Postcolonial Monster Hunter
Monster Hunter is a game with two essential core elements. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is hunting monsters. The second is about using their carcasses to better hunt other monsters. At first blush, this might feel inextricably colonial. The titular hunting is naturally violent and a lot of the pleasure of the game comes from performing violence, an action often placed in opposition to postcolonialism. However, a more sophisticated postcolonial approach quickly makes the way to a postcolonial Monster Hunter straightforward and the result might well be a stronger game.
To make the simplest statement; postcolonial doesn’t mean nonviolent. Due to colonialism being fundamentally violent and certain postcolonial movements being tied to nonviolence, the two are often joined, but they are far from synonymous. Furthermore, hunting has a history that well predates colonialism.
Hunting not only can be respectful but is more meaningful for the hunter when respectful. There’s more to hunting than the conversion of ammunition into animal products.
Monster Hunter already gestures at this. The way that the game sometimes makes monsters feel pathetic is very interesting. The Kulu-Ya-Ku is an ungainly and awkward bird at the best of times and when you’ve smashed it up past a certain threshold, it flees the battle by limping away. This is a fascinating wrinkle in a game about beating up large monsters and one that begs to delved deeper into.
Furthermore, these are monsters with lore and personality. The game wants you to respect them and players want to respect them. The game just coheres better when there’s more space for treating the monsters as more than just a resource generator.
The first thinking point is to have a ritual for the fallen foe. The level already ends with a little celebratory cinematic where you see your avatar fall to the grass or flash a grin to the camera or the like. Replacing this cinematic with one that shows the avatar paying respect to the monster would do a lot to change the tone of the game while still being a mostly non-invasive change. It is, of course, gratifying to see my rather boyish avatar celebrate a bit after a tough fight, but there’s space for both and the ritual fits in well with the imagined past that the game evokes.
A key concept for ethical hunters is the idea of the clean kill, a hunt that minimizes the suffering of the animal. This feels especially important for the countless small monsters that I go through as a natural part of the game. I kill so many Izuchi in the game, it could at least let me do so painlessly. Needing to slap around a small monster like that a few times before it falls down seems unnecessarily prolonged, both in terms of the creature’s suffering and also the player’s time.
Additionally, this is a great way to express mastery for a player. Being able to quickly and cleanly dispatch of a monster is a very visceral way for a player to feel as though they have grown. Being able to take out the monsters that you once were hesitant to approach in an elegant manner fits cleanly into a lot of the themes that the game already holds.
Also, the game often has me leaving animals half- or three-quarters dead. Monster Hunter is so clearly a video game that it doesn’t matter, but something would finish that monster off in the wild and it’s irresponsible to leave a creature in that condition.
A key concept in ethical hunting is that of fair chase. The game needs a reasonable chance to evade the hunter. Honestly, Monster Hunter already does a lot of this by simply having a lot of the large monsters be more than capable of taking you down. However, a lot of the sense of the hunt is lost with the way the game presents the hunt and with how the game is framed around very explicit objectives.
Anyone who has ever spent any time with any animal ever can tell you that they are not automatons governed by simple rules, but creatures with personality and surprises of their own. What would it be in the game if you came across the occasional Wroggi that was friendly or a young Jaggi that just follows you around in the map for no reason other than its own curiosity.
A very natural thinking point here is the ecosystem. Honestly, this is one of the weakest parts of the game as it is. Having fixed spots for fixed sets of monsters feels very artificial and doesn’t seem to do anything particularly meaningful in support of the game. I could conceive of it being useful were I hunting a lot of small monsters regularly, but most of the grind I go through is around the large monsters anyway, and the small convenience comes with significant costs. It’s just weird in a world where we know so much about overhunting to just reset the level with every fresh hunt.
A quick and unintrusive change would be to ban hunting monsters that are currently vulnerable. Asking players to avoid hunting a certain species on the occasional mission could provide an interesting wrinkle to gameplay and one that gives players the space to see the game world as more lifelike.
A second quick change would be to ask players to hunt invasive species. If a species suddenly shows up in a region different from the one it is indigenous to, that could provide a nice surprise to the player while giving them a fun subtask. Keeping the ecosystem healthy by dispatching of the invasive species fits very cleanly into the game’s existing foundation.
The other half of the game is in the focus on materials and this is a great place from which to decolonize. Monster Hunter reproduces a number of colonial points in how it views material goods and decolonizing those results in some interesting dynamics.
The village is a key part of the core loop of Monster Hunter. Eating, taking on new quests and inventory management all provide some downtime after taking on a monster and it also serves as something of a grounding for what you do. It thus feels like a bit of a missed opportunity that the place feels more like a quest hub than a place to live and so this becomes an obvious entry point to rethink some of the game’s approach to materials.
It makes little sense, given the framing of the game, just how isolated you are as an individual. Despite the importance of your work to the village, there is very little that they do for you and despite the quests that you complete, there is very little that you really do for them. It just doesn’t fit in with the theming of a village both precarious and remote.
One quick thing that I would like to see would be if the people in the village would recover and clean your kills. This could be done as you return, or more interestingly, a few hunts delayed. The delay would give the game a strong one-more-hunt dynamic as players tick down the time until they obtain the resources they desire, but in filling that time productively, generate more timers that they want to see complete. It also just feels more of a coming together, a moment where different people bring different skills to bear rather than having you skin the creatures yourself. Similarly, let some people farm or gather and let them share some of that bounty with you. This village just feels at once strangely focused on monsters and yet unwilling to do all that they can with them. Where are the artisans for that matter?
There’s a complication here that’s illustrated by the existing capture system. It presents itself as the taking of a live monster, which is then assumedly brought back to the village and butchered for more and better materials than you would get from simply killing it. It is so abstracted from the monster though that it detracts from the hunt. It feels like the equivalent of chicken nuggets; high amounts of processing all hidden from the consumer. Any implementation of this feature would have to work to make sure that the rendering of the monster into materials isn’t hidden from the player. You cannot allow a distance to form between the player and the process.
Would it also be possible to have the requests be more communal? One could imagine filling the requests of other people in the village and having them fill yours as well. This is already somewhat in place in things like the pet missions, why not make the system part of the core of the game?
On the one hand, there’s a specific feeling to a grind that is yours and yours alone. To substitute that with having other people contribute to your goals as you do to theirs might morph it entirely. I don’t know that it is a lesser feeling though, especially when you consider the player’s contributions to other people in the village. Additionally, you may be able to keep from losing the pride of the grind with a clever enough maneuver. Something as simple as having the person filling your requests say something like “Hey, thanks for helping me out so much with [X]. I saw that you wanted [Y] and happened to pick up some when I last went out. I hope this helps!” still centers the acquisition around the player’s actions and so doesn’t detract from the feeling of the grind, but instead feels like the player took multiple paths to get all that they needed.
This is already somewhat in place with all of the secondary, pet-centered resource acquisition paths already in the game, but having it come from other villagers helps you feel like you are actually part of a community. It is fun to see your meowcenaries go off on their own expeditions and bring something back, but you could just as easily have them be support staff instead of venturing on their own. Of course, you could also use this to shake off a feature only loosely bolted to the core game.
This feature also lets players more effectively optimize for what they can get on a single trip. Players love to roll together as much value as they can from a single action and this is already a key dynamic of Monster Hunter and one that would be supercharged by a feature like this. Players also love to use the whole hog and there is just too much that you accumulate right now and never use.
This is also a great place to roll in more multiplayer options. Being able to share these requests amongst the people you play with online can also decenter the player and help players use all that they harvest. It is necessary here a crafting system that allows for other players needing things that at the moment you do not and so fewer materials without meaningful crafting options and better balance through the tree, but both of those also directly make for a better game.
Hunt What You Need
This brings us cleanly to the next point, to take only what you need. It is strictly better in the game to pick up much of what you see along the way, but it is time that you spend for very little material gain. The burden of optimal play can weigh heavy on the player in this way, sucking up time and effort for a reward that the player is not even sure that they will receive. Giving players a reason to pick up a large set of specific things helps a lot with this. More sharply limiting the amount that can be carried also could do something towards this.
A more radical solution would be to tell players that materials that no one wants are nothing more than pollution. The game directly encourages hoarding, as many of these games do, but it would be unhealthy outside of such a context. Tell players that things that they are not going to use must be disposed of and make them actually dispose of them. Putting a penalty on stripping an ecosystem bare forces the player to actually think about what they want and to take only what they need and so treat the world with respect and not just as an ever-replenishing source of raw goods.
With this, the player is then pushed never to leave game to waste. There is no more cutting the fins off sharks and then releasing them back into the ocean, a deeply capitalist action.
Here, you can see with mostly small, non-invasive changes, we can drastically change the ideology and the experience of the game and I think shift both for the better. In this case, I came to the game from the angle of postcolonialism, but I believe that this serves as a demonstration for the larger point that examining a game through the lens of a defined ideology helps surface assumptions that the genre holds and that can be successfully challenged. It also helps identify blind spots in a design that might be hard to find otherwise and to generate solutions that might otherwise be hard to narrow down upon. This is a very effective way to open up large and novel spaces in video games and to build out features to populate them.