My friend and I have spent a lot of time together in the past two months devoted to a singular task: playing Diablo III, a hack-and-slash role-playing-game. At the very beginning, I insisted on playing on the hardest difficulty possible to make it the most challenging experience, so my friend and I did that. However, we also insisted on adding an extra challenge: playing on hardcore mode.
In Diablo, hardcore mode is a mode where once you die, your character is dead permanently and you cannot play that character again. I don’t know why we chose to go for hardcore mode, possibly just due to youthful hubris and a desire to keep things interesting and spice things up.
My friend and I played through several lives where we died and didn’t make it very far in the game. We were unskilled and unexperienced, but each death sent an indescribable sensation of simultaneous shock and disappointment through our systems. Usually, life is a story of upwards progress, even when it doesn’t seem like we’re making progress and making the same mistakes over and over.
But when you die in hardcore mode of Diablo III, all your progress is gone. It’s wiped off the face of the Earth. The hours you spent devoted to the game disappear. You spend 10 minutes after the death of your character for a makeshift funeral commemorating your attachment to them.
On our most recent play-through, however, my friend and I finally played like skilled, experienced players. We got out of dungeons we weren’t ready to handle, and despite strong opponents, our strategic and tactical wherewithal got us through the majority of the game. We went through many challenging monsters and survived. We acquired strong equipment, weapons, and gems and got a good hang of the skills.
And then we reached level 60. We were casually steamrolling our way through monsters, but suddenly, the monsters were getting harder. Lukas and I reached a boss close to the end of the game, and we navigated the battle like we usually did, exhausting all our skills and using our best equipment.
Suddenly, however, when I wasn’t watching, I died. I didn’t even realize my health was getting low. I immediately stood up and started pacing around the room and complaining about how that possibly could have happened. From early December until now, mt friend and I easily put 24 hours into the game and it was surreal.
All our progress was gone.
It didn’t help that it was all my fault, too.
The death of my level 60 hardcore Diablo hero was easily the most tragic thing to happen to me this year. That is not to say that I have had it easy as an inner-city teacher by any stretch of the imagination, but that I’ve always been able to see the silver lining in whatever difficulty I have endured in my personal life or work.
Dying in Diablo, however, only compounds the pointlessness of playing the game in the first place. In the past day, I have been searching and searching for a higher meaning to the hours my friend and I put into the game.
But there is none.
I was so distraught after dying that I couldn’t take being in the same environment anymore. My friend asked if I wanted to start over and try again, to which I replied negatively. I cannot weather the shame of that play-through and all the wasted time, and I cannot ever play Diablo for the foreseeable future. I couldn’t even stay in my friend’s apartment after the tragedy that was the death and loss of the hero.
On a more serious note, the time spent playing Diablo with my friend was very enjoyable and a necessary break to the bizarre and complex trials I go through on a daily basis. Diablo III is a game rife with pointlessness and button-mashing. Lukas’s roommates often shook their heads while passing by, joking that they hated the game because of its mindlessness.
I can’t argue with that assessment. Lukas and I were so engaged in the mindless combat with monsters that we skipped every scene related to the plot. I remember that I had to go on Wikipedia to actually understand what was going on in the game.
Yes, as Hobbes once said, life is nasty, brutish, and short. And it’s important to take a break from life sometimes. Whatever value something has is what we attribute to it, and although Diablo is a mindless and simple game, there’s beauty in that mindlessness and simpleness.
The 24 hours we lost were a necessary distraction to allow us to bond and decompress. It taught us the value of collaboration and teamwork, as the two of us had to look out for each others’ characters to prevent each other from dying. It was an adventure that had us endure tough battles, and it gave us an excuse to be unproductive and have nothing good or serviceable done for society.
My friend is a third-year medical school student at Johns Hopkins University and I teach special ed in Baltimore, so obviously we are contributing members of society. I would like to say that we needed a break, but the decision to start our crusade and possibly even continue playing Diablo was completely arbitrary and random.
We probably will come back, because Diablo III is a game that seems pointless, but has some timeless value.
“It’s not like much has changed with the story or even the basic game mechanics,” writes Ben Kuchera of Polygon. “You click, you kill, you become slightly more powerful and you repeat. It never has to end.”
And it’s not like playing the game isn’t work — throughout Diablo, it’s all grind and superficial bonuses. Kuchera has the best analogy for what Diablo represents:
“It’s a treadmill that fools you into thinking you’re getting somewhere, even as you play the same content time and time again.”
Diablo, however, knows what it is. There’s no attempt to hide the fact that it’s a pointless game. You beat monsters, collect loot, and equip weapons and armor. It is a very unpretentious game.
“It’s the most chill, low-stakes game in the world, a great way to de-stress solo or with some pals, to do nothing of consequence while also feeling like you’re making progress,” says Joshua Rivera of GQ.
Maybe we need more things like Diablo III in our lives, the simple and mindless things that are so pointless. But even the pointless things have value, even if that value is conjured by the time you have mindlessly put into it.
So I lost 24 hours of my life when I died in hardcore mode of Diablo III. But I don’t have any regrets. Just wait for the article when we die on level 90 of hardcore mode of Diablo.
Originally published at Change Becomes You on January 11, 2020.