It’s like a disease. A digital disease. It comes in waves, like a common cold. All it takes is a tweet, a short article. A YouTube video. One single sentence fragment. “It’s going around”, people whisper. “Yeah, my son’s got it”. It’s only a matter of time before you’re coughing. You can feel it in your glands.
I’m talking, of course, about Dark Souls.
Right now -- right this very second in this very day –everyone on my Twitter feed is talking about Dark Souls. Brand new consoles, a 2013 stacked with some of the greatest games ever created -- The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed IV, Super Mario 3D World, the best Zelda game released in a decade -- but everyone and their Grandmother seems to be discussing a video game released almost two and a half years ago.
How is this even possible? Why is this happening? This is the power of Dark Souls.
It’s an epidemic, and as with most epidemics there are extraneous, environmental factors. Dark Souls II is coming. People are excited. In their excitement many are returning to the game they fell in love with. Maybe they got stuck and want one last gasp go. Maybe they’re keen for an attempt at New Game+. Perhaps they just want to get familiar with that feeling, that atmosphere, the attitude one develops when playing a game like Dark Souls.
Yes. All of those things. But something more. Something subtle. The above folks are simply patients zero. What happens next is far more intriguing. The second someone tweets, writes or even mentions Dark Souls in passing something strange happens.
Another human being becomes instantly compelled to start playing Dark Souls.
I’ve experienced this personally. Giant Bomb’s News Editor Patrick Klepek recently began streaming his own play through of Dark Souls. Not once did I watch him play. I didn’t need to. Just the word ‘Dark Souls’ peppered in my feed -- that was enough. Enough to plant the seed. Then, a steam sale. My brother in-law: “Should I buy Dark Souls?”
Yes, you should.
A flu typically starts in the back of the throat. You can feel it take hold. At that point you realise: you are mere days away from debilitation. From aching limbs and snotters, from blowing your bugle on an endless stream of tissue paper. You are days away from pain, that is understood. So it is with Dark Souls.
The following Friday I stumbled through Sydney’s CBD, from EB to JB Hi-Fi, like a single minded hollowed out cluster of flesh and eyeballs. I had decided that I needed to play Dark Souls. Needed. Earlier that afternoon I remembered I had lent my PlayStation 3 (along with my copy of Dark Souls) to a friend and I howled at the moon. I rushed out of the office in search of a copy of the game. I have a million games at home. Great games, unplayed games. But at that point I literally needed to play Dark Souls and there would be no substitute. What a strange feeling.
Eventually I managed to procure a copy and, of course, I tweeted through my entire Dark Souls experience that weekend. I bitched and moaned, I shared tales of my glorious victories and sought brothers in arms to console me through bitter, bitter defeats. Before long I began to receive messages. “Serrels, you bastard," they would say. “I’ve started playing Dark Souls”. Instagrams of brand new copies of Dark Souls: “what have you gotten me into!”
Dark Souls is the virus. I am merely the carrier.
Before long there was an entire team of people behind me and with me. If I had a question, someone was able to answer. If I was stuck on a boss, a friend was available to provide advice. People were helping me, people were playing alongside me. The feeling of community was palpable. “We’re all in this shit,” a collective voice seemed to say, “but we are all in this shit together.” Again: this is the power of Dark Souls.
This is my second playthrough of Dark Souls and I recognised something in this little band of brothers: a common bond. Each and every time a friend or a twitter follower started playing Dark Souls, I actively followed their progress. I lived vicariously through each victory and defeat. I communicated, I offered advice. I don’t do this with Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed or any other video game for that matter. Why do we feel that need with Dark Souls?
Is it because the game is difficult? I think that’s part of it. But Dark Souls is a game that facilitates co-operation. Marks left on the floor bear scribbled messages from other players -- warnings, advice – it’s an ethos that runs through the entirety of the experience. ‘I am a punishing, difficult video game,’ it seems to say. ‘You are going to need advice, and that’s okay’.
That might be the key.
I, like many others, have spent my life resisting advice, resisting spoilers. “Don’t tell me!” “I can do it myself.” Dark Souls is a game that humbles you to the point where abandoning that train of thought is an absolute necessity. You must embrace help, embrace advice. Dark Souls is designed like that and it does something very unique: it encourages people to actually talk about the game without fear.
In that sense Dark Souls is an extremely liberating experience. There is no shame in admitting defeat. That defeat is a necessary part of your slow progress through the game. You will talk, you will share, and you will feel zero guilt. Your experience will not be hampered, it will become enhanced through this sharing. Dark Souls players understand that, so they talk. They rush in droves to tell where the Drake Sword is and how to attain it, why you should choose the Pyromancer class, why you need to start with the Master Key. People who have played Dark Souls remember how lost they felt, they remember the torch in the darkness. They want to become that torch.
And through this communication each and every element of Dark Souls becomes like an urban tale or a strange modern myth. The game is so dense with secrets and details, and flexible enough to offer a different experience for different players. There are so many reasons to talk about Dark Souls so we talk. We chatter constantly, share stories around lit bonfires, and its legend grows.
And in that chatter others become intrigued. They’ve either heard of the game or they want to experience it a second or third time. They feel that dull pain throbbing in the back of their throat and it is already way, way too late. They trudge home, hollowed out lumps of flesh and eyeballs. Another blood stain in another player’s video game. A silent transparent ghost. Another message scribbled on the floor.
I can’t take this…
Praise the sun.