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Retrieval Practice – An Analysis of Learning and Difficulty in Bloodborne

I posted this a while back to bloodborne, wanted to get patientgamers thoughts!

Earlier this year I completed my Master Degree in Educational Technology and one of my research topics of interest included adult learning and memory retention. Upon graduation I decided to tackle Bloodborne knowing that it probably wasnt a smart idea to play it while trying to write an applied research paper. But little did I know that my professional interest would make its way into my hobby of Bloodborne. This game has become one of my favorite pieces of media and I wanted to add something to the disucssion. Below youll find my (brief) take on Bloodborne and its difficulty in relation to learning. Lets hear your thoughts!

Retrieval Practice

Deliberate recall of information to enhance and boost learning. Games often have an on boarding phase to introduce players to techniques and controls by having them practice what they will be doing over the course of play. This is a more effective method of instruction than something like an introduction video as the players are actually practicing and experiencing said techniques and controls. Again, most games offer this deliberate practice of play, but Bloodborne employs certain additional strategies to make a push from short-term learning and memory to long-term.

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Interleaving – Mixing up closely related topics which encourages learners to develop the ability to distinguish between multiple concepts. Bloodborne presents the player with a vast array of enemies including Hunters, Beasts, and Kin, all which have their own move set and pattern of attack. By constantly presenting the player with a variety of enemies and move sets, they must actively recall specific strategies for each which in turn supports learning.

Spacing – Spreading lessons and retrieval opportunities out over time so learning is not crammed at once. Learning early on that the Cleric Beast is weak to fire will help the player when they encounter Vicar Amelia and Ludwig. Understanding the parry mechanism on a few trolls in Yharnam will prove valuable when they take on Martyr Logarius in Cainhurst. Also, there is a reason the player does not encounter Hunter after Hunter during the game, that would be catering to the short-term learning and memory. Fighting Hunter after Hunter would be easy which would in turn make the player feel “fluent.” Memory research has found when things come easy to learners, it is easier to then forget that information.


All of those strategies are supported in Bloodborne with the difficulty of play. Learning actually occurs when instruction is difficult. The more difficult the retrieval practice, the better it is for long-term learning. Struggling with content is necessary for learners to retain information and store it in long-term memory. The difficulty in Bloodborne supports learning by forcing the player to deliberately practice at learning each of the different move sets from the different enemies. Constantly failing to a mob of Yharnamites, struggling to get past a passive Rom, and death after death at the hand of Lady Maria are all learning opportunities. Understanding that the mob is easily taken care of by luring them one by one and Rom’s three phases all have windows for attack and Lady Maria has specific dodge timings are all moments that the players brain has actively processed information into actual learning.

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The difficult moments in this game support learning and long-term memory which reinforce the reason why this game is so memorable to players. We are physiologically changing the makeup of our brain by deliberately learning and re-learning so many strategies and concepts. Not only are we as players putting these strategies to use in long-term memory, but we are compiling that to our actual satisfaction and enjoyment during and after completing the game.

There is a reason why players are vocal about when the game “finally clicks” or when they “get gud.” There is a reason why more than half of the players of Bloodborne do not make it past Father Gascoigne. And it is the same reason: learning. The faithful following has learned, even if just a basic understanding, how to proceed. Those that give up just have not learned enough. Yet.

Yes, this game is difficult. But it is in the difficulty that the player learns, understands, and appreciates.


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