I have read the first 19 pages of Angela Carter’s The Passion Of New Eve six times. The disorienting speed of the first chapter is by now boringly familiar. I still know nothing of hundred and some pages that remain. It's a couple of hours I know I'll never get back.
Right now, I'm not reading. I just set my Switch down to scribble this; set it down in frustration that, 59 hours into Hollow Knight, I think I might be done with this game. I beat the Hornet 40 hours ago, but this time no matter how many times I hit her with my fully upgraded nail, she just won't stay down. The Mantis Lords keep handing me my ass, and I’ve been back to the Colosseum Of Fools a dozen times now. I'm pretty sure I know who the fool is.
Before you jump to shaming, I know I'm bad at games. I wasn’t into games when I was a kid. I played Megadrive at my cousins’ house. I got beaten at Goldeneye a bunch, then I went back to play my bass and painting 40K models. My son stopped playing Halo with me 2 years ago because, even for 10-year-old, shooting fish in a barrel gets old eventually.
I'm used to getting beaten, so why does this loss feel different? Why am I excited of the start of a new run in FTL, or to collect materials for a new camp in Don't Starve, but feel only an increasingly fatalistic ennui for Hollow Knight?
I don't think it's just the losing. The number of hours I've ploughed into Drop 7 on my commute makes me confident it’s not just the repetition. So what is it? Where’s the tipping point where challenge sours into joyless grind?
For the last many hours, I've been impressed how this game makes you headbutt the wall just enough that, when you finally break through, that roll of the Metroidvania dice feels incredibly rewarding. It's grindy, but you know that the pile of game-dust accumulating around your ankles will eventually turn into a lucky dip. It's just frustrating that as I approach the endgame, that grind seems to be wearing me down, instead of this game.
Maybe this is a result of the longer arc of gameplay. Into The Breach is so replayable because the game lasts at the most an hour – so what if I lost again, I can play on the bus home – but after 50 hours, I want this story to give me more. I've earned it, dammit! It's like a three-star film versus a mediocre run of a TV show. I'll probably sit through the remaining 80 minutes of a so-so spy thriller, but I'll never see the rest of Heroes season 2. Sometimes you just can't find it in your heart to go back. But what do I know? I’m not getting pushed around by a pre-teen Master Chief anymore, and I think I’m done with Hollow Knight as well. Maybe it’s time to get that Angela Carter off the shelf again.