When I played Dark Souls for the very first time I felt a sense of anxiety that I hadn’t previously experienced in any other game. I had felt anxious while playing horror games such as Outlast or any of the Resident Evil games, but this was different. I had never played a game that made me work so hard for few (and far between) signs of progression. The smallest misstep or poorly timed attack would almost certainly lead to a black screen with the blood-red words “You Died” being thrown in my face. When entering new areas I would always feel a slight sense of dread because the game itself had instilled within me the understanding that I was entirely at its mercy. Letting my guard down at any moment greatly increased my chances of death.
The simple statement implies that the death was entirely the player’s fault for making a mistake.
As Tom van Nuenen argues in his article, “Dark Souls features post-Panoptical gameplay mechanics of both continuous surveillance and playful exhibitionism and hybrid gameplay experience of both subjectivation and empowerment” (1). As with any video game, the system itself has to keep track of the player to ensure the proper mechanics are triggered at the correct intervals, whether that be enemies being spawned, items being acquired, or boss fights occurring in the proper locations. In this sense, the player understands and accepts that the world they are inhabiting adopts certain roles ascribed to the Panopticon.
They are not, however, prisoners within Lordran. It is true that Dark Souls refuses to help the player learn the rules of the world and punishes them indiscriminately for their lack of understanding, but this is not intended to discourage the player from attempting to empower themselves. This is instead meant to encourage the player to quickly learn the limits of their abilities and methodically plan out their next move. For example, there are two forms that a player can take on, a hollowed and human form. When in the human form, the player can summon NPCs and other online players to help them defeat a particularly challenging boss. This is, however, a double-edged sword because it will also leave the player open to invasions from the online community. When this occurs, the player cannot move on until they either kill the invader or are killed by the invader. The player will once again become the subject of a form of punishment within the game except for this time the punishment is not coming from the game, but other individuals who were once subjected themselves.
Nuenen, Tom van. “Playing the Panopticon: Procedural Surveillance in Dark Souls.” Games and Culture, Sage, 2016, journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1555412015570967.
Source: Every Corner Means Death
When starting up Dark Souls for the very first time on a PC, it quickly becomes very apparent that the game was not initially intended to ever be ported over to PC. The control scheme for the mouse and keyboard is exceptionally terrible and seems to have been created with no previous thought. If players did not have an Xbox or PlayStation controller they could connect to their PC, they could kiss their dreams of playing Dark Souls goodbye. Certain areas of the game are so horribly optimized (an issue that consoles also experienced but to a lesser extent) that the framerate is barely able to maintain a constant 30 frames per second and often drops far below that. In short, the base PC port is a terrible experience that many eager PC players were initially disappointed with.
Keyboard layout for PC players
On September 19th, 2012 the PC Dark Souls community rejoiced. An individual that used the name Durante released the father of all Dark Souls mods, DSfix. DSfix allowed players to actually change graphics settings that were causing the game to run poorly. The player was finally given the opportunity to mess around with different settings such as the motion blur, anti-aliasing, rendering width and height, and much more to their individual likings. Unfortunately, for players who are not as savvy, modifying the settings to their liking might seem a little more intimidating because the modifications are presented in the form of a text document. Mistyping just one setting might make the entire game unplayable.
Text document where the modifications take place
Luckily other individuals have made this process easier for players by creating their own modifications that aim to make the base modification’s interface much more user-friendly. User Morten242 created their own mod which they named UI for DSfix which creates an interface that allows the player to modify their version of Dark Souls with clear separations between each section.
Interface that Morten242’s mod creates for the user
The ability to mod Dark Souls is what allowed for the founding of a dedicated fanbase to the series within the PC community as discussed in the Postigo piece. The DSfix mod essentially worked as a massive patch that addressed most of the foundations within the design flaws present in the PC port of the game. They were able to bypass and improve on many of the issues that were present in the base port and in doing so, could finally just enjoy the game itself.
Source: Dark Souls? More like Mod Souls
Every time I decide to start another playthrough of Dark Souls I have to watch the opening cinematic. The imagery, music, and voice over that are used fit together in such a way that gives the player a clear understanding of the world they are about to experience. It is also the only portion of continuous narrative information that the player will not have to seek out and piece together themselves throughout the entire game. All other bits of world-building narrative information will have to be obtained from conversations held with non-player characters (NPCs) and reading item descriptions.
While there is a general sequence of events that would be ideal to follow, the game does not tell the player what that sequence is. Neither does it limit the player to one specific order to follow. Dark Souls takes full advantage of spatial storytelling as discussed in the Jenkins article because it relies almost entirely on the player’s motivation to explore and persevere in the face of extreme adversity. If the player does not interact with every room, check for false walls in different areas, or talk to NPCs they come across they are potentially missing out on important items or bonfires that give them a chance to level up.
When other games are branded as being difficult they will without a doubt be compared to Dark Souls. While there is some validity to the comparisons – the learning curve in Dark Souls is a lot steeper than most, and there aren’t many games that punish you for attacking an enemy one too many times – I feel like most individuals will misunderstand the developer’s intentions. Dark Souls is not difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.
In the world that Dark Souls creates there are certain individuals who have the Undead Curse (as the name implies, if they die they are simply reanimated) and are marked with the Darksign.
Unfortunately for the Undead, they slowly begin to lose their sanity as time goes on and they can eventually become Hollow (complete loss of purpose and sanity). To most Undead, it is the worst imaginable fate to have and they actively try to avoid going Hollow. The game is intentionally difficult to see if the player truly is the “Chosen Undead”. If it is too difficult and the player gives up, we can consider them to have “gone hollow” and unfit to fulfill the prophecy.
Source: Nothing warms my soul quite like Dark Souls: