Monster Hunter World: Of Weeds and Monsters

My dip into Monster Hunter World has been enjoyable thus far, but every MonHun game in the past has reached a point, fairly early on, where it puts a roadblock in my way I’m not willing to grind my way through. I’ve yet to learn if World will be the one that I stick with, but if nothing else, seeing the series so well realized on a modern console has made me do some thinking. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about weeds.

Recently, I watched a show I was not very fond of (called “Love is Like a Cocktail”) where nearly every episode, the show taught you a recipe for a cocktail. It features a lot of fairly simple classics: irish coffee, shandygaff, white wine spritzer. Along with each recipe, they include a fun fact about the drink, or one of its ingredients. And on one occasion, the fun fact was that bananas are actually weeds!

To be frank, this claim is idiotic. The definition of a weed is a plant growing somewhere it is not desired. Any plant can be a weed if you wish it gone: any plant you desire is not a weed. And so, no plant is always a weed, especially not a plant that is grown as a major agricultural commodity and source of food. At the time though, it got me thinking about the word “weed” and how human-centric it is. Calling a plant a “weed” has strong negative connotations, and it’s not based on anything the plant is doing, other than existing when a human decides they wish it didn’t. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, unless it was a weed.

This brings us to the setting of Monster Hunter, wherein an industry of skilled warriors hunt monsters (as you would expect). That they call them “monsters” in-game brings us to another linguistic dilemma: part of the meaning of the word “monster” is that it isn’t real. It’s imaginary. There are no monsters in the real world; to be a monster is to be inherently fictitious. Obviously, though, the creatures of Monster Hunter are plenty real to the denizens of that world. What, then, does the word “monster” mean to them?

Not every creature in Monster Hunter is a monster, after all. There are insects buzzing around, harmless or even beneficial to the hunters. They aren’t considered monsters. Nor are the intelligent cat beings called Palicos. Smaller wildlife aren’t considered monsters either. No, the monsters are the ones that fight you. Some of them are hostile on sight, some merely act in self-defense, but to be a monster in this world means to resist a human’s efforts to remove you. Weeds are plants growing where humans don’t want them. Monsters are animals living where humans don’t want them.

What does it say about their culture that they classify animals into two categories: the Okay Ones, and the Ones We Must Kill? I’m still pondering that question. But the first step towards understanding is to realize what it really means to call something a “monster.”