Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Can Be Learned From Dark Souls?


     Dark Souls...the very name strikes a sense of fear and dread for those unfamiliar with its content.  For others, it's a constant festival of anger, rage, and frustration.  But, for those that are left, it's an amazing, though extremely demanding, experience.  I've personally have invested a minimum of 60 hours in each installment (except for Demon Souls, that one I've yet to complete, unfortunately, but life is hectic,) and I don't regret it one bit.  The series is known to be intimidating to the faint of heart and the weak of spirit, but, in my opinion, it's a must play game for anyone even remotely interested in fantasy based games and great story telling.

     As the gaming world prepares for the launch of Dark Souls III, I would like to share some of the life lessons I've taken from the series and how it relates to life (particularly my life, but I feel it applies to everyone.)  Please note that Dark Souls teaches a lot of difficult lessons, but it's important to learn them; I'd personally would rather learn them through a video game than, say, several months of real life hard lessons, but that's just me!

  • Life is Frustrating

     Dark Souls is notorious for one thing; you will die, and you will die many, many times (the original Dark Souls has a "Prepare to Die" edition, and the second installment has an achievement/trophy called "Welcome to Dark Souls," which is awarded after your first death.)  Casual gamers will be infuriated with this, causing many to give up before leaving the first area they come across.  

     This is true in real life as well...I often find myself giving up on new things before giving them an honest shot because I found it way too hard, when, if I had just given it a chance, I know I would have excelled.  I've also have learned that raw talent means nothing in the real world.  Just because you're naturally good at something doesn't mean you'll be great, it just means you have a talent.  Talent means nothing if you're not willing to push it even further; you have to challenge yourself to overcome the daunting and strive to emerge victorious, even if it means failing over and over again.

  • Hard Work Pays Off

     In every version of the game thus far, you start off with minimum equipment; you may be lucky and have a sword and shield, or you may find yourself stripped down to your undergarments.  When you start exploring the world and face off against formidable foes, you'll see that you are rewarded for your efforts.  Unlike most of today's "free to play" or "follow the path from A to B," games that give instant feel good rewards just for playing, Dark Souls demands that you learn from your failures, study the patterns of your foes, and use it to tackle new and ever increasingly challenging obstacles. 

     I've found that, while it's not true in every single case, working hard on a given task and pushing yourself to learn things from different angles is extremely rewarding.  From something as grande as being promoted at a job to as small as a "Thank you," and a handshake, when I take the time and put all of my effort into a job/hobby/passion, I find that it pays off.  If nothing else, I take enjoyment from being able to say, "I gave it my all, now look at what I've accomplished!"  

  • The Path Forward Is Not Always Clear

     One of my favorite things about Dark Souls is the fact that, beyond telling you the basic button functions, the game itself does not give you a clear path to follow.  Unless you're willing to invest the time, you'll find yourself running around in circles trying to open a door down the hallway in a fortress when in fact you should have been in the forest fighting giants to obtain the item you needed.  Dark Souls prides itself on keeping most things hidden from its players, who must strive to put together the small hints and clues the game occasionally leaves behind.  

     This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons I've learned in my life; things aren't always so clear cut and straight forward, especially when it involves a game plan for the future.  The unexpected is going to happen, regardless of what is done to prepare.  I'm not suggesting to forgo having a plan of attack, rather, I'm asking to be accepting of the fact that there will always be things that happen that can't be predicted.  From having cars fail after owning them for 6 months to sleeping on a bench, I would never have planned for these events beforehand because they happened so suddenly.  But I did get through, oftentimes with a little bit of help, and I gained experience I otherwise would never have obtained...although, I wouldn't have complained too much if things were a tad easier, I'll always argue that I wouldn't be who I am now without the events in my life unfolding as they did.

  • People, As A Whole, Are Good...

     This one isn't particularly about Dark Souls in relation to the game's story or themes, but the community at large.  Dark Souls has a unique form of communication for its players so that you can leave helpful tips and hints for others (this requires being online FYI.)  You're limited to only a few key words, but it's usually more than enough to get the point across; there's only so many ways to warn a person there's a hidden ledge ahead, you know!  This also gives people a chance to do some devious things, such as to leave a message stating "Treasure Awaits Ahead!" when, in reality, there's a dragon ready to reign down fiery death upon you.  Thankfully, there's also a way to give positive and negative "votes" to these messages so other players won't suffer the same fate.

Now, I've worked with the public almost my entire life; I've served food, done tech support, recommended items for loved ones, and so on.  What I've seen, first hand, is that people are going to be good towards you even if you've just met with them.  The most important part of the interaction is attitude...treat people well, and the message I'm leaving them will be positive; treat them poorly, and the message I'm leaving them will be negative.  And even when a person's message is negative, I do my damnedest not to sweat it!  There will always be others that will help support and guide me to a more positive path.

  • ...But Some People Enjoy Being Mean

     In addition to the message system, Dark Souls boasts an equally unique system for gamers to play online.  A person may appear as a "Phantom" into your world (again, online only!) that can either help you through tough points (such as the Ruin Sentinels, whom I despise with every fiber of my being) or hinder you by stalking you in your own world (and your only heads up is a message stating they have invaded your world.)  While most people I've encountered have been nice about invading my world (usually by at least bowing beforehand, just to be polite before following up by giving me  a beat down,) others will employ cheap tricks and downright dirty tactics, such as waiting with a large group of in game enemies to overwhelm you or staying hidden until you pass by and striking with your back turned.  What's more, the game prides itself on this element, making you that much more cautious when the daunting "You've Been Invaded By (username)" comes across the screen.

     Again, people are good as a whole, but I've come across people that enjoy being mean or spiteful because they know they can.  In my experience, it's not always telegraphed, either; I've had customers that I could tell from watching them walk from their car to the door that they're looking to start a fight, and I've had some walk in, nice and calm, only to blow up when they have my undivided attention.  Now, I'm not going to say that every one of them were unjustified; I'd be mad too if I was promised something like, say, a $25 credit on my phone bill that hasn't shown up for 3 months.  But some are downright ridiculous, like the time I had a customer rage that I couldn't set them up for a new cell phone plan within 10 minutes.  The former person I will always sympathize with and will do my best to help them out in a time they're most frustrated, while the latter will most likely receive directions to the nearest exit.  There's never, ever a good reason to be downright rude and mean to the people you come across, because, as John Watson once said, "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  Keeping positive and refusing to stoop to that level is it's own reward, because I know my integrity is always intact.

  • Life Is Full Of Want

     This is a huge theme in the second Dark Souls game.  One of the biggest points that Dark Souls II tries to make is that you, the player, are always wanting more; I won't spoil anything for anyone that has yet to play this, but the climax makes you wonder, "Did I really get what I want, or am I still Hollow?" (Hollow is referencing the state of being undead throughout the game by the way.)  My favorite line that puts it all into perspective is, "For the curse of life is the curse of want."  

     Coming to terms with this in my life wasn't easy; it's hard to admit that, regardless of all the things I have, I'm constantly wanting more.  And with commercialism as it is, it's hard not to.  There's a constant war going on for my (and your) dollar, and everyone wants a piece of it.  Living where I live now, I'm sure I'm considered poor by most people's standards (lower middle class at best, honestly,) but, all of that aside, I'm doing very well; I'm fortunate enough to own a video game system to play Dark Souls, as well as a computer that has regular access to the internet, among many other things.  And while I may never become a millionaire that's driving a fully loaded Mustang while living in a mansion on my own private island, I've at least learned to realize that I don't need these things to stay happy; being content with what I already own is more than enough to keep me smiling (although, I do see me buying the collector's edition of Dark Souls III...)

     My experience with the Dark Souls series has been wonderful.  I've put in a lot of time and effort into many games (I think my main WoW character has over a month of in game time put into him, for example,) but none have made me do as much self reflection as Dark Souls.  Many people will just pass it off without seeing the true beauty of working and striving towards a rewarding goal, but that's ok; Dark Souls isn't for them.  It's for those who are able to pick themselves up after falling many times to the same foe (or be humble enough to ask for help from a stranger!)  It's for those who aren't afraid to dedicate their time to achieve their wants and desires.  And it's for those who aren't afraid of what may lurk behind the next corner.  

     If nothing else, I hope that the experiences I've shared will give you some helpful insight, both in regards to Dark Souls itself as well as the lessons we learn in life,  There are going to be times that things look bleak, and the path ahead isn't clear.  However, if you're willing to put forth the effort, learn from your failures, and learn to ask for a helping hand every now and again, you'll be able to overcome even the most daunting obstacles you come across.  After all, that's how I summoned the courage to write this blog post (and many more, I hope!  Special thanks to my wife; without her support, I would still be drowning in a pit of despair.)

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