We spend countless hours playing games, but few make a lasting impression on us. This is an ongoing series that will catalog the moments that resonated with me. See Part I.
Few titles have been influential enough that I would hold them up as a gold standard for what gaming can be and what it represents.
Dark Souls is one of those games.
Taking your first steps into Lordran are impossibly difficult. Where most games would give you weak enemies to practice your combat techniques in the beginning, Dark Souls gives you a broken weapon sticks you into a boss fight and says, “Hope you read those optional messages on the ground that explained the controls—here’s a boss fight—good luck schmuck!”
The challenge of playing Dark Souls is made exponentially more difficult when not playing with a guide, which I refused to use on my first playthrough. I died countless times on the first boss in the game, all I had to attack was a broken sword and nothing but quick reflexes to use for my defense, but this was also a learning experience.
It slowly began to dawn on me that maybe I wasn’t supposed to kill Asylum Demon. The next time I respawned at the bonfire I decided to not engage him directly, instead I frantically searched for a way out. My shrewdness was rewarded as I guided my character through a doorway I hadn’t noticed earlier and the trap door shut behind me, keeping the boss from entering the room.
I had learned the most basic and important rule to survival in Dark Souls’ infinitely dangerous world without even realizing it: Use your head. 90% of the time if you die in Dark Souls it’s because you weren’t paying attention to what the game was saying and, to make matters worse, when you first start out you don’t even speak the same language.
From Software crafted a world that rewards those who take their time and study a situation before rushing headlong into the unknown. Every enemy, big or small, has the potential to kill you no matter what level you are or how impressive your gear is.
I had never in my life played a game where the danger of failing was constant, where every enemy encounter was a struggle to survive. I had to completely change my style of play if I was going to progress in this game and at times it was a hard lesson to learn.
Bosses in that game seemed like insurmountable obstacles. The first time I tested my strength against the Bell Tower Gargoyle I can still remember the shock and dismay I felt when a second boss gargoyle joined the fray. I can clearly remember thinking,
“No fucking way.”
But that’s what made defeating them so much sweeter. After many failed attempts, when I finally beat them and got to scale that impossibly long ladder to ring the first Undead Bell of Awakening it felt rewarding in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a game before.
I was hooked beyond words. Lordran became like a second home to me, exploring the beautifully dangerous environments became thrilling. Slowly the world around me became easier to traverse and eventually I became less and less fearful of what was lurking around every corner.
I grew in confidence with each boss I fell. Forging the specialized weapons that came from their souls became an obsession. It didn’t matter if I could actually use the weapon or not, merely having it in my inventory was like carrying around a badge of honor—a trophy gained from the battle that proved I had what it took to survive in Lordran.
Eventually, I went on to log 200+ hours in Dark Souls, beating the game upwards of 10 times and gaining my absolute favorite platinum trophy in my collection. Every once in a while I still boot up my PS3 and head back to the land of Lordran. The major difference now is that when I tread through the halls of Anor Londo or the murky waters of Blighttown, I’m the danger in the world, not the other way around.