YOU HAVE DIED.
For many gamers, this simple condemnation is the brightest beacon on the gaming landscape. The Souls series has caught many players up in a cycle of pleasurable punishment, hurling themselves into death over and over, learning, crafting, getting better. After eighty hours they emerge out the other side a little stronger and wiser.
And then there’s me, and countless other players like me, who can’t quite bring themselves to jump in. Last year, I tried to read David Foster Wallace’s infamously difficult Infinite Jest, and gave up a third of the way through, despite its obvious brilliance. I look at Dark Souls and imagine that the same thing would happen there if I ever tried it.
I am not disinterested in Dark Souls II. I am super happy that the game has been released, and when a copy showed up in my mailbox I was quietly pleased that the option of giving it a good shot had been made available to me. But it took maybe half an hour of play for me to realise that it probably wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
It’s often said that Dark Souls is beautiful because it doesn’t give a damn about the player, which is the same reason some people like having cats as pets.
The notion that these games aren’t actually going to appeal to everyone – or, at least, that their appeal takes longer to emerge than some players are willing to invest – was once the central point of discussion around Dark Souls, which has since moved on to straight-up worship of the game. But a big part of the series’ success is the feeling it gives players that they’re locked out until they really start to come to grips with the underlying systems and the capricious nature of the game. It’s often said that Dark Souls is beautiful because it doesn’t give a damn about the player, which is the same reason some people like having cats as pets – a cat is aloof and difficult to coax love out of, as are these games.
About once a week, I’ll feel a twinge of guilt about having barely touched the Souls games. I plugged an hour into Dark Souls but I know that either game would require a pretty significant investment from me if I really wanted to get the most out of them. I also know that my backlog is enormous, that I have jobs that need doing, and a social life that I want to maintain. I think about Dark Souls and I get a little panicked about what playing it might do to me. I worry that when I hit a wall I’ll give up and feel like a failure forever more, as I still do with Infinite Jest.
Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that those of us who can’t quite bring ourselves to play Dark Souls are missing out, and I can’t help but feel sad when I see all the discussions around these games online. My Twitter feed is made up largely of folks who genuinely love these games, who love to cryptically discuss events and bosses without ever daring to actually give advice, who like to allude to weapons and locations and load outs. It sounds wonderful. It also sounds out of my reach. It’s slightly suffocating being surrounded by people talking up a thing you want to be able to love, but which you’re also slightly scared to even pick up.
Dark Souls stirs up complicated feelings in its audience, including those of us who haven’t played it. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to set aside a month of my life, sweep my pile of shame aside, and give Dark Souls the time it so obviously deserves. Until then, this is a shout out to everyone else silently wishing they could bring themselves to put these games in their consoles.
I feel your pain.