“You are not alone”

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

Miletic Dark Souls Cover

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

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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

#BloodbornePoems

May The Good Blood Guide Your Way

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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

Narration of Things

Storytelling in Dark Souls via Item Descriptions

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If the games of the Dark Souls series (Dark Souls (2011) / Dark Souls II (2014) ) are renowned for one thing, this would be being literally murderously difficult. In Dark Souls every mistake can end deadly, for every opponent can kill the avatar, no matter how innocuous he might appear. All it takes is a tiny moment of carelessness. For narrating stories, other games are renowned—for example the Witcher or Dragon Age series or the recent games by Telltale Games , their narrative quality stemming from the momentous decision-making; or author games by David Cage whose gameplay don’t always live up to the standard of their cinematic narration quality. Continue Reading