RWP: Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight, the critically acclaimed action-adventure video game developed by Team Cherry, invites players into the mesmerizing underground kingdom of Hallownest. In Hollow Knight, players step into the shoes of a nameless, insect-like knight, embarking on a quest to unravel the mysteries of Hallownest. As they venture deeper into the kingdom’s vast underground, players must master combat techniques, learn enemy patterns, and overcome formidable obstacles. Each step forward unveils a fragment of the kingdom’s lore, driving the player’s curiosity and sense of discovery.

Hollow Knight belongs to the Metroidvania genre, drawing inspiration from iconic titles like Metroid and Castlevania. It embraces non-linear gameplay, offering large interconnected maps and levels that encourage exploration and backtracking. Puzzles and obstacles obstruct the path, testing the player’s problem-solving skills. The game’s design rewards perseverance and encourages players to push beyond their limits, finding joy in the challenge itself.

The Omelas Dilemma

One fascinating aspect of Hollow Knight lies in its engagement with ethical dilemmas, particularly its response to the Omelas Dilemma. The Omelas Dilemma, derived from Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” presents a utopian city where the happiness and prosperity of the community depend on the suffering of a single child locked away. Hollow Knight expands upon this dilemma by questioning whether the intense suffering of the Hollow Knight is worth the happiness of Hallownest.

Unlike a passive reading experience, Hollow Knight compels players to actively participate in shaping the story. The game offers limited choices, forcing players to confront moral dilemmas head-on. The absence of a passive option, such as leaving the Hollow Knight locked away, highlights the futility of inaction. As players assume the role of another Vessel capable of containing the infection, they must grapple with the consequences of their choices and bear the weight of their decisions, for “a video game does not offer the option of passivity through the very nature of gameplay. You must participate to advance the story” (Grunberg, 2023).

Player agency in moral storytelling

One of the game’s standout features is its branching narrative, allowing players to choose different paths and factions. This branching nature significantly impacts the moral decision-making process, amplifying the player’s sense of agency. The choices made by players not only affect their own journey but also shape the fate of Hallownest itself. The weight of responsibility hangs heavy on the player’s shoulders as they navigate the intricate web of alliances and consequences.

While the discussion paper focuses predominantly on the narrative aspects of Hollow Knight and its ethical implications, game mechanics have a significant role in shaping moral experiences. Analyzing how the interactive nature of the game enhances or alters the moral experiences compared to reading a short story with a fixed narrative, Hollow Knight introduces a cause-and-effect relationship between player actions and in-game consequences. This dynamic system of consequences imbues the player’s decisions with a heightened sense of moral weight. They must grapple with the repercussions of their choices and face the moral dilemmas head-on, knowing that their decisions have tangible effects on the game world and its inhabitants. The interactive medium creates a space for introspection and self-reflection, challenging players to consider the implications of their choices not only within the game but also in their own lives.

Hollow Knight pushes the boundaries of moral storytelling by intentionally blurring the line between right and wrong. The game presents situations where players must confront moral ambiguity, challenging their preconceived notions of good and evil. This enhances the overall moral depth of the game, immersing players in a morally complex world where shades of gray replace black and white.

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  1. It is interesting to read your thoughts on how Hollow Knight makes players grapple with moral dilemmas by forcing playes to make choices that have consequences. I’m curious as to whether you feel like Hollow Knight does this more effectively than Undertale does. I think I ultimately understood the message that Undertale was trying to get across by looking at the discourse online about the pacifict route, but I did not realize that there was anything that the game was trying to get me to think about while I was playing and killing monsters.

  2. Hi Amy,
    I loved your breakdown of the game in this blog post! I also appreciate how you discuss the moral dilemma in relation to Omelas. One of my favorite lines from your post is “This enhances the overall moral depth of the game, immersing players in a morally complex world where shades of gray replace black and white.” One aspect of Hollow Knight that really plays into this is the color palette of the game and the designs. I think the dark, desaturated tones definitely play into the themes the game wants to explore.

  3. Hi Amy, I really like how you broke down the game. I was surprise to find out that there was agency in the story of the game. My impression at first was that you fought bosses and interacted with NPCs to progress towards a linear game and that the agency came from what you decided to do next: grind geos or continue exploring. It is exciting to hear that there is more to come!

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