Search This Blog

Saturday, February 22, 2020

What Dark Souls Taught Me

This isn't going to be a review so much as it's going to be an in-depth analysis.

(Also, spoilers for Dark Souls, but not the whole game, just the beginning mostly, so if this blog post makes you want to play Dark Souls at some point *cough cough TRINITY cough cough*, you can still play it and experience all the major surprises for yourself.)

Right off the bat, Dark Souls has a very specific reputation; that reputation being that this is merely a game you buy when you want to suffer and experience the ecstasy of getting your ass kicked repeatedly until your motivation and resolve to continue is completely ground into dust.

Yet, not only is that not necessarily accurate, but it couldn't be more off the mark.

Despite its harsh looks, Dark Souls is a warm, welcoming game that's the closest a person without a father figure might get to having one. (Unless he left to go get milk 12 years ago and is just running a little late. and is totally coming back because he would never leave you and your mother like that, and you're absolutely sure he'll be back any minute now with the curdled milk.)

What I mean to say is that this game is like a demanding parent, but in a very positive way.

The first thing most people notice when booting up the game for the first time is--surprise!--that it's really hard. I've seen people who have literally quit before even getting to Firelink Shrine, that's how little patience many people have. (Firelink Shrine is unlocked around 20 minutes into the game, but you can get there much sooner than that if you're good or if you've played before already.)

Yet, Dark Souls has this wonderful habit of being surprisingly fair. For example, after learning the controls, the very first thing the game has you actually fight is a big scary boss.

This big scary fatty, to be specific.
At the start of the game, you don't have a real weapon. All you have is a broken sword hilt that does like, 1 damage.

So right after learning the controls, you're expected to beat this big scary boss without a weapon?

Well, no. They put an open door in the corner and anyone who's observant will see the door and realize that they aren't actually expected to kill the boss, just to run through the door to safety, which is relatively easy.

Yet most people won't see the slightly hidden door immediately, leading to one of two possibilities:

A) They either fight him and die once or twice, and then quickly realize they're supposed to just run out of the boss arena


B) They'll keep dying over and over again without even attempting to look around and will say "This game is bull-balls, I quit!" and those people are babies. With the exception of one or two bosses, everything in the game is fair and more than beatable (and even with the two slightly unfair bosses you can still grind to get stronger.)

So here's the first lesson you will learn in Dark Souls:

1. You have to apply real-world logic to every situation.

The most important example of this is that the wind-up times for the enemies' attacks tell you where to dodge, not when.

In most video games, you can avoid all attacks if you dodge at the right time. If you see an enemy is about to attack, you know to dodge and avoid it. However, most gamers don't even realize this simple fact: in most video games, where you dodge hardly matters, because you're invincible during the dodge. This means that even if you sort of dodge right into an enemy's attack, it doesn't matter because you can't get hit while you're dodging. Because it's not real, it's just a video game, right?

In Dark Souls, dodging doesn't automatically make you safe, but it's a tool for quickly getting out of harm's way.

The combat in Dark Souls is meant to emulate real life--for example, giants don't exist in real life (that I know of), but if an 80-foot-tall giant picked up a bus-sized hammer and smashed you with it, you would die. Obliterated, squished like a bug.

So in Dark Souls, if you recklessly run up to a massive monster or giant or something and it hits you, you can't be surprised when you die. Most gamers are used to game-logic, not real-world logic.

In video games, something's size doesn't matter much, all that matters is the red health bar above it. Each enemy in a video game has stats like health and damage, and all that matters to a gamer is how big its stats are, and even though bigger creatures and bosses will have more health than regular enemies, they usually aren't as realistically-proportioned as the ones in Dark Souls. A big scary looking enemy in most video games could be 20x the size of a regular enemy but only have 2x the health and damage.

In Dark Souls, the enemies attack really slowly. Yet it still seems really hard to fight them. Why is that? Because most players see the enemy slowly raising their weapon to attack and dodge to a random spot to avoid the hit, but the game intentionally makes their attacks slow so that you can see which direction the weapon is going to strike in. If an Undead warrior raises his weapon straight above their head, you can see what they're doing, realize that they're going to swing it downward, and dodge either left or right but not forward into their weapon, and if you see them raising the weapon to their right, it means they're about to swing left, and vice-versa.

I see so many people quit Dark Souls and saying, "This is bullshit! How did he hit me?! I dodged!" but they fail to notice they're literally just rolling right into the attack.

And if this sounds complicated, it's really not. Most enemies attack really slowly so it's really obvious where they're going to attack if you pay attention.

Then there's....

Getting surrounded:

"I'm sorry that I whistled at your girlfriend!"
Most games create the illusion of fighting multiple enemies but, in reality, only one or two will actually attack you at a time while the rest just kinda stand around in the back like they're waiting for their turn or something.

This leads most players to fight multiple enemies and hoards of enemies the same way they would in other games--just running up and attacking them.

That won't work in Dark Souls.

Remember, even though it's a video game, you have to apply real-world logic.

In the real world, if you were some dude fighting 5 guys in a bar, they wouldn't go up and take turns one-by-one. They'd just swarm you, push you to the ground and kick the crap out of you. You'd get jumped by all of them, they wouldn't just conveniently line up one at a time for you to fight them individually. 

In Dark Souls, the first time you run into a small group of enemies is when you're struck by this harsh reality. Individually, you can kill a Hollow or even a stronger Skeleton no problem, but even just two or three of them can kill you quickly and brutally if you aren't really careful, especially early on. Even later in the game when you're much stronger, you can still be killed by relatively weak low-level enemies if you encounter a group of them. This is because they won't line up. They won't take turns. They will all attack you simultaneously and will not hold back. They will also use strategies to take you down--not only will they all attack at once, but they won't all do the same thing. One might try to come up from behind you while others try to force you against a wall, or maybe they'll circle around you to get you completely surrounded. They might also ambush you from time to time, sometimes you kill a small group thinking you've won, only for the last remaining survivor to call for backup and suddenly more of his friends are showing up to kick your ass without reservation.

There's also ranged enemies who will shoot at you while you're busy fighting off the melee attackers.

Even when you're high-level and wearing high-level armor, you still want to be careful and try to attack them head-on or one at a time if you can separate some from the group, and getting surrounded is a sure-fire way of getting killed. And in most areas you want to look above you before entering into a fight with a mob, to make sure there's no archers. If there are, it's usually wise to take out the archers first that way they won't be shooting at you non-stop during your fight with the others.

Then there's....

Endurance management:

You see this little green bar here?

That little green bar at the top is your stamina. And your entire Dark Souls experience will revolve around using it wisely.

In most games, dodging and sprinting use stamina (if there is any stamina) while regular movement and attacking don't.

But again, Dark Souls isn't most games.

In Dark Souls, every action uses stamina. Every time you swing your weapon, you use a chunk of your stamina bar, every time you try to dodge you use a big chunk of your stamina bar, and if you block an attack with your shield you'll lose some stamina from that too.

Don't. Run. Out.

In most video games, you can attack all you want and only sprinting and rolling use stamina, but in real life, if you were swinging a big heavy ax or broadsword, yeah, you'd get tired.

If you run out of stamina, you can't do anything. While you're inactive in between actions, you regain stamina, but if you swing your weapon a bunch of times and run out of stamina, the enemy will attack you and you won't be able to hit him, dodge, or block, and you'll just stand there stupidly and get hit and killed because you didn't manage your endurance bar.

The saying in the Dark Souls community is, "Don't get greedy," which in normie terms roughly translates to, "Don't keep spamming buttons that spend endurance, manage it carefully."

For example, you have the ability to do strong attacks that hit harder than regular attacks, but you don't want to do a bunch of heavy strong attacks and run out of endurance right away. Distribute your one or two heavy attacks among your regular attacks and time them for when they'd be the most useful. Managing your endurance in this game is like managing how you spend money.

This is also how your character's weight works.

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to approaching the challenges you will face in Dark Souls:

You can either go light or heavy.

If you go light, that means wearing little armor or only wearing thin, light weight armor with minimal protection, but in exchange your character can move quickly and easily, and it will be much easier to avoid most attacks. However, the few times that you do get hit will be more devastating since you have so little protection. This is especially bad for when there's projectiles or many small enemies involved, because it will be hard to avoid them all.

Or you can go heavy, where you wear big clunky steel armor from head-to-toe, which will make you much more resilient to attacks and you can take a lot more abuse before dying, however this comes at the price of moving really slow (bad for situations where a single big enemy is about to strike and you aren't fast enough to get out of the way, so you get hit by a massive attack).

There is a middle ground but most players will tend to lean one way or the other, and how you choose to approach the fights is up to you.

The second lesson you will learn in Dark Souls is:

2. Choose how to proceed.

Dark Souls is unique in that it doesn't give you any indication of where to go or what to do, let alone how to do it.

From the starting area alone, there's like 7 different large regions you can get to (with bossfights) and the game doesn't tell you where you should go or what you should be doing. This leads to many players growing frustrated quickly and giving up on their journey before they've even really started, since they get stuck in one area and don't know where they're supposed to be going.

However, to the observant player it will become apparent where the game wants you to go.

For example, in the starting area of Firelink Shrine, there's really only three paths to start on, and each one branches out into a total of 7 or so. But here's the gist of what's down each path:

Down one path is skeletons that kill you in one hit. Also there's dozens of them, and they brutally surround you and kill you.

Down the other path, there's ghosts that, not only are really strong high-level enemies, but you can't even attack them without a special item.

And down the third path is some relatively easy low-level Undead.

Gee, I wonder which way the game wants me to go.

That doesn't mean you can't get through one of the other two ways--it is technically possible to beat the skeletons and ghosts at a low level, but if you get frustrated because you keep getting butt-fucked by skeletons and ghosts everywhere you go, it probably just means you went the wrong way. The game doesn't make everything overwhelming, there is generally a correct way and an incorrect way to proceed. But the game won't flat-out tell you; and that's okay, because half the fun is finding out which areas fuck you in the ass and which ones don't, and to quote the Act Man, it makes you want to get stronger so that you can go back to those areas.

That being said, after around the first 1/3 or 1/2 of the game, it doesn't matter which way you proceed; for example, there are four bosses of varying strengths and fighting styles that you're required to beat at some point in order to complete the game, but it doesn't matter what order you tackle them in, and there are numerous high-level optional areas that you can visit for your own personal reasons. Whether it's to level up, find new gear and secrets, or just because you feel like it, the game offers a lot of completely optional areas. Most people might not immediately know that they can return to the Undead Asylum at any point to fight an optional boss and possibly get some good XP and items along the way. (Hence all the bloodstains there.)

The Dark Souls world is extremely vertical, allowing places to intertwine, weave in and out of each other and loop back in unexpected ways, which creates a sense that the game isn't nearly as linear as Demon's Souls.

With that in mind, it becomes apparent that the game wants you to dictate which way you go and how you go about it, with no intention of holding your hand.

It's easy to get confused and not know where to go, but there are always ways to find out, by talking to NPCs, reading item descriptions, and paying attention to your surroundings--and then you have to put the pieces together and decide whether to stay on the beaten path or go off somewhere else to do something that's more optional.

Since starting Dark Souls there was always one thing that I liked but couldn't put my finger on, and it wasn't until after 30 hours in that I realized what it was; and that thing was that the developers chose to omit a map.

Most games will either have a map that you can open or one in the corner of the screen (or both), but Dark Souls has no map to look at. The map is just whatever you make of the world around you. To some the lack of a map might sound like a bad thing, but it's really not. The lack of a map means that you, the player, develop a more authentic and intimate connection with the world around you. When there are no maps, marked pathways or icons to follow, it's just you and your senses--and there's something both primal and endearing about that. Reminds me of the lack of ambient music; in most games when you walk around or explore, there's some nice ambient music playing to keep your mind occupied. And that's not a bad thing--in fact, I'd say The Witcher 3 has absolutely incredible music and even the ambient music is stunningly beautiful.

Although I also appreciate that Dark Souls has no ambient music. There's only four little areas in the entire game where music plays besides bossfights, and for the remaining 95% of the game it's just silence and the sound of your clanking armor. At times the silence is calming and at others it's anxiety-inducing, but the quiet nature of the game and the lack of a map makes you feel truly alone in a big world, and even though the game isn't actually that big, it does a good job of feeling massive through these little tweaks. Had they included a world map, the world would have felt a lot smaller.

The next thing players will learn in Dark Souls is:

3. Trial and Error.

To say you will encounter some challenges is... an understatement. Most of the game will kick your ass, but that's the fun of it. The fun isn't in dying, but in trying different weapons, tactics, and strategies and eventually overcoming something that initially seemed impossible.

I'll be the first to admit that I died to the Moonlight Butterfly like 10 times before beating it (but somehow beat the Capra Demon on my second attempt?) but the previous nine attempts and failures led to me being able to learn what I was doing wrong and what I needed to improve in order to beat it.

Dark Souls has a few subtle ways of helping you out, for example you can grind at any point to get stronger if you feel too underpowered for a fight or area. Grinding isn't fun but some areas are easier to grind than others.

Another way the game helps you is through the numerous item descriptions. For example whenever you pick up a key, if you don't read the description you might not know what door the key opens, but if you actually read the descriptions it will usually tell you exactly what door it unlocks and where that door is located. If you didn't pick the Master Key in the beginning of the game that's very helpful.

Another way the game helps you is through the bloodstain system. If you see a bloodstain on the ground, it means a player died there recently and you can watch their death play out and often you're able to figure out what killed them or what mistake led to their death, which makes it easier to avoid making the same mistake. While it doesn't show you the actual thing that killed them, just by watching them you can usually figure out what happened. This also works well for booby-traps, since sometimes you'll see a bloodstain with no enemies nearby and by watching their bloodstain recording you can deduce that the hallway or spot in front of you is trapped in some way.

The key is learning from your mistakes. The game will destroy all of your currency (souls) if you die twice before returning to where you first died, but that's the important part. You aren't punished for dying, you're only punished for dying again and not learning from your mistakes the first time. Whenever you die, you leave a bloodstain on the ground that other players can watch in their own worlds, but you also drop all of your currency on the ground wherever you died. This means that even if you don't think you could have prevented your death the first time, you still have a shot at getting your stuff back as long as you learned from your first mistakes and don't make them again.

In other words, Dark Souls doesn't punish you unjustly for failure--it only punishes you for not learning from failure. You are expected to fail--a lot. But the game wants you to learn from those failures so that you can succeed. And those who don't learn from their failures in Dark Souls will not succeed in beating the game, and by extension probably don't learn from their real-life failures either.

In this manner the game both lets you learn from your own failure as well as others' through the message and bloodstain systems. Players can leave messages on the ground (a lot of them are just jokes and trolls, but there are a lot of helpful ones) for others to find and see and each death leaves a bloodstain on the ground, and so whenever another player fails they can leave a warning message on the ground or at the very least their bloodstain will do some of the talking.

Sometimes merely the presence of bloodstains is a message. If you're about to walk into a room and you instantly see that there's like 20 bloodstains in one spot, you could probably assume there's some big ambush or a boss battle in that spot without actually watching any of the bloodstains.

4. Hollowing.

As mentioned in the previous post, Dark Souls has this concept called "Hollowing." You see, the Undead in the game are branded with the Darksign, meaning they cannot truly die. Anytime they die they simply come back to life.

However, each death slowly brings them closer to hollowing, which is the moment they give up and lose motivation to continue, or lose meaning in their life.

Hollowing is an allegory for depression, and it's something to be feared. Those who give up on the game are somewhat integrated into the game's lore.

One of the characters Solaire tells the player that there are many worlds other than the one you're in, and implies that perhaps things are different in the other worlds, where maybe someone else was the Chosen Undead. Legend has it that there is a Chosen Undead who will ring the Bells of Awakening, and that whosoever achieves this is destined to defeat Gwynn and either prolong the Age of Fire or usher in the Age of Darkness.

We know that dying too many times or failing too many times leads to Hollowing, but what of those in the real world? What of those who played the game but never finished, who ran into an obstacle they were unable or unwilling to keep fighting against?

They became the hollows that you see in the game.

Several YouTubers have pointed out that most of the items you find in the game are attached to a corpse. Why? Because each one was dropped by someone who made it farther than the last guy. Countless people in the game traveled to fulfill the prophesy of the Chosen Undead, and each one got a little bit further than the last. So as you progress through the game you'll encounter the bodies of adventurers who each progressively made it farther than the last, and as you go on you'll start to find better armor, better weapons, and better equipment and gear that was left behind by these people.

As the Act Man said, even in death people are helping you by leaving something useful behind.

This also ties into the real-world analogy. Different players quit at different stages of the game--some quit right away, others might have made it halfway through or most of the way through before dying and rage-quitting, and the players who made it further would have acquired better loot, armor and weapons than those who quit early on, so it makes sense that the farther you progress, the better gear you find on the corpses of those who failed before you. And if you were to quit and go Hollow, you would become one of them.

However, those who can persist through the difficulty of Dark Souls without quitting and going Hollow have what it takes to avoid going Hollow in the real world.

5. Persistence and Planning.

Similar to what I mentioned about trial and error, only I'm going to veer a little bit away from the point I was trying to make there.

You see, every time you die in Dark Souls you learn a little bit more about the mechanics of the game. In a way, every time you die you get better. This also means learning not just from your mistakes and how you can avoid making them, but learning tricks and tactics that will make things easier. For example, some enemies are weak to certain types of weapons, equipment etc., and after dying a few times to the same boss or the same area, you can figure out what you can do to make things easier for you and then plan ahead on how to do it.

The sole reason I was able to beat the intimidating Capra Demon on my second try was because I realized that in a tiny room with nowhere to go but a little staircase, I had to use those stairs to my advantage, so just by planning in advance where I was going to run and when I was going to attack, I was able to make the strong boss much more manageable. It also helps to be familiar with weapons and equipment that you don't prefer using. One set of weapons might serve you well in one location but not in another.

And the next lesson you'll learn in Dark Souls is...

6. Life's not easy. (But humility helps.)

One thing that makes Dark Souls stand out above the rest is that you might not even be the main character. The prophesy is that the Chosen Undead will escape the Undead Asylum and ring the Bells of Awakening, however, if you fail to ring both bells, then you are not the Chosen Undead and you are not the protagonist of the story. You're just another knight who tried to ring the Bells, failed, and went Hollow.

Another factor is that it's easy to interpret yourself as the bad guy in the whole situation. It's entirely possible that the world of Lordran would have been better off if you had rotted in a cell instead of undertaking the massive task of ringing the Bells and killing Gwynn. Perhaps someone else would have been the Chosen Undead and maybe they would have made a abetter choice than you.

One theory I like is the theory that Dark Souls II is what happens if you kindle the flame, and Dark Souls III is what happens if you let it die and usher in the Age of Darkness. If this is the case, then both versions of the world exist simultaneously; the flame is both lit and extinguished, the world is both under the Age of Fire and the Age of Darkness at the same time. Schrodinger's Cat, if you will. Maybe we should call it Schrodinger's Flame? At any rate I haven't played through the sequels yet so I can't completely testify as to how accurate that theory is, but it's good food for thought.

However, one thing is readily apparent; you are not special when you arrive at Firelink Shrine.

(Wow, what an inspiring message. Thanks, Dylan.) But it actually is.

You see, when you first start Dark Souls, you aren't guaranteed success. You don't have any sort of plot armor, and the few times that you think you're powerful and can breeze through the future challenges, the game will find a way to humble you.

Just when you think you're all-powerful, and have the best equipment and max stats, the game will find a way to make you feel small again. Which it does constantly. Sure there are people who have beaten all of the games in the Souls-borne series multiple times, and they probably trivialize the game to some extent through repeated playthroughs, but on your first one it's just not gonna happen. Like I said before, even weak enemies can kick your ass if you get surrounded or sloppy.

Yet, the game actually rewards you for being humble out the gate. If you get cocky you'll have many rude awakenings, but if you go in with an open mind and are willing to accept failure, and to not be afraid of failing because you know you can always come back and try again, you'll be in the right place to overcome the numerous challenges you'll encounter. If you accept the situation as it is, and say to yourself, "Right now I'm weak an inexperienced, but that's okay," you'll be better off than those who think the game will be a breeze because they beat Cat Mario one time after looking up guides.

There are some games and stories that are best experienced with multiple viewings / playthroughs, but as for Dark Souls, the best playthrough is your first one. Not knowing which areas fuck you in the ass and which ones don't adds a layer of constant tension to every situation.

To quote Act Man again (sorry for quoting him a lot, but I want to give credit where it's due and we shared a lot of the same ideas), few games manage to make the desire to explore and seek adventure so potent while also making it so incredibly dangerous to do so. The game tantalizes you at every turn with stunning vistas and mysterious lands, and most of the time if you see something in the distance, you can actually go there, and more often than not the sensation of seeing something super far away, traveling through numerous branching and intertwining paths for hours on end, looking back and realizing that you're at the location you spotted in the distance will have you overwhelmed with pride and intrigue. It makes you want to keep exploring.

Others have pointed out the map for Dark Souls isn't actually that big, but because it's so connected and periolous, every step feels like an adventure. If an area is only a few square miles but you have to fight your way through every inch of it, it's going to feel like a pretty massive place. And what a grand place Lordran is.

There simply isn't anything like it.

One of my favorite things on YouTube was discovering this gem, because it's the purest form of experiencing the game.

Essentially, this 30-something accountant decided she would play the game even though she's never held a controller or really played any video games in her life. This adds a new layer of difficulty because not only does she have to learn to play by Dark Souls' rules, but the mechanics of game-logic altogether. Besides things like Tetris, this was the first video game she's ever played, so she didn't even know how to use the controller or move the camera let alone how to beat this notoriously challenging game that most gaming veterans struggle with.

It was also a blind playthrough, and one might say, "Well, how do we know she didn't look up the cheats or shortcuts?" and to that I say, it's super obvious she didn't because she did almost everything completely wrong and spent like, 6 hours trying to get out of the tutorial area and learn how to use the camera, so suffice to say she wasn't looking up exploits on the Internet. Also she eventually beat the game but it took her wayyyyy longer than most people, like it usually takes 35 - 60 hours but she must have spent at least 90. Also I watched the entire series and she couldn't even find a lot of the obvious stuff let alone the best secret pathways and shortcuts.

I'm not saying any of this to degrade her, in fact it's quite the opposite. What she did was quite admirable and also makes for an entertaining viewing experience.

Essentially in the first few episodes she tells us that she's an Australian accountant and that her coworker Ben kept telling her she should play the game and put it on YouTube, and she spends a lot of time talking about Ben while she dies in Dark Souls and spent several hours stuck in the tutorial area, and in my opinion any girl who spends hours dying in the tutorial area just because a male coworker likes the game is marriage material and I totally hope she and Ben got married or something after this. I think it took her like, two years to beat the game lol.

But it was vital that Kylie did eventually beat the game because she's living proof that anyone can beat the game without cheats or exploits, because she did it without even knowing how to use a controller let alone how to play action RPG games. She probably died more times just accidentally pressing the wrong button on the controller or accidentally walking off ledges than she did from actual enemies.

She was scared and cautious of everything and that made her better, because the game wants to make you feel small and weak so that when you eventually succeed, you know it was because of how hard you worked and not because the game was "e-z" or because you were just oh-so skilled and powerful.

Similarly to how a lot of creators don't really like being called "talented" (not that they're all take offense to that or anything, it's just a bad compliment is all) because it implies some mystic ability they were born with rather than the effort they put into succeeding, Dark Souls makes you feel small and weak so that each time you succeed, you know it was purely because of how hard you worked and not because you were just "skilled" or something. Because Kylie wasn't skilled, at all, and yet she was eventually able to beat the game despite not being skilled whatsoever just because of the time and effort she put into succeeding. It wasn't about intrinsic skill, it was the result of hard work.

Which leads me to the next thing Dark Souls taught me...

7. You don't have to be the best.

What I mean by this is that you don't have to be the best to succeed, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably misquoting Nietzsche so they can sound pretentious.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't strive to be good at something, but what it does mean is that you don't have to be the best writer in the world to try writing something (or any other hobby or activity for that matter). In fact it's quite the opposite, the sooner you start doing something the sooner you'll get better through practice. You'll never become a better writer by not writing. By starting sooner rather than later, even though you might not be good at it now you can "get good" so to speak.

In Dark Souls when people complain that the game is too hard or ask for help, most of the Dark Souls community will just say "Git gud." Other gamers usually get annoyed by this phrase because they think it's just Dark Souls players being elitist and pretentious (I'm sure there are some who are, but that's not really the case with the majority) but in reality it's not elitist at all.

At a glance it seems like a dismissive way of saying "You suck and I don't" but that's not actually what the message is. The phrase "git gud" refers to practicing, persisting and improving over time, and every good Dark Souls player had to "git gud" at some point. They didn't pick up the controller already "good," when they first started they sucked, they died a lot, they probably rage-quit several times and eventually through practice and patience they "got gud." So when they say "git gud" they're implying that every player has to get good at the game--it's not meant as an insult. The thing is that when an impatient 14-year-old picks up the game and then goes on some gaming forum to bellyache about how hard the game is, they aren't looking for someone to tell them to improve, they're looking for someone to tell them the easiest way to beat the game, but that's not how the game was meant to be played.

Most people would agree that looking up guides and cheats for Dark Souls is a cardinal sin, and for good reason. When you do, you lose the pride of succeeding. When someone plays the game and beats it on their own, they can feel pride in their achievement, but if you looked up all the solutions and exploits online, then there's no pride to be had in succeeding and the game's core message becomes obsolete.

There's this funny copypasta going around (for the uninitiated, a copypasta is a funny paragraph or page that people can copy and paste [get it? Copy-and-paste? Copypasta? Nvm] into various comment sections and subreddits and what-not to mess with people. The Navy Seal copypasta and its variants are the most common but there's many noteworthy ones such as the Tendies copypasta, the Attack Helicopter copypasta and many others. You can read more about the prominent history of copypastas here) that reads,

You cheated not only the game, but yourself. You didn't grow. You didn't improve. You took a shortcut and gained nothing. You experienced a hollow victory. Nothing was risked and nothing was gained. It's sad that you don't know the difference.

The great thing about this particular copypasta is that it's over-dramatic to the point of comedy but is also correct in that people who cheat in a game like Dark Souls are really only cheating themselves. It would be like if you were home alone and decided to challenge yourself and see how many pull-ups you could do, and then stood on a stool the whole time to do them. It just wouldn't make any sense to cheat in something that no one else is affected by. At least if someone cheats on a test or something you understand why they did it, but when it comes to single player video games or any activity that you do alone, there really isn't any motivation to cheat.

The next lesson you'll learn in Dark Souls is...

8. Take your time.

There's an interesting little paradox in Dark Souls which is that those who take their time will actually beat the game sooner than those who don't. What I mean by this is that each fight is structured around patience, and rewards the player for being careful and patient rather than just running into the fight and dying.

This isn't Call of Duty. You can't just recklessly run in guns blazing. Like what I said earlier about getting surrounded, you want to be tactful and careful and by taking a few extra seconds here and there to take in your surroundings and wait for the right time to strike, you'll actually save yourself time by not failing so quickly and often and having to start over. It's better to take an extra few seconds here and there to not die and keep going than to keep rushing in and trying to blaze through the game only to die repeatedly and keep having to start over.

Reminds me of what King Bumi said in Avatar (I was just as surprised as you are to find out his name was spelled "Bumi" and not "Boomy" like my 10-year-old-Avatar-watching brain assumed).

Aang was saying that he already knew the jings (strategies that they are supposed to memorize), saying that one was for offense and the other for defense, and King Bumi told him that there's another jing (well, technically there's 85, but let's just focus on the third) which is neutral jing. He said that there's neutral jing which is when you do... nothing. When asked what he meant, he replied,
"Neutral Jing is the key to earthbending. It involves listening and waiting for the right moment to strike."

If we apply his logic to Dark Souls, he's really onto something. You have a time to strike, a time to go on the defensive and block / roll away, and a time to just wait for an opening.

Also, exploring off of the beaten path will reward your time and effort with items and shortcuts that can save you a lot of time later on. If you take an extra 3 minutes to explore an area and find good loot that will make you significantly stronger, then you'll save a lot of time and effort later on by being more well prepared for future challenges, and finding a shortcut that loops back to an earlier bonfine saves time by allowing you to take the shortcut each time you die instead of always going the long way around, and for most of the game these helpful things will occur naturally as long as you take your time and take in your surroundings.

A smaller but still worth-while mention is...

9. Humor is everywhere.

Even though the world of Dark Souls seems dim, pessimistic and soul-crushing, there's actually lots of funny things scattered everywhere. This is exemplified by the fact that players have extremely limited ways of communicating. For example, in most multiplayer games players can either type in a chat or talk through microphone headsets, but in Dark Souls the only ways to communicate with other players is by leaving Soapstone messages and using emotes.

The Soapstone works by letting you mix and match phrases and words to spell out a message, but because you can't write anything yourself and can only mix-and-match random words and phrases together, this leads to very limited communication that somehow exemplifies the comedy in every way.

Right off the bat, a lot of the messages in Dark Souls are helpful. People leaving messages on the ground telling you where to find secret tunnels and passageways, or hidden loot or warning you about an ambush.

But there's also a lot of trolls who leave messages on the edge of cliffs that say "Try jumping" or leave messages by random walls that say "Illusory wall ahead." In the game there are some fake walls that turn into passageways when you hit them, but a lot of people leave "Illusory wall" messages by real walls so that people will go around hitting the walls with their weapons and dulling their blades for no reason, which I find hilarious. (Hitting walls and rocks with your weapons will actually dull them, which is a cool mechanic that you don't find in most games.)

Maybe take the hints and tips with a grain of salt.
For example, sometimes you can find bodies hunched over objects and people will leave messages behind their butt that says "try thrusting." There's a female character named Gwynevere and people like to leave messages outside her door saying "beautiful chest ahead." Players have the ability to leave a message saying "bonfire ahead" to tell players that they're getting close to a checkpoint, and one time someone wrote "bonfire ahead" and so I went ahead and it was actually an ambush and I died, but I was laughing too much to be mad. I don't like to leave mean pranks but one innocent little thing I like to do is leave the "bonfire ahead" message an inch away from a bonfire, rendering the message useless because nobody would see the "bonfire ahead" message until they were already 1 inch away from the bonfire and I think that's hilarious.

And if we're being honest, there's nothing funnier than seeing a "try jumping" message on the edge of a cliff one foot away from a bloodstain showing some poor gullible soul jumping off the edge to their death. There's comedy everywhere and I love it.

This is something that permeates in all three of the Dark Souls games; like how in Dark Souls 3 some dude left a message next to an old man in a wheelchair that says:


Then in Dark Souls 2 there's this running gag where people leave the encouraging message, "Don't give up, skeleton!" next to numerous extremely-dead skeletons.

These things are everywhere.

He just needs some motivation.
And the game only encourages this type of behavior; I can think of several games where the uptight developers would be adamantly against people abusing a message system to kill other players, but the devs of Dark Souls just egg 'em on. In the item description for the Soapstone (the thing used to write messages) it literally says, "Leave messages to help or hinder other players," implying that they knew messages could be left to screw with new players and encouraged it anyway which is great.

Which brings me to the next point...

10. Randomized experiences.

It's hard to take away any one lesson from this because the lesson is that everyone's experience will be different. You see, the Dark Souls community is somewhat divided in that there's about three different groups of people who play; the people who want to help and support each other through jolly cooperation (the Sunbros), the people who just want to mind their own business (the offline-ers), and the people who want to leave misleading messages and invade you (the trolls).

"Hold on!" you hear screaming from the background. "Did somebody say... Jolly Cooperation??"
Praise the Sun!

You see, in addition to being able to leave messages for other players, they can also leave a summon sign, which allows someone to summon you to their world to help with a boss or area. This is the "jolly cooperation" part. However, in addition to summoning a "phantom" (a player from another world), you can accidentally summon an invader, a player who invades others, kills them, and takes their Humanity (valuable currency).

This brilliant dynamic of players choosing whether to help or hinder each other is ingenius, and not something that you'll really find in any other video game. It's also like a social experiment of sorts.

I've seen both ends of the spectrum; I found a message in Darkroot Garden pointing out the location of a stache of super strong stone armor that I never would have found without the helpful message, but I've also seen messages telling me there was a bonfire ahead and instead there was an ambush and I got ass-raped by Skeletons in the Catacombs, so yeah, it's kinda a toss up which you'll experience more, but everyone is pretty much guaranteed to experience each one at least a little bit.

Another thing is that equipment, stats and playstyle will drastically affect which things are easy or hard for you.

Whenever you beat a boss and it seems easy, you can guarantee that somebody spent hours dying to that boss, and whenever a boss kicks your teeth in for several hours, you can bet that some newbie breezed through them on their first try.

After the boss fight with the great grey-wolf Sif, I read online that apparently she's one of the most controversial boss fights. Everyone will either think she's super easy or super hard.

For me she was super hard, it took me more than an hour of getting my ass handed to me to finally beat her, and I was only able to win on my own after grinding for resin in Darkroot Garden for more than an hour--but I know people who breezed through her on their first try.

In my defense, I was under-leveled--most people don't fight Sif until after Ornstein and Smoug, a late-game boss fight, and I hadn't even beaten Blight Town yet let alone gotten through Sen's Fortress to Anor Londo.

Although the main reason I struggled against Sif was because I was playing heavy, not light, so it was hard keeping up with her when she leapt back and started swinging the sword away.

But that is one of the beautiful things about Dark Souls--you can do most of the game in whatever order you want. If you want to wait until souls-level 70 - 80 to fight Sif, you can do that, and if you want to charge in there at a weak level 35 screaming "Leeroy Jenkins!" while fat-rolling right into her attacks, you can do that too. There's no one stopping you. Same with the Skeletons and Ghosts early on (but if you keep getting ass-raped by them maybe try the other route).

Sif is the hardest boss fight in Dark Souls. How am I supposed to see with all these tears in my eyes?
The Capra Demon is considered one of the hardest bosses in the game and I breezed through him in five minutes. I'm not saying that to brag, because I got my ass handed to me by the Moonlit Butterfly and Sif like two-dozen times, but it goes to show that your experience might be completely different. Maybe you'll breeze through Sif no problem but get stuck on Capra Demon for a million years.

Like this guy.

11. No one cares.

This one sounds like a negative thing but it's actually a positive message masquerading as a negative one. The "no one cares" aspect of life is often seen as a sad reminder that the world is generally apathetic to our problems, but in Dark Souls is also an encouraging one.

For a little bit of context, here's the situation.

In Dark Souls, anyone branded with the Undead Darksign is cursed; they can never truly die. If they're killed they merely come back to life. Doesn't sound much like a curse, right? But each death brings them closer to hollowing, or the process of going Hollow, which is similar to zombies becoming "bonies" in Warm Bodies.

(There's a comparison I bet no one has ever made before.)

"Eww, don't pick at it, you'll only make it worse."
And the thing about the Undead in Dark Souls is that no one cares about them. The Lords are powerful beings who want to stay in control, and to them the Undead are just minor pests. Their solution to the Undead problem was to simply corral them and drag them all to a big prison in the North where they'll be trapped as they literally wait for the heat death of the universe.

Well that's a pretty shitty fate.

But there is a prophesy; the prophesy states that it will be one of the humble Undead who eventually decides the fate of the world, and that in this big mess of apocalyptic world-shattering events and powerful Lords and supernatural beings, in the end some random cursed Undead will be the one to decide the entire fate of the world.

As such, any Undead who either weren't in the prison or managed to escape that haven't gone Hollow yet venture out to fulfill the prophesy, which states that as soon as the ring both Bells of Awakening, the fate of the Undead will finally be decided. This implies that the only way to change the course of history for the Undead (the group that no one cares about, and that the Lords eventually decided just to lock up until the end of the world) is for one of them to ring the Bells of Awakening. In other words, when you're a lowly Undead whose sole purpose was to rot in a cell until the end of time while the big kids play politics, no one else will fight for the sake of the Undead so it's up to one of you to do it.

^When no one cares enough about the Undead to ring the Bells of Awakening

But your homeboy Oscar is here to help you out. You--one of the many Undead at the Undead Asylum--have never even heard of this prophesy. But Oscar comes along, throws a corpse with a key tied to it (or maybe it was a key with a corpse tied to it!) down into your cell and when he dies shortly later (crushed by a boulder, unfortunately), he passes the torch to you, telling you that he was hoping to be the one to ring the Bells since no one else cares enough about the Undead to do it.

So your mission, should you accept it, is to ring the Bells and do what no other Undead has been able to do before.

Yet interestingly enough, just like how no one really cares about the Undead, no one really cares about you or your mission either.

When you first arrive at Firelink Shrine, there's one Undead warrior whose sole purpose is to sit there and taunt new arrivals. The Lords know full well about the prophesy and that some of the Undead are trying to ring the Bells of Awakening--something that could be very bad for them--and they don't care. The bells are so hard to get to that the Lords have convinced themselves that no Undead will be able to do it, and they literally have a guy stationed at Firelink Shrine (the first area Undead will arrive in if they escape the Asylum) whose sole purpose is to taunt them and egg them on. He does give them some helpful hints (mockingly), but he gives his hints and makes his taunts confidently believing that you'll fail and there's no harm in giving you a few pointers. But he says time and time again, "You'll never survive X area" or "Don't even think of going to Y, you won't last 5 minutes there, not in your state," and should you actually succeed and ring both Bells he loses his purpose and goes Hollow.

For a thousand years he waited at Firelink Shrine, he's seen countless "Chosen Undead" come to fulfill the prophesy and all fail, and his only purpose was to taunt them and egg them on, as well as mockingly give tips to them, but if you succeed in ringing both Bells, then the prophesy is over--there will be no more new arrivals for him to taunt or help, and he becomes obsolete, like a person who's job was replaced with a machine.

And from there, the "big kids" so to speak finally take notice of you, in the form of two dragon-like ancient beings showing up, Frampt and Kaathe, to guide you on what to do from there.

Ancient primordial beings have come to lecture you on how to use your newfound power and responsibility. No pressure.

Essentially, until you make a big splash, no one even cares or notices. Prior to ringing both Bells, no one in Lordran cares about your mission. That doesn't mean that they'll all oppose you and try to stop you, but they're so apathetic that they're willing to just sit by, like the Crestfallen Warrior at Firelink Shrine--and just shrug and say, "Yeah, good luck with that," because they're all so apathetic and cynical that little separates them from the Hollows they fear so much. There are lots of merchants and friendly NPCs in the game, but none of them intend to do what you're doing. You never see any of the other Undead trying to ring the Bells. By the time you arrive, so many have already tried and failed that they've all given up. The whole world is convinced they'll never be rung.

In a world full of apathy, you're the only one trying to do anything.

Besides Oscar, who died like, five seconds after you met him, RIP.

There was one brave soul who tried getting through the treacherous Abyss to do something similar to what you're doing, but, uhhh... let's just say it didn't go so well.

Although if you're observant, you might have noticed that little "until the Bells are rung" part I slipped in, because the moment you actually succeed, suddenly everyone cares now.

It's a bit ironic that you're basically the same person after succeeding in ringing the Bells that you were before, but just like a regular person prior to becoming a celebrity, no one cares about your dreams or aspirations until after you succeed, and then the moment you do, suddenly everyone wants to pretend that they were rooting for you the whole time and totally knew you'd succeed. It's similar with people who win the lottery.

Kinda reminds me of men in general. Guys are pretty much neglected in day-to-day-life and no one cares about them or their problems until either:

A) They commit suicide

B) Win the lottery


C) Become famous.

If one of those three things happens, all of the people who ignored them and brushed them off in the past will suddenly come out of the woodworks to talk about how they knew that guy and how much they meant to them, etc. etc. and so on and so forth. With guys who commit suicide it's a pity thing like "Look at me I exchanged two words with that guy 15 years ago, therefore we were best friends and you should feel sorry for me and give me attention for his death" and with the lottery it's exes hitting them up years later saying "I miss you, take me back."

Obviously this concept can extend to women too, although I find apathy to affect men the most while others things (like fake friends and social stigma) tend to be the ones that affect women.

To summarize, basically no one cares until you become somebody. When you're a nobody, nobody cares (see what I did there?) but as soon as you become a Somebody™, then everyone wants to pretend that they know you and are friends with you.

Like the entire plot of Shark Tale.

Pictures you can hear, Volume 3.
Oh my.... I just remembered that the MC's name in that movie was Oscar! That can't be a coincidence.

See? It all ties together.

But in all seriousness, this attitude of, "If you want something done, do it yourself," is one of the major driving forces behind the game and a contributor to our own daily lives.

I can use my own life as an example of this.

Take, for instance, the difference between me and someone else not writing. If I were to stop writing tomorrow, I doubt most people would really notice or care. I'm not saying that to be a downer or sound like a cynic or anything, it's just a fact. When coworkers and acquaintances ask me about my day or life in general, they never ask about my writing. I can only think of maybe two people who would even think to ask how my writing is going and I consider those people to be my best friends for that very reason.

Yet, hypothetically, if I stopped writing tomorrow, how many people would be disappointed? I can think of a couple of family members who would, but that's about it.

I'm gonna rag on my dad a little bit here because he's the perfect example of someone who wouldn't actually notice or care if I stopped writing. (I don't hate my dad or anything, I'm just saying that he pretends to support me but doesn't actually care.) Also he doesn't read my blog even though he knows about it (because he doesn't care).

If I wasn't making a lot of money, he would notice. If I wasn't doing good in school, he would notice (if I was taking classes while living with him), but if I stopped writing, he wouldn't. If I gained a few pounds he'd probably notice and point it out, and tell me that I need to get my act together and get in shape, but if I stopped writing, would he say, "I haven't seen you write in a week, what's going on?"

Of course not. That's usually how it goes with these endeavors. Generally speaking if you're a writer (or at least fancy yourself one), no one else cares enough about the well-being of your writing or ambitions to take on any sort of responsibility for it. It's all on you. No one else cares if your manuscript gets finished or not, so you have to do it yourself. Essentially, you have to care about your writing because if you don't care about it, then no one else will. That's probably why most manuscripts get left in a junk drawer somewhere collecting dust while only less than 1% will ever actually finish a book and publish it.

Just like how in Dark Souls you're the only one who cares enough about the Undead to do anything about it, you're the only one who cares enough about your writing vision to possibly bring it to fruition. Sure you could always hire a ghost-writer, but you won't really see your vision realized doing that, as you're basically just giving the headlines to someone else and letting them do all the writing for you.

In one of my first blog posts from more than a year or so ago, I remember lambasting this article here.

But returning to it now, it reminds me of the Crestfallen Warrior in Firelink Shrine. Just like how the Crestfallen Warrior's duty is to taunt newcomers who want to fulfill the prophesy, and to sarcastically egg them on while maintaining a condescending and cynical view, this shithead basically says, "Writing a book is too hard, almost every American says they want to write a book and virtually none of them get published, and most of the books that get published are terrible anyway, so you might as well not even try."

But then again, what else should I expect from someone whose last name is Epstein? Or maybe just from someone who writes for the ever delightful New York Times, Lord knows they have the best outlook on life.

Don't you have a cactus somewhere you should be deepthroating, Joseph?
So now that we know that no one really cares if you succeed until you do, and Joseph Epstein here is totally convinced that you shouldn't even try because you'll just waste time and money, and was so convinced of your inevitable failure that he felt the need to write a pretentious and condescending article about it, what are your options?

Well, you can give in, and go Hollow, regretting never seeing your goal through to its end, or you can try your best anyway even if it means you might fail.

The best thing about Dark Souls is that there's no need to fear failure. You see, since you're Undead, it means if you die you just come back, so if you keep failing, you can keep trying. There's never a true "defeat." Defeat can only occur if you give up and go Hollow so to speak; as long as you keep coming back to life, you can keep trying to kill that boss or trying to get through that area. There is nothing stopping you from doing it besides yourself. There's no reason to fear death or failure because if you fail you just get up and try again until you succeed.

And you can probably tell where I'm going with this.

As long as you have fingers, you can keep trying. No matter how screwed up a manuscript seems, as long as you've got breath in your lungs, you have the ability to try fixing it. And despite the apathy of your peers or the taunting cynicism of the Crestfallen Warrior--AKA Joseph Epstein--you don't need their permission or approval to succeed, and ironically enough they'll all be licking your boots and pretending to be best buds the moment that you finally do, and when that moment arrives you can be as dismissive to them as they were to you back when you were just a humble Undead with a big ambition.

12. No simps allowed.

Dark Souls is a crucible, where simps enter, and men leave. No man can escape the Undead Asylum and fly to Lordran, fight their way through the Undead Parish, fight the Taurus Demon and the Gargoyles, ring the first Bell of Awakening, traverse the Depths, fight through Darkroot Garden, kill the Hydra in Darkroot Basin, kill Sif to go to the Abyss and fight the Four Kings, ring the second Bell in the bowels of Blight Town after fighting the Daughters of Chaos, and travel all the way to Anor Londo to defeat the Lord-souls and Gwynn and still be simp afterwards. Dark Souls is a crucible whose purging flames purify all that enter and leave.

Belle Delphine? Who's that? I'm too busy fighting Ornstein and Smough.

That moment when you're trying to defeat the Chaos Servant in the bowels of Blight Town so that you can reveal the fate of the Undead, but some vapid e-girl keeps messaging you on Twitter asking you to buy her nudes off her "Premium" Snapchat or OnlyFans:

13. Obscure Worlds

This is something that I plan to write a separate blog post on in the near future. The next one will be about art not being inherently political while the one dedicated to obscure worlds will probably be the post after that one; but I still wanted to touch on it here since it's such a relevant concept.

The general idea is that we should appreciate obscure things--and while Dark Souls is a popular franchise, its popularity is mostly superficial. You see, there's this annoying trend of every braindead game journalist comparing anything slightly challenging to Dark Souls.

Dark Souls, while challenging, has other, much more notable features, like its interconnected world-building, for example, or it's non-linear story.

For a quick recap on what I'm talking about, this short clip summarizes it better than I ever could (but I'll be damned if I don't try anyway):

Hollow Knight is closer to DS than Cup Head but whatever
Essentially, back when Dark Souls came out, game journalists had the intelligence and discernment to say, "Not only is this a good game, this is a life-altering experience and a classic that will be treasured for decades to come." Now nobody has ever actually played it and they just know it as "that game that's hard." It really sucks that such a great work of art could be regulated to just a metric for difficulty.

Reminds me of the quote, "A classic is just a book that everyone's heard of but nobody's read."

And there's some merit to that. I mean, Mark Twain is super famous historically, but when was the last time you walked through the park and saw someone reading Mark Twain? Sure some people were probably reluctantly forced to read Huck Finn in high school, but that's about it. I know that whenever I bring up A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, my favorite Twain story, I'm usually alone, and to this day I have yet to encounter a single other person who's also read Yankee whenever talking about favorite books. Even on the Internet where it should be easy I never see any discussions about it or anyone bring it up.

And that's fine, as much as I'd like for everyone to like and enjoy the same stuff I do, to some extent I hope that isn't the case, because there's something deliciously wonderful about experiencing something incredible that only you and a few others even knows about.

Back to what I said about incompetent game journalists, none of them have even played Dark Souls. It's obvious that none of them have ever played it because whenever a game with even a dash of difficulty whatsoever shows up, they say stupid and asinine shit like "This game is the Dark Souls of first-person shooters!" or "This game is so Souls-like!" when no two things could possibly be further apart characteristically.

No, Cup Head isn't similar to Dark Souls. Cup Head is a fun 2D platformer with amazing animation and fun boss fights, and it's definitely a good game, but it's not the same or even remotely similar to Dark Souls. They aren't even in the same dimension let alone the same genre. Hollow Knight has a few similarities but also being a 2D platformer means it's still too different to even warrant a comparison.

Then there's some stupid fucks who actually say that Crash Bandicoot "is just like Dark Souls!" because it's challenging(?). I actually had the honor of playing the original Crash Bandicoot for free since it came with my Sony tablet, and it was an incredible game, but nothing like Dark Souls. The two are so different it blows my mind that these annoying game journalists have the audacity to keep saying they're "basically the same game." Pewdiepie did a funny short video of it:

Pewdiepie gets it since he played DS way back in 2013, and many people might not know this but his Dark Souls play through was one of the things that got him to the popularity he has today. I'm not saying things like Minecraft, Gmod and Slenderman didn't have just as big of an impact, just that his DS play through was really popular at the time and he probably would have millions of subscribers less if it wasn't for the game.

Although the good thing about all these stupid game journos shoving the "iT's jUSt liKe DArK sOulS" point over and over again without even ever playing Dark Souls is that we get all these great memes out of it.

Comments saying things like, "Imagine if Dark Souls didn't exist and game journalists had to come up with an actual review."

Another user on one of those stupid articles commented a little scene they wrote out where a game journalist actually sits down to play Dark Souls, and they say, "Wow, this game is like, the Dark Souls of Dark Souls!"

Another commented:

Doctor: "Alright, say 'difficult' for me."

Game journalist: "D-d-d..."

Doctor: "Diff-i-cult."

Game journalist: "D-d-d...Dark Souls."

At least some people aren't drinking the Kool Aid, and these memesters give me hope in the future generation.

Back to what I was saying about obscure worlds, the best thing about these brain-dead game journos is that they've made sure that everyone who plays video games knows what Dark Souls is without anyone actually knowing what the game is like. Similar to Mark Twain, its popularity is mostly superficial and very few people have ever experienced Dark Souls for themselves.

I've mentioned numerous times before that I enjoy Guild Wars 2, which is a massive MMO with over 12 million players, yet even that game is rarely talked about or mentioned outside of its isolated community. Sure if you go out of your way you can find lots of groups and Discords for Guild Wars 2, but you'll probably never stumble on any of them by accident because it's just not popular enough. Now compare that to Dark Souls which has a tiny playerbase of only 1,000 - 2,000 players according to Steam statistics.

If a game can literally have millions of players and still somehow be a bit obscure, it should come as no surprise that a game with barely over 1,000 players in a world with over 7 billion people is pretty obscure.

Some may be quick to point out that the Dark Souls series has sold over 20 million copies total, but if you pay attention most of these sales are for Dark Souls 3, the newest game in the series, and right now at the time of writing there's 9,700 players playing Dark Souls 3 compared to the only 1-2k playing the original Dark Souls.

Not that that's a bad thing, I think Dark Souls 3 seems to be a great game and I'm glad it's kept the torch lit so to speak, but it does mean that a lot of new players in the franchise who start with DS3 won't have the experience of having played the first game already.

But why does any of this even matter?

Because, to put it simply, obscure things are great. An obscure book, movie or video game that's of the highest quality imaginable--those are my favorite things. It's like a secret club hiding in plain sight, similar to how most memes are essentially inside jokes shared between thousands of people on the Internet, but only those who already know about the meme will understand that there even is a joke being made.

After she beat Dark Souls, I can guarantee you that Kylie was the only 30-something accountant in her office in Australia who would know what the heck Estus is or how to remove a curse with a purge stone. None of her other coworkers would ever know about Firelink Shrine or the Duke's Archives. None of her other family or friends would be able to even imagine it without experiencing it for themselves. It would be like explaining a rainbow to a blind person. But that's a good thing--because if she went around trying to get her mom or girlfriends to play an old Japanese action-RPG from 2011 she'd sound like a crazy person (I have this problem with things that I like and I really need to stop. The worst thing is that I know that I do it, but I'm a helpless passenger in my own body who has to sit by and watch and it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion).

So whenever someone like Kylie ends up experiencing something like Dark Souls, they basically have to keep that massive life-exchanging experience to themselves so that they don't sound crazy. And then it becomes their little secret.

(Well, technically one of her coworkers will also know about it, because it was her coworker Ben who basically forced her to play it in the first place, but I digress. Also I hope they got married because she talked about him a lot and they're adorable.)

One might say that obscure things don't matter, and that, like math, none of it will have any benefit to us in the real world. And while that might sound accurate to a 9th grader trying to justify why they shouldn't have to learn algebra, I completely disagree (if that wasn't already obvious). In Dark Souls's case, it has great real-world teachings in the form of being an epic allegory for overcoming depression and adversity.

And it also has all of these smaller little lessons that it likes to teach us, like how to be patient, how to think for ourselves and approach things logically, how to handle isolation, and many more, but you won't get any of those if you haven't experienced Dark Souls for yourself. And of course I'm not saying this to be elitist like "Look at me I understand all of these morals that you peasants couldn't possibly understand!" Like I said before, I have a problem with trying to get people to try the same things that I like, and the point of this message is that everyone should play Dark Souls so that they can experience those lessons for themselves. It's also fun, for those people that play video games for fun and not because they care about learning about depression or something.

Reminds me of one of my favorite books, which is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which is a book about a secret underground (literally) world that only people who accidentally fall through the cracks of reality know about. Of course the ironic thing is that the book Neverwhere is a super obscure book, but that's only fitting given its subject. Kinda like Narnia, with the wardrobe to another world hidden in the closet (although the irony there is that everybody knows what Narnia is). When reading about the hidden world of Neverwhere, you're further convinced of its authenticity by the fact that the book is one nobody else knows exists. Obscure books like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and games like Dark Souls are little Narnia wardrobes to completely new and unique worlds that only a handful of people know about--although having established that everyone knows what Narnia is, a better comparison would be to say that they're like little Neverwheres.

It might sound stupid and pointless to some people, but I'd maintain that if anything is worth knowing, it's how to parry, how to manage your Humanity, how to get through the labyrinth of The Depths without getting cursed, and how to get on the fastest route to Darkroot Garden from Firelink Shrine.

Similar to in the story how no one else will ring the Bells if you don't, no other story, movie, book, person or game will teach you these things except for Dark Souls. It's a school teaching you the things that no other school will, it's the only one in its class and the only one teaching its subject matter, but for the few that choose to attend, they will leave with a deep and intimate understanding of things that most people would cast aside before even glancing at. They will leave with an in-depth comprehension of the subject and with an intimate understanding of the exact layout of locations and places that most people didn't even knew existed.

Nothing else can replicate this experience, and that's why I firmly believe that everyone, non-gamers included, should play Dark Souls.

And as always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post. 

No comments:

Post a Comment