When you think back upon the types of media that have had a profound emotional impact on you, what do you immediately default to? I would wager nearly everyone has that song that helped them through a bad breakup, the movie that changed the way they view the world around them, or the book that helped them escape the monotony or turmoil of daily life. But what about video games? Can gaming be more than just an entertaining diversion?
I think so, and I’m usually right on just about everything. As opposed to a simple video game review, I’d like to look at games that we already know are good and look beyond graphical capability and entertainment to measure how good they actually are. And, of course, as a direct affront to our fearless podcast leader, I’m going to start with Dark Souls.
Dark Souls a 3rd person, action/RPG released in 2011. As the spiritual sequel to the infamously difficult Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls has continued in the tradition of being a rewarding, yet “hard as balls” (yeah I quoted myself, so what?) game that revels in difficulty that is all but lost in modern gaming. In a world of free respawns and near punishment-free death, Dark Souls acts as a homage to the 3-life arcade games of old. But really, how hard is it?
It’s hard. It’s incredibly hard. It’s punishment in a gaming form. I have never been so angry in my life playing a video game. It’s difficult enough to make the Dalai Lama throw his controller at a crying orphan. The first enemy in the game will kill you. Then, you’ll get your bearings and not be surprised by him, and he’ll kill you. Then, you’ll start getting comfortable with the controls, and he’ll kill you again. Then, you’ll learn his attack patterns, where to find openings, when to strike and how to dodge. And then he’ll just murder you again.
This is Dark Souls. The game hinges on your ability to learn and improvise, to be aggressive and patient, and to just be ok with fucking dying all the time. You will die, a lot. And dying means losing a huge amount of progress in a level, as well as the ‘currency’ you use to buy items and to level your character. So why play the game? In return for playing one of the most frustrating games ever made and continuously failing to it, overcoming challenges is a deeply rewarding experience. Also, it’s just a damn good metaphor for life.
Most modern games put you in the shoes of an ubermench-like protagonist. In Dark Souls, you’re just a bro. A random dude who sorta knows how to swing a sword in a world where EVERY enemy can and probably will kill you at some point. Now there’s nothing wrong with the Master Chiefs of the gaming world. These characters empower the player and can provide the best kind of escape from normal everyday life. As a financial analyst working in a cubicle, sometimes there is nothing I like more than coming home, plugging in, and just saving the world before my girlfriend gets home and turns on “Revenge.”
However, playing a game like Dark Souls is rewarding because of the departure from the normal video game environment. You fail. You learn. You fail again. You adapt. You fail again. You reanalyze, strategize, focus, practice, hone your skills, prepare for a challenge until you feel like you can overcome anything. WHERE THE FUCK-ALL DID THAT SECOND GARGOYLE COME FROM?
(Spoiler Alert: ^)
Thus is life. No matter how educated and experienced you are, you will screw up at your job. No matter how well your relationship is going, something will inevitably fuck up. Sure, you've been walking for 23 years now, why the shit did you just fall face first on the pavement. But the rewards wouldn't be so sweet if it wasn't for the crushing failures.
Thus is Dark Souls. If you’re looking for an escape from your daily grind, this is not the game for you. However, if you’re looking to be truly challenged and feel legitimately successful playing a game, Dark Souls will chew you up, spit you out, back over you with car, and spray you down with an agitated skunk. But, as with life, pick yourself back up, duct tape that controller back together, apologize to the cat, and get back into it. It is truly one of the few games out there that will have a profound impact on your life and the way you appreciate both the many failures, and the few truly wonderful successes.