“Hey honey, how was your day?”
“Oh, so you’re just going to go straight into it then.”
Yep. I’m just going to go straight into it.
I’ve just gotten home. Five minutes of small talk and I’ve turned on my 360. I’m playing Dark Souls II again. Dark Souls II is more than a game, it transcends what we normally recognise as a ‘gaming’ experience. It’s more like a task you feel compelled to complete. Anything outside that task fades into the periphery. It dissolves.
It’s a difficult thing to quantify or explain. Most games operate as escapism. You might compare the gaming ‘experience’ to reading a book or watching a TV show. Video games are often about disappearing into a new universe where things are ordered, where you have complete control over your own destiny, as a set of rules easily understood and practiced.
And Dark Souls is about that too, but there’s a difference. Dark Souls doesn’t ‘play’. Dark Souls requires – demands -- your absolute focus at all times. Dark Souls requires your presence. You can’t be playing Dark Souls and thinking about what you ate for breakfast, or your plans for the weekend. You sure as hell can’t play and have a conversation. When you play Dark Souls you need to be thinking about Dark Souls. More specifically you need to be thinking about what you’re doing right that very second. Or you will most likely die. In Dark Souls you are always moments away from death. You must be vigilant. At all times.
My wife is a psychologist and her style is pragmatic. Her favourite type of therapy is mindfulness therapy, designed to ease mental fatigue and stress.
It’s essentially a watered down version of meditation. At any moment during your work day, it asks that you sit, just for a couple of moments, and become ‘present’. Make yourself aware of your situation at that precise moment, make yourself aware of your space, where you are sitting, how it feels to sit, anything. We spend so much of our everyday lives stressing about the future, or dwelling in the past. It’s unhealthy. Mindfulness therapy is about giving yourself a moments to simply breathe and exist in the present.
At the moment, for now, Dark Souls has become something of a mindfulness therapy to me.
It occurred to me, as my wife started asking me questions during a particularly stressful boss fight, that playing Dark Souls without a sense of mindfulness is next to impossible and highly stressful. Last night I tried to answer the small talk questions, engage in the simplest of conversations, but it came out in a garbled staccato.
Honey it was – FUCK.
Yep. GOOD DAY.
I HAD A GOOD DAY. THANK YOU AND YOU?
Doing something else -- even thinking about something else -- whilst playing Dark Souls is next to impossible. I remember at one point, during an extremely strained conversation, my wife just stopped. “Why are you talking like that?” she laughed. “People don’t talk like that!”
The fragmented sentences. The attempt to just barely hold on. So much of my mental space was focused on being present in Dark Souls. I sounded like a broken Furby, mindlessly repeating fragments of completely disconnected dialogue.
I couldn’t do both things at once. I needed to be present.
And I think that’s part of the appeal of a difficult game like Dark Souls, or any game that commandeers your attention so rigorously. There’s an appeal in that, to completely escape the stress of worrying about the future, or regrets in the past. Simply be present. Be mindful. Survive. Progress. Overcome. So often people talk about the frustration of Dark Souls, but we don’t often hear about that sense of bliss. That clear-headedness, the clarity that comes with presence, from abandoning yourself for a gloriously short amount of time and just existing in that precise moment.
It’s positive. It feels positive.