Dark Souls III: How Video Game Art and Literature Affect the Human Mind

The gameplay of Dark Souls hearkens the player to how real life works; your parents are there to teach you the basics and give you the tutorial to life, however once you are on your own, life will beat you to your knees countless times until you learn the proper way to manage it.”

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Overview of the article: 

This article will discuss literature in all forms and mediums, such as art, written literature, video game environments and cinematography. This particular source discusses the importance and effects of the visual on the human mind, due to the fact that humans are inherently better at understanding concepts that they can visualize. Moreover, readily depicted visual environments are more malleable and easier to understand by members of the audience who have not yet had the opportunity to expand their imagination and understanding of literature.

Providing captivating sceneries and inquisitive puzzles to an audience is a fool-proof way to interest both those who are new to the world of literature and provide food for thought to those who already have a firm understanding of literary concepts. One of the main literary techniques depicted in visual environments are the elements of symbolism and foreshadowing. By intermixing these two elements together, one can create a captivating story that awes the whole audience and makes their brains attempt to make something out of the situation.

The most important element however in movie and video game literature is the presence of the “main character”, a character who goes through many complex situations and, by being the center of the story, makes the audience identify with him, put themselves in his shoes and make decisions for their own. In my article I will primarily discuss how the human individual desires to temporarily remove himself from reality and enter the world of literary fiction in order to experience new things. The article includes interviews of multiple people about how they felt after they played a certain video game and the long-term psychological changes they further experienced.

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Introduction:

Videogames have often been the subject of slander by the older generations, due to the amount of violence exhibited in them, as well as the controversy of the themes they discuss. While there are indeed videogames that focus solely on the violence aspect to please action-loving players, it is a logical fallacy to make sweeping generalizations about the whole bunch. This article will analyze in depth the psychological, action role-playing franchise masterpiece known as Dark Souls™. The game’s idea and plot is greatly influenced and narrated by philosophical themes such as existentialism, nihilism, identity crisis and realization and the whole concept of human nature, with very few exceptions in between.

Similar to the complex and hard to grasp themes it works with, Dark Souls is notorious for being one of the most difficult games every developed gameplay-wise, given its grueling and unforgiving enemies and environments. The most important aspect of the game however, which is the also the topic of this article, is the fact that in Dark Souls there is nobody there to tell you the story and confirm it as completely canon. It is up to the player, the descriptions of in-game items, character dialogue, character interactions and the player’s own imagination and understanding to piece the story together.

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Dark Souls’ Connection with Art and Literature – The Gameplay:

The gameplay aspect of a game from the Dark Souls franchise is probably unlike any other game you have ever played. It provides the player with the absolute minimum of in-game help, directions, explanations and work arounds. The game itself includes a tutorial, which simply serves to explain the controls to the player and the basic in-game mechanics, everything else is left to the player to discover by trial and error. How does this connect to the theme of expanding one’s mind through literature?

The game heavily punishes those who lack patience and do not carefully consider their in-game actions and tactics. Its soul crushing difficulty and uniqueness is derived exactly from this aspect of gameplay: It will kill the player countless times, it will break them again and again, until they begin to learn the virtues of patience, perception and keeping their cool. One of the people I interviewed about their opinion on the difficulty of Dark Souls stated this:

“The gameplay of Dark Souls hearkens the player to how real life works; your parents are there to teach you the basics and give you the tutorial to life, however once you are on your own, life will beat you to your knees countless times until you learn the proper way to manage it. There will be moments where you feel like breaking the device you play the game on, there will be moments where you tell yourself ‘This is impossible, I cannot do it, I quit.’ However, each and every time you try again you will notice that you progressively improve and eventually triumph over what challenged in you in the game. As in life, so it is in Dark Souls; one must have patience, keep calm to avoid rushing and making mistakes, and most importantly – never give up.”

 ~ Stoyan Konstadinov, 41

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Another volunteer for the interview about this article also gave his short and personal story of how he became a better person after he played this game. His miraculous transformation from a “mere” videogame was brought forth exactly from the great difficulty and learning curve the game offers:

“Before I started playing Dark Souls, I was a very impatient and short-tempered individual. I often had conflicts with friends and family, as well as with authority, because I had very little forbearance for their criticisms and reprimanding. One day, when Dark Souls grabbed my interest, I decided to give it a go, at first I was completely put off by its impossible difficulty and the fact that the bosses in the game can swat you like a fly, while you deal negligible damage to them. Needless to say, I put down the game for a lot of time, but it always remained in my mind as a challenge I wanted to overcome.

One day I returned and decided to try a different approach, I slowed down my pace, began to analyze the environment in-game, look for patterns in the attacks of enemies, attempt to exploit their weakness and triumph as the victor. Most importantly, I learned to keep calm while the game punished me countless times for my mistakes. Before I knew it, I began applying the same mindset in real life. I became a calmer and less irritable person, and people were quick to take notice! Some people were stunned to see me act in this new way and a friend of mine even asked me if the reason for this new behavior is the passing away of a loved one! Imagine the looks on their faces as I laughed away their wild guesses and explained that a simple video game fostered this new behavior in me.”

~ Vladimir Gospodinov, 19

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Important Note! – For those of you, whose attention has already been grabbed and held firm by this magnificent franchise, and want to experience the story for themselves with no spoilers for the plot, I strongly discourage you to read further into the article, as the following topic will discuss key literary elements embedded in the plot of the game.

Dark Souls’ Connection with Art and Literature – The Lore: A Short Recap

The general concept and plot of Dark Souls is to prolong the Age of Fire, also known as the Age of the Gods. Before time immemorial, the sole rulers of the world were the immortal Everlasting Dragons, beings of supreme power, whose reign is supreme over the world. At one point, lesser Gods stood up against them and defeated them, exterminating their kin. The Gods, euphoric and blinded by their victory over the Everlasting Dragons began their reign over humanity, which resulted in its golden age. The source of power of the Gods was the Primordial Flame from which they drew their power. However, no reign lasts forever and the first flame began to fade, and with it, so did the prosperity of human kind begin to wither.

The Gods began sacrificing themselves to prolong their reign over the world, however this artificial extension only maintained a smidgen of their true power, to which they clinged with everything they could. The world around them began to fall into ruin and only the remnants of the once glorious golden age remained. As the Gods sacrificed themselves, they put a curse upon all of humanity, so that when the fire fades, countless Undead rise from their graves with the sole purpose of re-linking the first flame and prolonging the Age of Fire. Only one undead can accomplish this, known as the Ashen One. Any undead can become that Ashen One, provided he has the capacity to slay the hollowed out old Gods, obtain what was left of their power and relink the First Flame. In Dark Souls I and III you take the role of the Ashen One, the Chosen Undead who must take the decision whether to continue the endless cycle, or break it.

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Literary Significance:

In the core basis of the lore of the video game it is already possible to observe elements adapted from Greek Mythology, as well as the hubris and greed of the Gods, who want to remain in power for countless ages at the very cost of natural balance. The king of the Gods, Gwyn, bears a striking resemblance to Zeus from Greek mythology, being depicted as a tall and burly old man with a white beard, who wields the power of lightning. Another similarity is the sole vulnerability of the Everlasting Dragons – the power of lightning, the same power with which Zeus banishes Typhon to the depths of Tartarus. The concept of giving fire to humanity is also omnipresent in Greek Mythology, where Prometheus steals the flame from the Gods and gives it to humanity. Fire, a symbol of progress, prosperity, power, knowledge, willpower, courage, victory, dominance, and light, is a frequently recurring symbol in Dark Souls.

The most horrifying concept in Dark Souls is the fact that Undead cannot die, they simply revive as ash at the nearest lit lesser bonfire, and each time they die, they lose a piece of their humanity, their soul, and their memories. When an undead loses all or almost all of its humanity, it goes hollow, a feral and mindless state, where the undead fails to recall who they were and viciously attacks all living entities around it. The process is slow and painful however, and in the world of Dark Souls, there are many characters with which you can interact with, who are in their respective state of hollowing. Some of them are still brimming with humanity, others are at the very brink of madness. But the most recurring theme amidst most of the characters is the lack of meaning to this dilapidated curse.

The Gods are long dead, what remains of them are hollowed and withered remains, their minds consumed by madness and hubris. The painful realization that one cannot free himself from this curse, the realization that you are alone against beings of primordial power, against the whole world, and every time you die and reincarnate, you lose a part of your memories and a part of what makes you human. Eventually, you’ll turn into a mindless, withered husk, who has completely lost his identity. Those not yet hollowed are completely aware of this fate, and have seen loved ones meet their end. The characters that exist in the universe of Dark Souls are very much human. Some fight for justice, others fight for camaraderie, there are even those who naively fight to regain their humanity, praying that the Gods would be merciful should they extend the Age of Fire.

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Other types of symbolism:

The franchise of Dark Souls consists of three games, Dark Souls I, II and III, each possessing their respective theme. Dark Souls I narrates the events soon after the first flame beings to fade, which marks the beginning of the end of the cycle. In Dark Souls I one begins to see how the world steadily dilapidates into ruin and loses all of its glory. Dark Souls II does not discuss or narrate topics related to the linking of the First Flame, however it focuses entirely on humanity and the human curse itself, how one loses his mind and self in the process of serving the Gods, who are long dead. Dark Souls II also narrates the period that came soon after the end of Golden Age of Man. In the game you can see ruins of great cities and cathedrals, glamorous monuments who have fallen into disrepair and the very fabric of space and time becomes convoluted, due to the ever-growing disruption of the natural balance, caused by the Gods artificial cycle.

The final installment of the franchise, Dark Souls III, narrates the end of the Age of Fire and the consequential death of the whole world. This progression can also be tied to biblical themes of humanity: Birth, Downfall from grace, Death. The image of the Sun is also a recurring theme throughout Dark Souls, as the Sun is closely associated with the Age of the Gods because Gwyn is known as the Lord of Sunlight. The Sun is also a marker for the current state of universal balance in the game, and at the end of Dark Souls 3, a solar eclipse has taken place, which signifies the impending end of the age, should the fire not be linked.

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Summary:

There is very much more to talk about this masterpiece of a game, however one student can only procrastinate and write an article so long. One can, however, certainly conclude one thing: In contrast to the contemporary action genre of video games, whose sole purpose is to entertain, the genre of Dark Souls exercises the mind, stimulating it to think, piece together dialogue and interactions to create their very own unique story, regardless of how much it deviates. It also provides an experience that trumps any other and firmly stands out with its steep difficulty, in regards to both its gameplay, and to the understanding of the deep connotations, references and symbolism embedded into the core of the game’s story and meaning.

Written by Billian Tzenov.

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2 Replies to “Dark Souls III: How Video Game Art and Literature Affect the Human Mind”

  1. Brett

    Yo, found this post on reddit. Very interesting article. You should make a YT video or something.

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