I’ve been playing a staggering amount of Enter the Gungeon recently. I’m not normally one to jump at games with roguelike elements (though I couldn’t necessarily tell you why), but the visual design, top-tier puns and unashamed ludicrousness of this one spoke to me in a way no other game could achieve after just one glance. But now that I’m in, there’s something compelling me to stay that’s more than just the ridiculously inventive gun designs and adorable (oh my GOD they’re adorable!) bullet people running around and ducking behind tables. Something that tugs at my very core.

I’ve always wanted to talk about games. For years I’ve read the articles, listened to the podcasts and watched the videos, longing to be involved in that world and those conversations. Sometimes I’d even find myself having to pause podcasts just so I could vocalise, to no one, my thoughts on what the hosts were talking about before they could move on. But the same voices that drew me in told me over and over again that it was impossible for me to ever join them. It was too competitive, and too difficult to make ends meet. So I didn’t try.

I meandered aimlessly instead down the path I had been told would bring me success. Two years into university (and £20K in debt) it had become excruciatingly obvious that I was never meant to be there. I didn’t care about being there like everyone around me did. I cared about video games.

I started writing. I had to. Honing my abilities in a community blog alongside hundreds of others in the hopes that I’d one day be counted among the voices that had kept me sane those past two years. Whether or not it was possible no longer mattered. If I didn’t try, that would guarantee my failure. Everything that awaited me if I never made it – the lack of fulfilment, locked out of the only path that made any sense for me to be on – I was already feeling that. I stood to lose nothing.

“Kill your past. You’ve already damned your future.”

The player will see these words scrawled on a monument to a long-dead gunslinger every time they begin a run of Enter the Gungeon. The stated goal of the player is to face their miserable past, and kill it with a big gun – a big gun found at the base of the Gungeon. Burn away every last regret and walk forward with the slate wiped clean. The player will fight and die in the shifting halls of the Gungeon again and again in pursuit of that objective, and at the start of every journey: that same message. A message telling them to keep going. Keep going, because no bullet, pit or monster can take anything from you that you haven’t already lost.

“Kill your past. You’ve already damned your future.”

I’d never have thought in a thousand years that a game like Enter the Gungeon would provide such a perfect mantra for the belief that now sits at the foundation of who I am.

To beat the Gungeon, the player must be prepared to start from scratch over and over again as weapons and passive buffs are lost following each death. They must be willing to learn from each defeat, and even potentially cash in some attempts to gather new information on how the Gungeon works rather than aim straight for victory. A Gungeoneer, as the game calls them, cannot fear defeat.

And though you’re constantly dying and having to start again from the beginning, you’re still always making progress – not just by encountering new weapons, items and enemies and learning what they all do, but by freeing others who’ve been trapped in the Gungeon. Occasionally on one of your excursions you’ll find a friendly NPC locked in a cell with the key somewhere else on the floor. Free them and they’ll become a permanent fixture in the game, each providing something new that could help you on subsequent attempts. The assistance of these NPC’s is a permanent consequence of your determined struggle, and the longer you struggle, the more of them you accrue and the more tools you have with which to break through the Gungeon.

Some of these NPC’s set other goals for you – goals like gathering certain resources in a run or killing enough of one type of enemy – that reward you with new items. Even if you don’t make it through the Gungeon this run, you’ve still got these other objectives ticking away in the background and slowly nearing completion. Here again you can cash in some of your attempts; forego heading straight for your main goal and instead focus on a secondary objective that could make your life easier in future attempts. Between this and freeing the NPC’s in the first place, you’re setting yourself up for future success every time you step back into the Gungeon.

Everything about this game rewards determinedly charging back into the fray without fear or reservation – even tiny details like the game’s dodge mechanic. The character can perform a rolling dodge past enemy projectiles to avoid taking damage, but obviously if you dodge away from enemies you’re moving in the same direction as the bullet and are liable to still get hit. Giving the enemy ground as they attack becomes dangerous, and the most effective way to avoid damage is to dive straight at your adversary. The dodge roll also does damage, so if you’re feeling frisky you can finish off any obstacle in your path simply by rolling through it. In most games this would be considered counter-intuitive at best, but think about it – when was the last time you flung your entire body at someone and they got up without a scratch?

This underlying theme of resolve – of being willing to get back up as many times as it takes to fight for the future you want to see – is a refreshing break from the overbearing cynicism of the culture we find ourselves living in. So often do we see people making snide remarks about others and the groups they associate with – remarks casually spewed into the noise without a hint of incredulity at the situations they describe, made more to seek applause and stroke egos than out of any expectation that they can change something. Thousands…nay, millions of others staying in silent despair at the thought that they have no power to enact change, not realising just how powerful they’d all be together if they collectively chose to act. In a world where that’s the norm, I’m glad a game like this exists.

I can vouch for the fact that there’s more than enough voices out there telling everyone how impossible everything is. The world needs more people telling them to try. Telling them to get back up and keep going. If I’d had something like that three years ago – some voice of affirmation to cut through the clamour of people telling me my desire to write would never amount to anything – I would have avoided one of the darkest periods of my life to date.

Deep within Enter the Gungeon is an affirmation we’ve all needed for years. I was lucky enough to be dragged out of my impotent nihilism almost a year ago, but so many people still don’t have that. There are still people in the world who can’t even process how I can be so hopeful about anything. Enter the Gungeon has made me think that games can change that. Maybe games can teach people to believe in themselves again.

It’s entirely possible that I’ve got my head in the clouds, but still…what do we have to lose by trying?

About The Author

Purveyor of "deep thoughts", talker of Things, non-associate of crows: Indie Haven's resident Good Video Boy lies in wait deep within the Clown Tower for your audio-visual enjoyment. Creator of Worth Mentioning and co-star of ThingsTalk and The Indie Haven Podcast.

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