Walk into my suite on any recent given evening and you’ll be greeted by a wonderful chorus of profanity. My suitemates and I are in the throes of the Dark Souls franchise, with them working through Bloodborne and myself playing Dark Souls for the first time. They’re veterans so they know the ropes. I, however, am not faring quite as well. It took me nearly 50 hours just to get to the 5th boss and I’m only now getting the hang of it. Still, I’m determined to prevail. Suffice to say that when I finally slaughter whatever unholy critter waits for me as the final boss, it will be my crowning achievement in gaming. And to think, some people play this shit using only their fists without ever dying.
I’m a big believer in critical analysis of media, including videogames, and in the 60 total hours I’ve invested thus far, Dark Souls has taught me a lot. While the level design, narrative process, and combat system are all worth studying from game design perspective, the game has also taught me something a little more asbtract. There’s a lot to be covered and I plan on writing further but today I want to talk about Dark Souls and grit.
“Dark Souls isn’t just hard – it’s intimidating.”
Among other things, Dark Souls is teaching me to be intrepid. It’s no secret that Dark Souls is hard as all hell but simply saying that it’s difficult doesn’t do the game justice. As you explore through massive, grey keeps and sprawling sewer systems, the game does an excellent job making the player feel like a stranger in a strange land. Ancient stone towers cast you in shadow and monsters lurk everywhere, just waiting to one-shot you. Dark Souls isn’t just hard – it’s intimidating. It takes a certain kind of fortitude. Funnily enough, it’s a damn good game that provides ample reasons to quit playing altogether. Although, it is also worth noting that I am, indeed, kind of a little bitch when it comes to games. I’m not proud to admit I was jumpy through the entire slog of The Depths and Blighttown.
This is because Dark Souls is a game that punishes you for playing passively. Since it’s guaranteed that you’ll eventually get pummeled, if you want to make progress, it’s best to put on a brave face and just keep moving. When I first started playing I tread carefully, keeping an eye out for all possible traps and baddies. I’d patiently crawl through, picking off enemies one by one. Then, in an instant, I’d suddenly get destroyed only to lose all my progress. I quickly learned this was a poor plan of attack. Even if you have the tankiest of armor, you can’t just sit around cowering. In this, the game has taught me a thing or two about courage and resolve. Getting slaughtered is par for the course. Dark Souls isn’t conducive to playing safe. If you stand still, you die. If you lose focus, you die. Most importantly, if you get apprehensive, you die. It’s a simple enough message that really resonated with me. It’s also an excellent example of the unique narrative power games can have.
Now, I could (and likely will) write much, much more about Dark Souls. It’s one of those games I truly wish I had started playing sooner because there is just so much to learn, even just from a game design perspective. It’s got a lot going on. If you haven’t played and are interested in studying games, I recommend you give it a go. One piece of advice though: brace yourself and keep pushing forward.