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
It’s no stretch to say that many videogames are viewed as an avenue for posing ethical questions to modern players. “Morality points” and “moral choices” are well-publicized features of various types of games, such as the Renegade/Paragon bar in Bioware’s Mass Effect RPGs or Dishonored’s (Arkane Studios, 2012) options to deal with major targets via murder or various sinister yet non-lethal responses. Yet as the title of Miguel Sicart’s book Beyond Choices suggests, perhaps merely focusing on presenting choices fails to reach games’ true potential for raising ethical questions in an interactive medium. His book instead urges players, developers, and academics alike to embrace not just the possibility that games can address deep ethical questions, but to explore the ways that the medium is especially well suited to do so.