Dark Souls: The Hardcore Storyteller
I think we’re due for another discussion on Dark Souls. Not only because it’s a discussion worth having, but because you all seemed receptive to my last Dark Souls article and I’m hungry for attention.
We’ve discussed at some length the basics of why Dark Souls is the perfect art game: In summary, it allows people to play either in an artistic, critical mindset, or with a hardcore gaming approach, and still find the game rewarding and fulfilling… and regardless of the way you approached it, you could appreciate the merits of its artistic ambiguity and it’s hardcore gaming chops.
But there’s much more to say about Dark Souls. Today, we’ll look at its approach to difficulty and its complete focus on player commitment, and how that feeds into the quality and playability of the game. Honestly, the more I write these articles and think about Dark Souls, the more I think this game deserves much more acclaim than it has—it’s depth is staggering and I should hope we should have the wisdom, in the future, to acknowledge its contributions to the gaming world post humorously. Much as Lord of the Rings was scorned at the time it was made, I hope Dark Souls ‘grows’ into its success.
If you have a spare hour or three and you’re interested in the actual lore of the Dark Souls universe, I recommend you check out the Dark Souls Lore series, produced by Youtuber Epic Name Bro. Not only are the videos well produced and clear, but they delve into the story, world, and characters of Dark Souls with a depth that will baffle most watchers. I had always suspected there was more to the Dark Souls story than what I was being told, but watching those videos for the first time really made me realize just how complex a world the developers had hidden away in the subtext of the game.
But while that complicated world of lore is interesting, by itself it doesn’t say much about the gaming world or Dark Souls as an art game. The content of the world itself is secondary to another aspect of the videos that will likely catch you off-guard: when you watch them you realize just how HARD it must have been to discover all these facts. EpicNameBro almost exclusively uses in-game items, locations, and dialogues to construct his theories and postulations—everything’s in-game, and very little is anything you’d have to be uniquely qualified to discover. But it’s still all very convoluted and difficult to unravel… which astonishes me.
Think of the mantra of the gameplay aspects of Dark Souls itself: its punishing difficulty, its unforgiving death system, its cruelty and harshness for the sake of a greater reward. These design choices, the focus on difficulty and patience in the name of bigger rewards, were all implanted into the very storytelling choices of the game itself. It’s NOT easy to discover the link between Solaire and Gywin’s banished firstborn. It’s not a simple task to discover the fates of the two missing sealers. It’s downright maddening to come to the conclusion that the bishop Havel may have been a rebel trying to overthrow Gywin. And it requires the exact same level of dedication and patience it takes to even get through Anor Londo and defeat its guardians.
THAT is proper game design, readers—when a theme of the game transcends the gameplay and becomes ingrained in the storytelling method itself.
Of course it serves other purposes. While the game plot is fairly linear, the open-ended storylines allows for the ‘sandbox’ feel the game designers failed to achieve with the seamless world. Most of the lore is just ambiguous enough, or there’s just enough doubt, to keep players guessing or making new theories, and finding bits of evidence to back it up. What lore is definitive is usually presented straightforwardly, and used as a jumping-off point for further lore embellishment, which allows for common points of reference between players. It encourages players to actually read the descriptions of each item, which involves them in the game world to a greater degree and helps with immersion. And by making them look over portraits and sculptures looking for information on the world at least all the artists are getting the acknowledgement they deserve.
All in all, the lore of Dark Souls teaches us that when Dark Souls does something, it does it 100%. The idea of player focus and commitment is so engrained in the game that if it were a human, they wouldn’t put out till after the wedding. And while some may call that prudish, in this case, it’s all part of what makes the game so appealing. What you get out of Dark Souls entirely depends on what you put IN it… and it doesn’t like it when you only go half-way.
Anyway, that’s all for now.