There are very few works of art I have experienced that grasp the themes of humanity as poetically as Dark Souls. With the sequel being released tonight, I wanted to write about my experiences before I begin the new adventure. Here are the lessons I learned from the subtleties of Dark Souls.
Only Dark Will Remain
Dark Souls tells the story of the end of ages, when the flames fade, and the same is true for reality.
Eventually our grand society will fade to ruin. Pick an apocalypse, any apocalypse. Maybe, afterward, some lesser being will carefully peruse the once great Mall of Washington. Maybe it will piece together that the monuments are testaments to ancient idols. Seeing the statues, maybe it too will assume that there were Giants long ago, worshipped by us mere mortals. Or maybe it will just be desperately fighting for survival, for what brief time remains.
Eventually the sun will explode, a brute finality to this once grandiose world. Everything humanity ever worked toward or achieved will be consumed in fire, and nothing will ever remember or be remembered.
Eventually the entire universe will suffer heat death, leaving an eternal abyss as the final embers of energy smoulder out of existence.
The stories are the same. Hence, Dark Souls, literally and figuratively. I can’t be certain that this is exactly the overarching theme that the authors wanted to convey, but that is the beauty of poetry, no? This is my interpretation.
What it Means to be Human
How, then, do we act in the face of such inevitability? What is worth doing? Why bother with this frail, foolish flicker-flash in this long dull fall of eternity? Maybe we should just sit. Lie down. Wait awhile. Walk North. Find a corner. Await the end of the world….
Going Hollow is the result of losing your motive, your purpose, your determination, in the face of eternal darkness. That is, losing your humanity. Being human means having the courage to continue in the face of doubt, strife, and despair. Finding your purpose (your “sun” perhaps), and working toward it, is the essence of being human. Even if it is something as seemingly trivial as ringing a bell.
In striving for that purpose we fight, struggle, suffer, endure, live. The five stages of triumph, as it were. Being human is being part of that cycle. Otherwise we are just Hollow, consuming the world, vesicles of withering flesh, until we ourselves are consumed. So choose your fight, and never give it up.
Sharing in Humanity
Dark Souls transcends language. Despite being create by a Japanese studio, notorious for quirky dialogue and poor translations, it tells a universally relatable story, and it does so with almost no exposition. Additionally, the multiplayer doesn’t require dialogue either.
When you summon someone for help, no words are exchanged, only a couple gestures. While you trek onward, slaying monsters, in these brief moments you are not alone, and it brings comfort to watch how they share your burden. When you fight the boss and win, there is no greater feeling of solidarity. You want to shout with elation, give them a hug and say thank you, but you accept what catharsis a Hurrah! gesture will bring.
Invasions carry a similar feeling. Most of my fights began with a bow gesture. Without words, we say to each other, “Hello. Now we fight. I recognize you and I wish you the best.” After all, as we all now know, there is no satisfaction without struggle.
Honor, respect, and gratitude are communicated by our actions, not our words, and that is far more meaningful. What is more, in the face of this waning world, we find we are not alone, and there is comfort in that.
The Demon is in the Details
I would hope it goes without saying that the attention to detail in Dark Souls in unparalleled. It’s like someone wrote an epic novel of Lord of the Rings caliber, then erased it all, waited millennia, and began a different story of one cursed wanderer through the original’s ruins.
No doubt you were amazed at the intricacies of the story relayed to you by lore videos or forum posts. Oscar was killed by the Asylum Demon? Ciaran’s body is behind Artorias’ grave? Xanthous King Jeremiah’s head is the same blight as the Wall Hugger in the depths? How could I have missed that, after 200 hours of play time? It makes so much sense and it was right in front of my face.
It underlies the real-life interconnectedness of each person, of humanity as a whole. That we should understand how we affect one another and how things end up as they are. If we would only see the little details that give away the deeper meaning in all of our stories.
One personal example I would note is way back in middle school. There was a girl in the school with pronounced buck teeth, protruding out of her mouth, even when it was closed. Most kids wondered why she didn’t get braces, she clearly needed them. Then during an open house at school, I saw her pushing her mother in a wheelchair. It was unclear what condition her mother had (she seemed relatively healthy), but it became immediately clear that her family probably couldn’t afford the expensive orthodontics; doctors’ bills, accessibility maintenance, speciality vehicles, child care, difficulty in finding work. What is more, the stress those things would cause would be enough without the added stress of middle school antics. I was filled with remorse at all the hurtful things others and myself might have said behind her back. A singular item (the wheelchair) had told me a great deal about her life and her unfortunate circumstances.
We are all in this world together. We all affect each other consciously and unconsciously: ghosts in each others’ worlds, we share the same hardships and triumph. Our decisions have impact, and are in every little detail. We just need the attention and forethought to see the trees though the forest.
Pictures linked from and credited to DeadEndThrills