SEKIRO: in the blood

The closest thing I’ve felt to agony in video games is when I first played Sekiro, from From Software.

The game is very difficult. It demands a lot of you. This fight, where Wolf, your player character battles Genichiro Ashina, was the first big road block I hit when playing the game. I must’ve bounced off him easily forty times before I finally got a lucky break and beat him. It took me a while to learn to see his moves, and even longer to learn how to react to them. Most of my runs ended like this.

SEKIRO: in the blood
david brothers

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

“Are You Washed in the Blood?”
Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878

Pain is central to Christian doctrine. The cross has grown to be the dominant symbol of the religion, but the Blood of Christ is what gives the cross its power. The cross was just a tool for His sacrifice.

As a child, I was taught that the wages of sin are death, but the blood of Christ washes you clean.

Agony is a prerequisite for salvation.

Pain and agony are two related, but different, things to me. Pain is just stimulus, it’s value-neutral. It’s not good or bad. It’s just an indication that you are at risk, a self-preservation response.

Agony is pain that is directed or allocated. Enhanced maybe. Pain with a purpose. You can see what I mean in monks who self-flagellate to mortify their flesh in order to push their souls closer to godliness.

But maybe that’s an extreme example. I don’t rightly know. But I do know “No pain, no gain” and “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

I think of people who push themselves toward excellence by forsaking everything but their goal. That lack in their lives, that sacrifice, seems agonizing to me. The idea of looking away from love.

The feeling of pushing yourself harder than you ever have before and still failing is also agonizing. So, agony is a little broadly defined, maybe, but it’s consistent for me.

Sekiro has been one of my pandemic games. The blues have been brutal this year, and falling into this game and absorbing the pain it brings with it, accepting the agony of trying and failing until I finally manage to succeed, that has felt amazing.

I’ve been stressing over a million things over the past few months, just like anybody else. I spend a lot of time sitting, or staring at a ceiling or wall while I process. But when I’m controlling Wolf and looking for the right opening, that split-second between swings when I can turn the fight in my favor, I feel more free. The only thing that exists in that moment is the goal, and the pain that is going to get me there.

Sekiro has a very satisfying gameplay loop. You find a wall, and it bars your way until you learn how to clear it. Learning how to clear it takes so much physical time and emotional energy that finally making it happen feels great—it feels euphoric. It’s as if the agony reversed direction.

The agony of Sekiro was good for the blues. It gave me an emotional release that was sorely lacking while I shelter alone here, and a way to get some distance from my anxieties. It makes weathering the fears and worries brought on by this pandemic a little easier. And it keeps me from spending all my time on just the sad end of the emotional spectrum.

In the moment, when I’m trading blows with the boss and trying to fight my way to the deathblow, it kinda feels like meditation. The self falls away, the world falls away, and the only thing left is just this moment.

Are you washed (are you washed?) in the blood (in the blood)?
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb? (of the lamb!)
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

“Are You Washed in the Blood?”
Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878

david brothers, 9/1/2020

This is the first one of these I’ve done, and Rebirth & Decline: A Thought About Ghost of Tsushima and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the second, completing my thoughts on Sekiro. I’ve also got an irregular newsletter on TinyLetter called (me+you). If you’d rather read some fiction, check out some criticism, or download these videos, visit my Gumroad. I’ve done a few limited-run podcasts too, under the Brothers Before Others umbrella.