The Making of a Dark Souls Bore

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The impression that Dark Souls has left on our gaming landscape is undeniable. It has sold nearly two and a half million copies worldwide – many times that of its predecessor, Demon’s Souls. It has been extensively written about and its themes have been thoroughly explored. It has inadvertently dumped generous fistfuls of memes into the barren wastelands of internet humour. Even those who have not played the game, or have no desire to, are well aware of Dark Souls. It’s difficult not to be.

I was introduced to Dark Souls in a way that will likely sound familiar to others. A few friends picked the game up following release, being unfamiliar with Demon’s Souls, and slowly began to disentangle its challenges, moments of joy and long stretches of near-paralysing fear. The game increasingly began to crop up as a topic of conversation. First its difficulty, then its combat mechanics, later its setting and still later the story that can be slowly pieced together from its lore.

I was fascinated. The game as described didn’t sound quite like anything else that was out there. It was uncompromising and cruel, confusing and unwelcoming, but despite this offered an experience like no other, its rewards pure-cut from the collective memory of gaming’s finest moments. The exhilaration of defeating a boss after a long struggle. Discovering a spectacular new location. Creeping through an area only to be despatched by an unexpected opponent, the tension dissolving into frustrated laughter. Opening up a new route and discovering it leads you back to safety, producing a sense of catharsis that surely contributed to the popularity of the “Praise the Sun!” meme. The terror of finding oneself trapped in a dangerous area with no hope of escape beyond perseverance and repeated failure. I found myself entranced by these stories.

But Dark Souls also struck me as a game that I would never play myself. The barbarous cruelty of its combat put me off; I felt I would find this off-putting and never get terribly far in the game due to frustration. I thought I’d experience it vicariously instead, like EVE Online, through the tales that reached me.

For two long years Dark Souls was a game that I heard about from my friends and read about online. It seemed to have struck a chord with so many people, standing out from other games for so many well-articulated reasons that it seemed almost elevated to gaming legend. Meanwhile, here I was not having played it.

I still loved to learn more about it, sitting in on conversations about the game that drove everyone else away. I began referring to my friends who endlessly discussed the ins and outs of this run through the game or that character build as “Dark Souls bores”, though of course I didn’t find them boring at all.

Eventually I acquired the game during a Steam sale, which for so many PC gamers is the point at which your resolve crumbles and you think “what the hell, I’ll give this a try.” I had already played through the Undead Asylum and a few minutes of the Undead Burg at a friend’s house, having asked to experience the game’s combat for myself. I felt that I ‘got’ it, parrying enemies and beating the Asylum Demon after a few tries.

I didn’t ‘get it’, of course. Like so many before me I died repeatedly as I slowly struggled through the Undead Burg. It took me months of avoiding the game – months being put off my its reputation – before I devoted enough time to reach and defeat the Taurus Demon, then evade the blistering inferno the Hellkite Dragon kindly welcomed me with. I was poisoned to death by giant rats more times than I can count. I fled Black Knights with the Benny Hill theme running through my head – although Benny Hill rarely closed with the comedian impaled on the end of a giant broadsword.

Then I reached the Gargoyles and there it might have ended. Possibly the game’s first truly difficult boss, I was defeated time and again. I made a vague resolution that my previous thoughts had been correct all along: that the game was not for me, that I had reached my frustration threshold.

But eventually the powerful magnetism of Dark Souls‘ allure drew me back in. I bothered to offer humanity for the first time, ignoring my prideful resolution to ‘go it alone’, and summoned a friendly NPC to help me defeat the Gargoyles. I rang the first bell and experienced something approaching pride. Of course I then went and got myself killed first by a Titanite Demon and then by the residents of the Darkroot Garden, but that was it. I was hooked back in.

Over the months that followed I have barrelled my way through most of the game. I’m still playing it: I have two more Lord Souls to collect for Kingseeker Frampt. But I’ve progressed aggressively, despite finding myself stuck for hours or days at the Capra Demon, in the bowels of Blighttown, before the Chaos Witch Quelaag, and so on. Although the game has held me up I’ve not lost faith or the desire to push ever onwards. I have long since crossed the Dark Souls Rubicon.

Lately I’ve started getting a little cocky, feeling that I’m getting to be a bit good at the game. I defeated Ornstein and Smough without summoning any assistance. In an hour of play I defeated the Four Kings and chased them down with the Stray Demon, the Hellkite Dragon and Ceaseless Discharge. Dark Souls punishes such arrogance, of course, and promptly killed me with a Minor Taurus Demon. That’s fine: my lunch break was over anyway.

I’ve also begun scouring wikis to try and understand the weapon upgrade paths I want to pursue, learning how to develop my character and with loadouts that might work best for me. I’ve also been reading up on the lore and backstory of Dark Souls for the characters and areas I have left behind me. I’ve begun discussing all of this extensively with my Dark Souls friends.

I have, in short, become the Dark Souls bore. Conversation about any other game runs the risk of being interrupted by “this reminds me of Dark Souls“. There’s every possibility that, at the pub, a friend may try to join our conversation only to leave minutes later when we don’t stop talking about the Painted World of Ariamis. A recent conversation with my girlfriend went from the story and themes of Dark Souls to ancient Greek tragedies and epics before I dragged it back to Dark Souls once more.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. My fellow Dark Souls bores seem to enjoy the vicarious and vindicating experience of hearing me enthuse about discoveries they remember experiencing for this first time. And there’s always more to talk about when it comes to Dark Souls, whether it’s strategies for boss fights, the backstory of characters and enemies, or where to find a specific item to use in a specific situation.

I feel a little sorry for anyone who has to put up with us going on about the game. But of course, you could always play Dark Souls. Do so long enough and you’ll probably find yourself sat alongside us, passionately arguing the respective merits of single- and two-handed weapons. And you’d be more than welcome to do so.

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Let no man judge you, Solaire. You are your own sun.