diablo 4 makes me sad and I can't wait to play it
there’s a scene in the campaign of diablo 4’s open beta period, which ran this past weekend, where you revisit Tristram, the setting of the first diablo. (this marks four out of four mainline Diablo games to feature this extremely damned town.) upon this visit, though, you find Tristram now literally in hell, having been so deeply ruined and damned by residents both terranean and sub-terranean that its best real estate now lies along shores of lava.
yet here I am again, visiting those shorelines, gawking at the weird rattling cage the skeletons stuck deckard cain in, fondly reminiscing beside the now-dry well at the town center. still gets me, even now, with the nightmare fully on display.
there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
I’ve made two youtube videos about diablo 2, possibly my favorite or at least most-played game of all time. in the more introspective of these, I noted that D2 (and its 2021 remaster) boasts the appeal of the finest microtransaction-laced skinner boxes, but was concieved before microtransactions pervaded video gaming. that the game does not steal your pennies is not necessarily a point in its favor, though; its apparent generosity belies its willingness to stoke addiction ad nauseum. when I’m in the lurch of a diablo game, very few things feel as important as the next loot drop.
it’s weird how specific the appeal is in my case. I’ve tried many diablo-inspired games over the years: your torchlights, your grim dawns, your warhammer 40k inquisitors. I’ve sunk decent hours into a handful, but none have particularly hooked me — either the combat’s too weightless or the UI is too underbaked or the aesthetic isn’t grippy. with enough variety of these reasons they become arbitrary excuses; the truth is that it is diablo itself, not loot-based isometric ARPGs, that holds me captive. like, I’ve played diablo 4 for less than a weekend and it’s already juicing my hypothalamus. it’s absurd.
so then of course we have to talk about Blizzard Activision and Bobby Kotick and shitty workplace conditions and sexual harassment. it is very hard to feel anything other than loathing for this corporation and its engines of profit, both in the general way you should not feel empathy for any corporation and also in the specifics of B-A’s poisonous swamp of shitty management and billionaire sociopathy. the righteous part of me wants very badly to divest myself of its product line as a whole, for the sake of my conscience.
would this also be arbitrary of me? I suppose. again, nearly every corporation is loathsome; it’s the nature of capitalism, and AAA gaming is as cutthroat a capitalist grindhouse as exists in the world of media creation today. it’s an industry particularly punishing and cruel to employees even when they aren’t being sexually coerced or psychologically abused by superiors. you can say “support the artists” all you want while making your purchase, but we all know where the vast majority of that money really goes.
then I think about hogwarts legacy, which in my case is easy to dismiss even before the bright red line of a transphobic monster key to its inception. I can pretend I’m taking a moral stand by avoiding the game, but it’s simpler than that: the game would never have interested me, so its stained reputation is merely a parenthetical after a sentence that’s already ended.
(though to break my own metaphor: sometimes the parenthetical goes before the sentence ends. I find this variation in structure fun, because I’m a dweeb)
I’ve been dismayed recently by my total failure to convince a few friends not to play hogwarts legacy. they perform whatever cognitive dissonance they require without much trouble, too, which adds a hint of jealousy to my frustration. the game’s developers provided some threadbare outs for people so inclined by insisting that rowling was uninvolved in the development and wouldn’t receive any benefit, which might have pacified me if rowling herself hadn’t insisted loudly that she sees support of the potter universe as support of her and her causes — but anyways threadbare outs were all my friends needed, because unlike me they were always going to play this game. it’s a reflection of something core to their childhoods and identities, inseparable from the reasons they’d play any video game to begin with.
I would say I find it inexplicable, except that this is a piece about diablo, a franchise I will apparently follow into many different kinds of hell. I’ve already pre-ordered diablo 4, benefitting no one and nothing with that purchase except shareholder bottom-lines and the presumptuous arrogance of its management. I’m already expecting to play it for hundreds of hours, acquiring meaningless gear in meaningless loops that provide me less with satisfaction or fun than with the numbed almost-pleasure of, I assume, a decent high for a drug addict.
part of me wishes I could play diablo now without the sting of awareness and guilt from my cognitive dissonance, without self-flagellating my hypocrisy for standing beside those who say “do not support this terrible thing and the terrible people who profit from that support” only when it conveniences my pre-baked preferences and childhood loves. another part of me wishes I could avoid the temptation, never install battle.net again, and become the pure ascetic my conscience desires.
come june, both parts are going to have to shut up and loot.