Dark Souls is pretty important

The following is from a Slack session and needs work into an actual writeup.


Owen: can I blither, I might need to talk this one out before I figure out what I’m trying to say about the game, it does something interesting with heroic arcs and moral arcs

Alex: Bliiither away!

Owen: so dark souls uses the trappings of heroic myth and the hero’s journey pretty consciously. you start from humble beginnings and go on to smite at god himself to set right the world

except.

except.

at every scale, lordran is a dying world.

you’ve got a curse that’ll eventually leave you a mindless rotted husk.

the people you meet are all depressed and dealing with it in their own unique ways

or responding to the slow collapse of the kingdoms around them

that you will die is inevitable ludically (it’s the name of the HD release, for example: “Prepare To Die”) as well as narratively

there is, very explicitly, no hope.

only different ways to live before the end.

the entire game is an exploration of whether that can be enough for a hero

even your tools for helping other players are finite, and costly (as well as your tools for tormenting them)

the game’s plodding, staccato pacing forces the player to stop and contemplate this on a regular basis

that there is no hope isn’t even questioned, really: there’s no resolution to why everything is dying, and it doesn’t really matter to any of the characters or to any of the game’s plot points

for all that, I find it a surprisingly optimistic game, because the answer “yes, it’s enough that you’re a hero now” is one the game considers valid

Alex: Huh. That’s… very contemporary.

Owen: okay I think that might be what i got but I think Dark Souls is a rad piece of game art


Owen: ugh no it’s weirder than that, “everything is dying” is a tautological element of the game world. right from the start the game explains the coming fall in terms of a fire dying out

it’s almost the anti-fascism: “everything was once grand, and has fallen” but instead of “and here’s who to blame and how to take it back” it’s “and this is the natural order of things"

(one of the endings riffs on that by allowing you to throw your cursed self into the flames to keep them alight for a while longer; another has you extinguish the sacred flame yourself, and that’s the good ending)

I mean, the player-character dies as a person either way, either as a martyr or as a promethean figure of legend

it’s also strongly implied that the once-grand kingdoms whose rotting corpses you’re rolling around in were, by and large, gloriously shitty places to actually live

as places ruled by feuding god-kings tend to be