aloy in Horizon Zero: Dawn never pet a friendly robo-dinosaur? Why is Geralt in The Witcher 3 surrounded by cats and horses but never able to give them a scratch? I might have unnecessarily strong feelings about this topic.
Anyway, MHW is enthralling when it pits creatures against each other. Predators versus prey, apex predators versus meso predators: I always watched in awe as the game adapted to variations on creatures’ attack modes, the destruction of the environment, the splashes of water or mud, the cries of terrified smaller creatures fleeing a battle of titans. Like no other game, this is an ecosystem alive and kicking, with talons attached.
Naturally, after such fights, I would use the opportunity to finish the work the other creature had started. But it made me wonder why I was more comfortable watching nature, red in tooth and claw, than my own Hunter, readying his giant blade. Humans, after all, are as natural as anything else. We like to believe there’s a line we’re on, separating us from non-human animals, but the same mechanisms of biology that produced fungi produced us.
Thus, I was unconvinced by the species separation. Instead, I compared my hunting in MHW to hunting in Far Cry: Primal. In the latter game, to sustain yourself and your tribe, hunting is a necessity: for food, shelter, weapons, clothes. In MHW, I was told to hunt because… science? The furthering of knowledge? I found it hard to believe that a society that had figured out seemingly magic ships and technology required the most brutal form of analysis. Thus, it was this lack of necessity that refused to let go throughout my play.
I couldn’t continue to hurt these creatures, participating in “knowledge gathering” and destruction of this foreign land, without feeling queasy. The rawness, the realism of the simulation of hunting – tracking, searching, listening, watching, attacking, stalking – all speaks to how extremely good the game is at what it sets out to do and is unapologetic in its goals. This isn’t a game I would want “improved” in any way, since it’s designed to do this one thing extremely well and people love it. This is also a game created for long hours of play, dedicated to grinding: kill a creature to acquire new clothes or new weapons, to hunt more creatures to get more clothes and…
It’s a gorgeous, incredible experience that, with surgical precision, is not designed for me. There’s a world to get lost in, but one that I struggle with on a moral and boredom level: I couldn’t continue the grind, I couldn’t even delude myself into an illusion of immersion, getting lost in lists and forests of stats, because I couldn’t watch another creature limp away from me.
There’s been no other game I’ve played like this, where the qualities it displays are so clear, its goal so defined, I can’t even say I’m faulting it for my lack of interest or no longer playing. It’s so confidently going its own way, snagging obsessed and delighted fans – new and old – it almost feels a bit wrong to view my opinion as discouraging anyone from playing it. Instead, this is just an outline of my feelings playing it and why I eventually, and unfortunately, had to stop. Being human is, in the end, rather annoying.
Tauriq is a law student, unprofessional critic, and has written for the Guardian, Polygon, The Daily Beast and elsewhere. You can support his work on Patreon