My Dad Plays Dark Souls

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

Dark Souls is one of those games that puts the wisdom teachings of Proverbs into sharp relief. It forces you to learn things, in its own cryptic and somewhat obscured way, through the process of playing. If you don’t learn it, you’re going to look the fool (or return/sell the product to the game store of your choice). But, if you take the game seriously and respect what it’s trying to do, you’ll have a great time. I really want people to experience this, so I finally forced somebody else to do it!

I’ve claimed many a time, especially on Facebook (Theology Gaming University, sometimes), that pretty much anyone can beat Dark Souls if they set their mind to it. It doesn’t need an “easy mode”, which would require a pretty big re-design, and would also create a very different game from what we’re playing. I say this for a number of reasons, but mostly because the game rewards knowledge more than reflexes; those with keen skills of observation, preparation, and those willing to adapt to the game’s slow pace will win over those who rush into danger any day of the week. And most people like rushing into danger, but Dark Souls isn’t a power fantasy; it’s a game where knowledge beats strength any day of the week.

Dark_Souls_(PC)_14

Unless you like this screen.

So what better way to demonstrate this than watching my father play through Dark Souls? Of course, this is somewhat of a cheat; my father played video games a lot in his life. However, his skills lie less in second-to-second reaction speed and more in pre-planning. As a certified personal accountant, he needs to have an attention for detail in preparing tax returns and doing the work of companies. Even if that is the case, I beat Gears of War, among other such games, with him in cooperative modes, so it didn’t seem like much of a stretch. He, himself, completed plenty of games (I remember him saying he beat the original Shogun: Total War in one night, for serious). So, you might expect him to be perfectly adept at this Dark Souls thing, right?

No, not really! Action games aren’t his thing necessarily, and it took him nearly an hour and some change just to get used to the controls! I suppose that comes down to Dark Souls being very different from other games in this genre. I mean, seriously, the right trigger on the Xbox 360 controller does feel natural as an attack button, but Dark Souls punishes use of that attack without any thought to your stamina bar. You don’t realize how much you learned playing the game until you watch someone start playing from scratch. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a vicariously painful experience.

Just for example: the camera controls and lock-on seemed like completely foreign concepts to my dad. I’m not sure if it’s because he just came off of tax season (and that’s as good a reason as anything to be bad at video games, I suspect) or for some other reason, but keeping enemies in his field of view seemed like a strange hindrance in his brain. He’d run away from things, especially the Asylum Demon, and immediately get smashed to bits repeatedly. It probably goes without saying that rolling through enemy attacks and figuring out invincibility frames was also a foreign concept in most cases. I’m trying to remember how many tries it took for him to best the Demon, and I’d guess it hit the double digits.

Asylum Demon

Learning that you need to stay next to his butt a lot of the time is seriously counter-intuitive.

Still, he persevered and won…in his own way, by the skin of his teeth, as most of us did on this first boss. Thankfully, we reached Firelink Shrine, and he wasted no time going to the correct path (thankfully, no foolish dalliances towards The Catacombs or New Londo). Undead Burg, surprisingly, proved to be another step up in difficulty. There’s tons of enemies everywhere, and you must take it slowly or die. It’s a long way from the first bonfire in this area to the boss, and that path takes a long time until you settle into the rhythm of killing enemies one by one. I probably should mention the ambushes and the like as well, but those didn’t pose too much of a problem.

What did pose a problem was the Black Knight down the stairs. With no prodding by me, he decided to take him on. Things didn’t turn out well, as you’d imagine, and he chased my father all the way to the bonfire. It’s pretty hilarious in retrospect, but he had quite a few Souls on him at the time. Honestly, I didn’t know they could chase you that far. It probably goes without saying that my father picked the heaviest armor class possible, so he could take a lot of damage – just not from a Black Knight!

Next, he finally found the Taurus Demon, which he beat in one try. He didn’t beat the boss like a normal person, however. There are gaps in the bridge during that boss fight, and the Taurus Demon knocked him off almost immediately. I expected that my father died, and that was that, but then the Taurus Demon decided to fall to his doom as well! I’m going to guess this is a bug, but I think you should take any victory you can get in a Souls game, really. It’s only fitting that the Hellkite Drake killed him a bunch later (even if it’s initial appearance didn’t damage him too much, for whatever reason). That was about when his playtime ended, because you really need a break after 3 hours!

Taurus_swinging

Not pictured: this idiot killing himself.

So, what did we learn? First, it’s hard for me to have much perspective on Souls games for newcomers to the series. I tested just to see if I could, and I did the entirety of the content I made my father go through in about 24 minutes – and trust me, I was taking my time. A lot of us simply got better at these games as we went along, and the games didn’t really follow suit (I beat Dark Souls III in about 30 hours, just for example – and I was taking my time, as I usually do!). But, I don’t think that lack of perspective really changes my recommendation of the game, either.

Once he got into the groove, and that certainly takes a long time, my dad understood why people liked these games. They’re challenging, require a lot of concentration and though, as well as an attractive dark fantasy aesthetic. Even with no prior experience (and little help – I let him die a lot, because you gotta learn!), he still had a very good time even with all the deaths. More so than that, it’s simply fun to share the experience of playing a Souls game – honestly, it’s more entertaining than playing the game at this point!

So yeah, if you haven’t tried to make someone who hasn’t played Dark Souls play it, I’d wager you should give it a shot. It’s totally worth it just for the fun and the laughs. And if you’ve never played them, do it with friends; that’ll get you through the tough spots, I think.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.