Dementia in diegesis

Signifying progressive loss of self in Dark Souls

All the behaviors of characters that are going hollow as well as the advancing nature of the illness reflect often-seen forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. In a review of symptoms of dementia, Cereijeira, Lagarto, and Mukaetova-Ladinska (2012) note that the condition includes disturbances to psychological, perceptual, and motor skills. Individuals can start experiencing memory issues, as recollections of different times in life fade in varying patterns. Continue Reading

Darkmoon Tomb

For me, being trans is a lifelong experience. My childhood and adolescent memories are coated in a thick layer of sadness. Something that was invisible and omnipresent. Because I didn’t have the language to understand myself, and that language was the subject of high scrutiny. Constantly marked with the label of “impolite conversation,” keeping it, seemingly, forever out of reach for a kid like myself. I had to learn to cope with dysphoria without knowing what it was. It was a lot like being trapped in the dark. I can tell when I’ve tripped, hurt myself on a cave wall or stray rock. But I can’t ever see the things that cause that pain. Continue Reading

Sonic Spaces in Dark Souls

Dark Souls (2011-2016) is a challenging experience but also one that is solitary and quiet. The only sounds heard for the bulk of my time in Dark Souls were monsters wheezing, weapons clanging, and my character grunting in pain or death. When I pushed through a fog gate into a boss fight for the first time, I knew a special experience awaited me: not only was I facing down a considerable challenge, but music had also flooded into the space. The aural landscape shifted from being solely inhabited by diegetic noise to a mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds. Continue Reading

The Fun is in the Dying

Difficult Games and Metagame Strategies

The idea of games as “difficult” engagements has been popular in both our colloquial conversations around games, as well as some critical discussions. Much research has been conducted on the function of difficulty as an aspect of immersion and engagement, but less has focused on the particular ludic mechanics that define the difficulty of a play experience. It seems fair to say that some of the more visible games that fall into this category are FromSoftware’s action RPG ‘Souls’ series. Continue Reading

“You are not alone”

The unlikely intersection between Dark Souls, Burial, and... writing the dissertation

During my MA, I grew attached to the music of the UK electronic artist Burial. His music helped me a lot throughout the writing process of my Major Research Project (MRP). His music is ethereal and spectral, simultaneously steeped in the depths of loneliness and pulsating with a comfort that draws listeners out of that loneliness; it is the kind of music that reflects the push and pull of (academic) isolation I experienced at the time and still deal with today. Take this beautiful remix of his, for instance, which is drearily pulled back slow and yet soothingly shimmers. It’s a song I had on nonstop repeat during my MA. Continue Reading

I Can’t Take This:

Dark Souls, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Networks

Released in 2011 to near-unanimous critical acclaim, the action role-playing game Dark Souls was hailed by many as a return to old-school gaming principles that eschewed overly-detailed narrative exposition or player tutorials in favor of a trial-and-error design philosophy and strong risk-versus-reward approach to in-game deaths. Many critics praised the game’s ability to cultivate a type of psychological torment (but also potential for satisfaction) via its unforgiving gameplay, as echoed in Keza MacDonald’s original review of the game where she states “Dark Souls’s design is so consistently dark and twisted that it actually starts to encroach on your mental well-being after extended play” (McDonald, 2011). Despite the emphasis on what was seen as a return to older design principles, equal attention was paid to the game’s radically innovative approach to online multiplayer. Unlike many other online role-playing games that operate through persistent shared universes—or, games that create virtual spaces where dozens or even hundreds of individuals can interact with each other in real time—Dark Souls operates primarily through asynchronous, indirect, or highly-restricted player interactions, such as its famous anonymous user-generated notes posted throughout the world. Such a novel approach to online multiplayer was described by Kevin VonOrd as an “unusual and wonderful contradiction” insofar as Dark Souls makes players “feel remarkably alone in this frightening place, yet simultaneously part of a large multiverse where simply playing the game makes you part of a chorus of silent voices urging each other forward” (VonOrd, 2011). In this sense, Dark Souls achieved the almost paradoxical feat of creating a gamespace that is shared by many but individually experienced as a fragmented and desolate landscape. Continue Reading


May The Good Blood Guide Your Way

Bloodborne follows a similar mechanic; by selecting the notebook in your inventory, you can scrawl a note and send it out into other players’ universes, where it can be rated “fine” or “foul” according to how helpful (or amusing) players who stumble across the missive find it. There’s something moving about this process, like a note in a bottle sent out across other dimensions, little gestures of kindness and goodwill in the decaying and endlessly hostile environment. Hunters sending little vials of hope across the cosmos; tiny pearls of help. A colleague of mine, Braydon Beaulieu, wrote a few notes in Bloodborne that were not about strategy, but self-care. Little reminders of kindness in the bleakness. In response to this, I wrote a poem, my own little wish for gentleness. Continue Reading