The Dark Souls Diaries: Meditation

“Hey honey, how was your day?”

[Silence]

“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.

YES…

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.


Comments

    A great description of how it is to play Dark Souls. Kind of like a fighting game (if you're serious about it), it requires all your attention, because even just one mistake, one lapse in concentration will cost you.

    Summarises beautifully why I find the series so appealing. I play games to zone out and get immersed in the game, and it's fantastically designed for that.

    I've been reading these diaries and I think your wife is an incredibly patient woman. There's no way that I could get away with firing up the pc as soon as I got home before I spent some quality time with my family and I don't think that I would want to. Dark souls will be the same game forever but your partner amd family are constantly changing so take some time and don't loose precious moment that will only happen once in your lifetime :)

      I'm going to show my wife this comment and she is going to love it!

        Haha don't mean to lecture you on how to live your life but I've got a little one running around as well and they do something new everyday so I wouldn't want you to miss out on something cool :) other than that these articles have definitely made me interested in dark souls so I might jump into it once reaper of souls has relinquished it's hold over me!

      There's no way that I could get away with firing up the pc as soon as I got home

      I do it. As soon as I get up I make myself a coffee, then straight away I'm pretty much either on my XBox or the PC, go to work, come home, have tea, our son goes to bed and I'm straight back into it. That isn't to say that I "get away with it" though. To be honest I don't know how she puts up with me.

    @markserrels Mark I've been following your Dark Soul diaries for a while and there's one boss encounter you haven't gone into much detail in... The one that inevitably every single gamer faces when they get sucked into a game and can't seem to get back out. I call it "The Spouse". Please provide appropriate hints and cheat codes.

    Last edited 11/04/14 2:00 pm

      Sunbros! :D

      Also, praise the sun!

      Last edited 11/04/14 2:38 pm

    Hey @markserrels:

    My wife is a psychologist and her style is pragmatic.

    Has she done many studies in the gaming industry? I'd LOVE to read some psychology studies that are based on the gaming industry. Like why games such as Diablo 3 are so popular (from a psychological perspective) and more on Dark Souls.

    It would make for some awesome studies and subsequent reading.

    EDIT: Also how come all my comments are awaiting moderation now? :(

    Last edited 11/04/14 2:08 pm

      I believe an easy way to sidestep that is to edit your comment after posting it (no need to actually edit anything but it skips the moderation step).

      Last edited 11/04/14 2:30 pm

    I sounded like a broken Furby, mindlessly repeating fragments of completely disconnected dialogue.
    And sentences like this are why I read these articles

      Haha! I was really proud of that sentence so thanks so much for noticing. THIS IS WHY I WRITE THESE ARTICLES :)

        You need to have a link to an audio reading of your articles. They are insightful, amusing and are the reason a lot of people read Kotaku AU. I can't help but think though, that they would be dialed up to 11 if they could be heard in a Scottish accent.
        Regardless, keep being awesome =D

    I would be sleeping on the couch if I did what you did!

    I'm going to print this out and hand it to my psychologist who had trouble understanding why such a 'frustrating' game could help my mental health issues. I also find it a good tool (IRL) for teaching yourself to not give up but to push on through.

    My balls were hurting at the opening of this article. I don't know if your wife is covering up her anger at you very well, or if she's somehow not angry, or if you're covering up the whole thing.

    These diaries started off okay, but now they're pretty much the ramblings of a dude who sounds like his marriage is crumbling. :\ Tough reading, actually.

    You wife describes you shunning her to play video games after work as meditation or "mindfulness"? Mine just calls it being a douche.

    ...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...

    Heh, sounds like Jedi meditation to me!

    Thoughts of winning and losing can take away from the meditation. Try to play with no thought of the victory or defeat. Be equanimous and uncaring about the outcome for best results.

    As much as I loved Dark Souls, the more I read of these articles the less I want to play 2, it appears to be tearing down your life around you. What will happen when its finished?

    Cant be healthy, even with the worlds most patient and forgiving wife!

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