Remodelling Dark Souls

Because I'm brave (read: brave on the internet, sometimes), I realised that an article solely cursing Dark Souls for a lack of a developed narrative when I've yet to see that entire narrative would feel somewhat false. And slightly cruel, as this is a retrospective, and they're so often filled with nostalgia and toothy grins. So I decided to tag-team it with a topic I'm sure will have the game’s fans foaming at the mouth.

I'd like to tell you how I would fix Dark Souls.

No, seriously. I'm tired of trying to analyse it in a way that allows me to delve into it at a deep level when playing it feels like work — despite the promise of small tidbits of story and character development hidden behind kilometres of hostile entities and environments with little reward save bragging rights. This game is broken, not because it's low in quality, or because there's something mechanically wrong with it, but because it's not really quite sure what it is. So how would I go about finding it, you ask?

Well, it boils down two my two main issues — the cinematics and the soul system. Honestly, I’d remove them both. While this seems a little extreme and almost game-breaking (read: more brand-breaking, if anything) in the case of souls, there are sound reasons behind why doing so would make Dark Souls a better experience for someone who wants the subtle narrative elements and unsettling theme of isolation to step into the spotlight. First up, the story issue.

Strip out the cinematics.

No, really, strip them out completely. You can't promise people an experience based on a strong back-story and then dump them in a narrative wasteland, with nothing to guide them towards the next snippet of exposition save the odd reasonably-placed NPC. (Although I think "reasonably placed" is a little too complimentary given From Software’s sadistic approach to twisting or removing traditional gaming conveniences).

What I'm suggesting instead is keeping the small snippets — those rare allusions to a greater series of mechanisms operating out of sight of your noble warrior, slowly revealing themselves as time goes on. Dark Souls thrives on mystery, and people celebrate this aspect of it without considering the impact that total narrative isolation would have. In fact, I wouldn't even give you a character customisation screen — I'd fire you screaming into the Undead Asylum and watch you figure it out while all sorts of violent creatures rained potential death upon you.

The reason for this no-holds-barred, minimalist version I have in my head is that Dark Souls is a game that I want to read into on a far deeper level. Take the currency of souls, for example. This isn't the first time souls have been used as a collectible item, but I've yet to see a character in a game, controllable or otherwise, ponder whose soul it is they're picking up. You go through thousands (if not millions) of them in Dark Souls, and despite the exposition awarded to knights, monsters and kings, there's never any mention of the millions that have died prior to your arrival.

Ditch the souls, and replace them with experience bars.

No, come on — put the pitchfork down and hear me out, for a minute. You're collecting souls — why? Because their experience assists your skill increases? Because they're currency? Why are you fighting to get them back again after you die? It makes no sense. Your player character knows the land, knows the enemies — one of them's just run him through with an eight-foot spear. In a world where narrative is so subtle, the world so well-crafted, it seems almost nonsensical to keep a spendable high-score.

I mean, who were they? Why, in a world where ghosts are a viable concept, do they not interact with you? It's an odd contradiction, and one that leads me to believe that fantasy-genre foes such as the malevolent spirits you're likely to encounter during your travels are thrown in simply to be ghosts. What defines them? Are they souls that have rebelled against the system, refusing to be collected and, as a result, are hostile towards you, the collector-in-chief?

The NPCs From Software have designed for both this game and its predecessor Demon's Souls are no different in their mysterious identities. You're never quite sure whom to trust, but let me tell you this: If it were me, I'd not be throwing my lot in with a bloke who sold me a mace for the souls of a thousand dead. So who do you see as the hero, in this piece? The NPCs who trade items for souls, or you, the one who consumes them like marshmallows at a bonfire in order to bolster your own abilities?

Dark Souls is bleak, man. There's no real victory, save the occasional, fleeting mechanical dodge-block-smite that you pull off with enough practice. What I'm suggesting is a little idea, but one I think would fundamentally change the way you read the game, if you're a narrative-obsessed pedant with a desire to choke every ounce of meaning out of the most barren of built worlds [In which case you’re certainly not alone around here. – Ed.].

I have no issues with the concept of souls as a resource, but in a world where you are one individual struggling against the sheer might of the many evil forces arrayed against you, why are they not coming to your aid? Who are you, exactly, that you simply reap the spirits of the dead in order to fuel your engine of violence and death as you drive it slowly towards those ultimately responsible for desecrating this vast land?

Within the genre itself, and the mechanics of the game, the souls system works, but to frame Dark Souls with an intriguing narrative and then devolve your saving of the world into a collect-'em-up does a great disservice to the potential of a tale worth telling. I'm just not entirely sure From Software realised how effective their game world could command exposition and motivation when they penned a melodramatic fantasy explosion to kick it off with.

I suppose this is the crux of my problem with Dark Souls: It doesn't really seem to know what game it is. Is it an elite arcade hack-and-slash RPG, or one of the most brilliantly crafted and subtly delivered tales in gaming history? I've no idea, but then again, I'm also busy preparing myself for the onslaught of angry denial. Are you as confused as I am?

Comments

I don't think there are any serious comprehension issues at hand, either. "Defending Dark Souls"? Hardly! More "I can see bits of your point, but what about X? Considering X, you really still feel that way? Interesting. What about Y?" It's a conversation about important considerations about a fascinating game. There are bound to be points of disagreement, and acknowledgement of disagreement is very, very civil stuff. Cool?

ianunderhill wrote:

I don't think there are any serious comprehension issues at hand, either. "Defending Dark Souls"? Hardly! More "I can see bits of your point, but what about X? Considering X, you really still feel that way? Interesting. What about Y?" It's a conversation about important considerations about a fascinating game. There are bound to be points of disagreement, and acknowledgement of disagreement is very, very civil stuff. Cool?

I'm happy to discuss the article - if it didn't cause any discussion, that'd be worse. In fact, I came to a lot of new conclusions while reading and writing part of this comments thread. Using "broken" may not have been the best approach, but I think what Erik meant was that my two suggested changes were not as severe as was perceived - just a misunderstanding, it's no big deal. :). Pals?

D_Davis wrote:
heavyfeul wrote:

I have been playing video games for decades and I can't think of any memorable stories. I know there are "story moments" that a lot of gamers remember vividly, like Samus taking her helmet off or the death of Aeris, but all of my favorite stories are either movies or books. I remember those scenes as well, but for the life of me I cannot remember the larger story that those scenes took place within. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, however, is burned on my brain forever.

Same here. I think games are great at presenting scenarios and moments, but they fundamentally become broken and un-game-like when they focus on narrative.

When I want a story, I turn to a book. When I want to play a game I play a game.

Even the most memorable and best story I've ever encountered in a video game is worse than the most mediocre novel I've ever read.

However, folks like you and I are definitely in the minority these days. I have a feeling that as games progress (or regress IMO) into being more like inter-active movies, I will stop playing most new games altogether. I don't want a "cinematic" experience.

Give me a goddamn video game. This is my shmups are my favorite genre. And probably why I love Dark Souls so much. In many ways, it's very, very similar to a shmup, in that it's all about improving your skills and memorizing level layouts. It's a video game and totally gamey to its very core.

This is what I find appealing about this game as well. I love that it reminds me of the old hard as nails 8 bit games like Castlevania, Contra etc, which you could only beat once you had memorised large parts of the levels and enemy behaviour.

When you encountered a new enemy in those games, generally you got your ass handed to you that first time until you had it sussed out. It was about increasing you exp level, not the characters.

KramNesnah wrote:

This is what I find appealing about this game as well. I love that it reminds me of the old hard as nails 8 bit games like Castlevania, Contra etc, which you could only beat once you had memorised large parts of the levels and enemy behaviour.

When you encountered a new enemy in those games, generally you got your ass handed to you that first time until you had it sussed out. It was about increasing you exp level, not the characters.

I wonder if I'm misunderstanding you, but I'd call a game like that broken. Although it permeated early console game design, that design choice only ever made sense in an arcade setting where killing the player forced them to stick another quarter in. That is not to say games should be easy, but on the occasion I want to hard game, it should be hard but fair, rather than cheap shots that kill you if you didn't happen to know they were coming (the video game equivalent of a booby trap). In other words, I want a game, not a memory exercise.

Garden Ninja wrote:

I wonder if I'm misunderstanding you, but I'd call a game like that broken. Although it permeated early console game design, that design choice only ever made sense in an arcade setting where killing the player forced them to stick another quarter in. That is not to say games should be easy, but on the occasion I want to hard game, it should be hard but fair, rather than cheap shots that kill you if you didn't happen to know they were coming (the video game equivalent of a booby trap). In other words, I want a game, not a memory exercise.

The requirement of memorization of locations, patterns, and so on is important to a number of games, but the ones that are *good* and involve those elements don't consist entirely of that. If you still have to make skillful use of the control scheme, and the control scheme is good (or if it's NES night and you're playing Castlevania!), and there's cause for management of limited resources like health/power stats/consumables, and so on, you're introducing enough variables to provide a challenge that goes beyond a rote routine. Furthermore, if attack/movement patterns incorporate enough variation in them, memorization alone doesn't get you any real advantage - you have to pay attention to what's happening, analyze what the next enemy move might be, and make your move based on that prediction, and all in fractions of a second. If your heart rate increases and you're tempted to throw the controller when you die, the game may well be doing a very good job of using these elements. You could also just be having a bad evening and all of this may be incidental.

CY wrote:

I'm happy to discuss the article - if it didn't cause any discussion, that'd be worse. In fact, I came to a lot of new conclusions while reading and writing part of this comments thread. Using "broken" may not have been the best approach, but I think what Erik meant was that my two suggested changes were not as severe as was perceived - just a misunderstanding, it's no big deal. :). Pals?

"Broken" was probably a fine approach in the end - no, I don't think it's quite the right word either, but it did draw attention and some interesting discussion. To me, there's more value in that than there is in "Gee guys, I love Dark Souls! Here's two little ways I think it could've been better!" and the subsequent "Yeah, Dark Souls is cool!" from the back-pat brigade. Heated discussion that involves considering multiple points of view is useful and worthwhile.

ianunderhill wrote:
Garden Ninja wrote:

I wonder if I'm misunderstanding you, but I'd call a game like that broken. Although it permeated early console game design, that design choice only ever made sense in an arcade setting where killing the player forced them to stick another quarter in. That is not to say games should be easy, but on the occasion I want to hard game, it should be hard but fair, rather than cheap shots that kill you if you didn't happen to know they were coming (the video game equivalent of a booby trap). In other words, I want a game, not a memory exercise.

The requirement of memorization of locations, patterns, and so on is important to a number of games, but the ones that are *good* and involve those elements don't consist entirely of that. If you still have to make skillful use of the control scheme, and the control scheme is good (or if it's NES night and you're playing Castlevania!), and there's cause for management of limited resources like health/power stats/consumables, and so on, you're introducing enough variables to provide a challenge that goes beyond a rote routine. Furthermore, if attack/movement patterns incorporate enough variation in them, memorization alone doesn't get you any real advantage - you have to pay attention to what's happening, analyze what the next enemy move might be, and make your move based on that prediction, and all in fractions of a second. If your heart rate increases and you're tempted to throw the controller when you die, the game may well be doing a very good job of using these elements. You could also just be having a bad evening and all of this may be incidental.

This! 5 Million times better put than I would be able to.

ianunderhill wrote:
Garden Ninja wrote:

I wonder if I'm misunderstanding you, but I'd call a game like that broken. Although it permeated early console game design, that design choice only ever made sense in an arcade setting where killing the player forced them to stick another quarter in. That is not to say games should be easy, but on the occasion I want to hard game, it should be hard but fair, rather than cheap shots that kill you if you didn't happen to know they were coming (the video game equivalent of a booby trap). In other words, I want a game, not a memory exercise.

The requirement of memorization of locations, patterns, and so on is important to a number of games, but the ones that are *good* and involve those elements don't consist entirely of that. If you still have to make skillful use of the control scheme, and the control scheme is good (or if it's NES night and you're playing Castlevania!), and there's cause for management of limited resources like health/power stats/consumables, and so on, you're introducing enough variables to provide a challenge that goes beyond a rote routine. Furthermore, if attack/movement patterns incorporate enough variation in them, memorization alone doesn't get you any real advantage - you have to pay attention to what's happening, analyze what the next enemy move might be, and make your move based on that prediction, and all in fractions of a second. If your heart rate increases and you're tempted to throw the controller when you die, the game may well be doing a very good job of using these elements. You could also just be having a bad evening and all of this may be incidental.

Whoops! Double post.

psu_13 wrote:

Or bug-eyed frogs that breathe curse gas. How do you even make cursing gas anyway? Where do those frog things find their dinner? These are all burning logical questions that I don't care about.

Well, I care.

I think curse frogs eat cursed souls gleaned from cursed (and killed) players, and probably that nasty ceiling sewer slime too, when they can get it. Sentient mushrooms are an occasional treat.

[quote=KramNesnah]

D_Davis wrote:
heavyfeul wrote:

I have been playing video games for decades and I can't think of any memorable stories. I know there are "story moments" that a lot of gamers remember vividly, like Samus taking her helmet off or the death of Aeris, but all of my favorite stories are either movies or books. I remember those scenes as well, but for the life of me I cannot remember the larger story that those scenes took place within. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, however, is burned on my brain forever.

When you encountered a new enemy in those games, generally you got your ass handed to you that first time until you had it sussed out. It was about increasing you exp level, not the characters.

I totally agree, hence this post.

I love story in games, but I also really enjoy games I can settle into for the pure experience of learning something and getting better at it - it's the reason I enjoy Dark and Demon's Souls so much, and the subtle narrative is great - those cutscenes get in my way, so I'd ditch 'em.

Sure, a game where memorization is absolutely critical could be easily categorized as broken, but we can play Dark Souls instead. Sure, some of the maps, traps, and enemies are brutal, but I've yet to find a place in the game where I died that I couldn't have survived if I had been a bit more careful, a bit more skillful. And the next time you fight that boss that killed you, you do better. That's no memorization, that's adapting. But I know I'm far more methodical than most. Some of my friends try to race through the maps like they're playing Halo. And they die more.

Clemenstation wrote:
psu_13 wrote:

Or bug-eyed frogs that breathe curse gas. How do you even make cursing gas anyway? Where do those frog things find their dinner? These are all burning logical questions that I don't care about.

Well, I care.

I think curse frogs eat cursed souls gleaned from cursed (and killed) players, and probably that nasty ceiling sewer slime too, when they can get it. Sentient mushrooms are an occasional treat.

As much as I think you're joking, I don't necessarily discount such trivial questions. It triggers the same part of me that spends too much time on Wikipedia, and that silently judges all of you.

I was somewhat joking, but in all honesty I've spent more time hypothesizing about the mushroom society at the bottom of the great hollow than is entirely necessary (or healthy).

Clemenstation wrote:

I was somewhat joking, but in all honesty I've spent more time hypothesizing about the mushroom society at the bottom of the great hollow than is entirely necessary (or healthy).

That's why I like you.

I wasn't joking. You can hate me now if you need a place to allocate hate. I can take it.

Clemenstation wrote:

I was somewhat joking, but in all honesty I've spent more time hypothesizing about the mushroom society at the bottom of the great hollow than is entirely necessary (or healthy).

I just don't understand how that lake is down there

Clemenstation wrote:
psu_13 wrote:

Or bug-eyed frogs that breathe curse gas. How do you even make cursing gas anyway? Where do those frog things find their dinner? These are all burning logical questions that I don't care about.

Well, I care.

I think curse frogs eat cursed souls gleaned from cursed (and killed) players, and probably that nasty ceiling sewer slime too, when they can get it. Sentient mushrooms are an occasional treat.

They look more organic than demonic. Personally, I'd assumed they feast on those weird blood balloon things you can hack apart. If you're cool saying, "Well, they're basilisks!", you might be alright assuming that turning people to stone may work differently on the undead, and being the sewers of Lordran, you're only getting questing undead down there, and maybe the insane hollows turn into those blood balloon things post-cursing after their cursing has been maxed out.

Of course, this would require knowing that they're called basilisks and works on the assumption that basilisks in Dark Souls are somewhat analogous to basilisks in other games/mythology (because "they wouldn't call 'em that otherwise"), and it winds up being circuitous and frustrating.

Quick! Someone say "meta", so we can all groan up.

I don't really understand why you'd want to replace 'souls' (which have a cool highlander-style animation that implies they can be won or lost) with 'experience', which most people view as a permanent acquisition.

Seems like you want to replace a pretty good metaphor with a standard one that makes less sense in the context of the game mechanics. Wouldn't that just confuse people?

HockeyJohnston wrote:

I don't really understand why you'd want to replace 'souls' (which have a cool highlander-style animation that implies they can be won or lost) with 'experience', which most people view as a permanent acquisition.

Seems like you want to replace a pretty good metaphor with a standard one that makes less sense in the context of the game mechanics. Wouldn't that just confuse people?

Totally - at the time I was behind it, but after extensive discussion I think what bothered me was the fact the game also has ghosts, which to me clashes with the concept of souls as a passive resource.

CY wrote:

Totally - at the time I was behind it, but after extensive discussion I think what bothered me was the fact the game also has ghosts, which to me clashes with the concept of souls as a passive resource.

Heh, I can see you're really hung up on souls vs. ghosts! Rather than me make assumptions as to why, would you care to elaborate on this at all? I don't personally see a conflict because the fact that there *are* "souls" and "ghosts" (and transparent glimpses of people dying in parallel worlds, and phantoms that come from parallel worlds for good or ill) says they're two different things, or at least, not exactly the same; there's differentiation.

Apologies in advance for any super-subjective post-modern douchebaggery to follow.

ianunderhill wrote:
CY wrote:

Totally - at the time I was behind it, but after extensive discussion I think what bothered me was the fact the game also has ghosts, which to me clashes with the concept of souls as a passive resource.

Heh, I can see you're really hung up on souls vs. ghosts! Rather than me make assumptions as to why, would you care to elaborate on this at all? I don't personally see a conflict because the fact that there *are* "souls" and "ghosts" (and transparent glimpses of people dying in parallel worlds, and phantoms that come from parallel worlds for good or ill) says they're two different things, or at least, not exactly the same; there's differentiation.

Apologies in advance for any super-subjective post-modern douchebaggery to follow. :P

No apologies needed for that here!

ianunderhill wrote:
CY wrote:

Totally - at the time I was behind it, but after extensive discussion I think what bothered me was the fact the game also has ghosts, which to me clashes with the concept of souls as a passive resource.

Heh, I can see you're really hung up on souls vs. ghosts! Rather than me make assumptions as to why, would you care to elaborate on this at all? I don't personally see a conflict because the fact that there *are* "souls" and "ghosts" (and transparent glimpses of people dying in parallel worlds, and phantoms that come from parallel worlds for good or ill) says they're two different things, or at least, not exactly the same; there's differentiation.

Apologies in advance for any super-subjective post-modern douchebaggery to follow. :P

I think it's just personal pedanticism, really. To me, they're the same concept with different execution.

I see. That's a perfectly valid reason. I still disagree with you on the grounds that there is both the aforementioned differentiation between the two and also that there is nothing which suggests the ghosts in New Londo Ruins etc. are derrived from beings that possessed souls, let alone any strong indication what souls in the game world *are* other than something desired by the undead. Considering the by-design subjective experience of the story, it's entirely up to you whether you want to apply external definitions and concepts to things in-game.

Surprisingly, that's all I've got.

ianunderhill wrote:

I see. That's a perfectly valid reason. I still disagree with you on the grounds that there is both the aforementioned differentiation between the two and also that there is nothing which suggests the ghosts in New Londo Ruins etc. are derrived from beings that possessed souls, let alone any strong indication what souls in the game world *are* other than something desired by the undead. Considering the by-design subjective experience of the story, it's entirely up to you whether you want to apply external definitions and concepts to things in-game.

Surprisingly, that's all I've got.

If the things being discussed here are actually called "Ghosts" and "Souls" in game, then the game designers (or possibly the translators) already did that. Granted, "soul" is kind of a nebulous concept, but it does have a largely consistent meaning which has a fair bit of crossover with the concept of a "ghost".

One response is to get stuck on the terminology and be dissatisfied with the lack of explanation (CY), and another is to essentially ignore it, and chalk it up to a bad word choice (most everyone else, apparently).

It does make me wonder though if there is a translation problem here? Does anyone know what the original Japanese words were? Do they carry connotations that can't be easily translated, and "soul" and "ghost" are just the closest things we have?

Garden Ninja wrote:

If the things being discussed here are actually called "Ghosts" and "Souls" in game, then the game designers (or possibly the translators) already did that. Granted, "soul" is kind of a nebulous concept, but it does have a largely consistent meaning which has a fair bit of crossover with the concept of a "ghost".

Which cultural traditions are you looking at to define these words? There are a lot of them. Ghosts in mythology and folklore range from "spectral form of a dead person" to "angel/demon never human spirit". In this regard, souls are similar. Heck, in Christian tradition alone, the word is overloaded to at times mean "life breath instilled by the creator", "an entity as a whole, body and spirit" at others, and then the "immortal essence of a being" in others still.

More importantly, though, and sorry for repeating myself, but the game depicts these things separately and differently. Souls do not attack you or move around of their own accord. Ghosts do not in and of themselves function as currency or a form of accumulating power. Saying, "Well they're the same thing!" in the face of all this requires ignoring what's being presented right in front of you. Even if you want to interpret things as "ghosts come from souls somehow" or even "ghosts are types of souls", they're still different. It's like saying that differentiating between humans and primates is nonsensical and sloppy because humans *are* primates - just as specific types of souls in the game have different charateristics (value and, in some cases, function), specific subcategories of primates have differentiating charateristics; this is why they're given different names.

ianunderhill wrote:
Garden Ninja wrote:

If the things being discussed here are actually called "Ghosts" and "Souls" in game, then the game designers (or possibly the translators) already did that. Granted, "soul" is kind of a nebulous concept, but it does have a largely consistent meaning which has a fair bit of crossover with the concept of a "ghost".

Which cultural traditions are you looking at to define these words? There are a lot of them. Ghosts in mythology and folklore range from "spectral form of a dead person" to "angel/demon never human spirit". In this regard, souls are similar. Heck, in Christian tradition alone, the word is overloaded to at times mean "life breath instilled by the creator", "an entity as a whole, body and spirit" at others, and then the "immortal essence of a being" in others still.

More importantly, though, and sorry for repeating myself, but the game depicts these things separately and differently. Souls do not attack you or move around of their own accord. Ghosts do not in and of themselves function as currency or a form of accumulating power. Saying, "Well they're the same thing!" in the face of all this requires ignoring what's being presented right in front of you. Even if you want to interpret things as "ghosts come from souls somehow" or even "ghosts are types of souls", they're still different. It's like saying that differentiating between humans and primates is nonsensical and sloppy because humans *are* primates - just as specific types of souls in the game have different charateristics (value and, in some cases, function), specific subcategories of primates have differentiating charateristics; this is why they're given different names.

Let's call it "Popular Western Modern", for lack of a better term. Yes, Soul and Ghost have all sorts interesting historical traditions, but the average member of a modern, "western" civilization, upon hearing those words will probably think of some amalgamation of those traditions, and there will probably be at least some overlap between people's conceptions of ghost and soul (heck, Merriam Webster defines ghost in terms of soul). That is the point of view I'm talking about, and the point of view that CY seems to be coming from.

I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth when I say that I agree that one should strive to understand the world that is being presented in a piece of fiction on its own terms. However, words are important. They are part of the cultural baggage we carry with us, and use to shape our understanding of things. As such, one should be careful to use the right words to express the intended meaning. Rather than ignoring what is presented, CY's very point, if I understand him right, is that the presentation of how these concepts in the game do not match up with how he understands those terms outside of the game. Perhaps he's overthinking it (we all do that sometimes), but he isn't wrong for noticing it.

A basic tenet of interpretation is that a work should never be construed such that the interpretation renders part of the work meaningless.

Garden Ninja wrote:

Let's call it "Popular Western Modern", for lack of a better term. Yes, Soul and Ghost have all sorts interesting historical traditions, but the average member of a modern, "western" civilization, upon hearing those words will probably think of some amalgamation of those traditions, and there will probably be at least some overlap between people's conceptions of ghost and soul (heck, Merriam Webster defines ghost in terms of soul). That is the point of view I'm talking about, and the point of view that CY seems to be coming from.

A bit glib by my reckoning, but fine - as a participant of this discussion, I understand your angle. That said: when a Japanese team puts out a game that synthesizes multiple cultural traditions spanning history and hempispheres alike into a new continuum, what gives you liscence to say, "Oh, well my western understanding of X is such, so clearly I have the liberty to conflate these two things which still aren't quite entirely the same in both the traditions which I am selectively choosing to define them *and* as depicted in the body of work concerned"? As wordsmythe just said:

wordsmythe wrote:

A basic tenet of interpretation is that a work should never be construed such that the interpretation renders part of the work meaningless.

Garden Ninja wrote:

I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth when I say that I agree that one should strive to understand the world that is being presented in a piece of fiction on its own terms. However, words are important. They are part of the cultural baggage we carry with us, and use to shape our understanding of things. As such, one should be careful to use the right words to express the intended meaning. Rather than ignoring what is presented, CY's very point, if I understand him right, is that the presentation of how these concepts in the game do not match up with how he understands those terms outside of the game. Perhaps he's overthinking it (we all do that sometimes), but he isn't wrong for noticing it.

I don't think he's wrong for calling it into question. As someone who's played the game *and* written and article on it, he's entitled to say, "This doesn't make sense to me." I can appreciate that - the reason I asked about his specific objection ties directly to that appreciation, so don't mistake that for dismissal. I'm interested. I give a damn.

Simultaneously, I do think he's wrong to say his objection is pedantic. Pedantry is what I'm engaging in above. That is to say, "He's confused and concerned and raising objections. I'm the asshole splitting hairs."

On that note: I think this is a civil conversation. Am I reading it wrong? Please tell me if I am! I'm really not trying to pull some "I'm right! You're wrong!" crap here. I think it's an interesting topic, relevant to the article and the way the game world is presented. I'm looking for multiple perspectives here and the only reason I keep talking about mine is to try to articulate mine in terms that allow others to differentiate theirs and give me insight into their reading of the game. Is that fair?

I apologize if it came off glib. That wasn't my intention. I was honestly trying to put a name (even a bad imperfect one) to the set of assumptions I was talking about, and explain the ambiguity. And yes, I think this is mostly a civil discussion, but some of the posts (in general, not yours specifically) seemed to indicate that CY was an idiot for bringing it up. I hope I was reading them wrong.

The point I was getting at, is that the terms are already defined in a players head. The license to redefine you mention happens subconsciously. Unless you make up terms and explain what you mean by them, there is no way to avoid that.

Personally, my reaction to this apparent mismatch between terms and functions (if I even noticed it) would probably be to wonder what tradition they are drawing from, or if there is a translation issue at play. CY's is to point out the mismatch and say "Hey, what gives? Maybe there is a better name for this thing?" I don't think either approach is invalid.

Just a quick note from me, I've already said something similar on Twitter.

If there's been one constant throughout this thread, whether someone's agreed with me or not (most haven't, and that's totally okay - they've all made great points and even changed my mind on one of my criticisms, although I won't lie - the Bitmob comment stung), they've shown considerable intelligence. GWJ has a habit of humbling me as a writer, and I can only hope that the pieces I'm working on right now inspire as much conversation, but without my slinging controversial design change ideas into the mix.

The point about translation is seriously good, and I think it's something worth exploring - in fact, something worthy of an article of its own. I'd be interested to find out what those words meant, pre-translation, although I have a feeling that "soul" is the same, as evidenced by the way they're presented (and the branding of the games themselves).

The thing with Dark Souls is it's just so ridiculously deep. I could analyse that goddamn game for years. In fact, I think it's going to pop up in my podcast tomorrow night, as I can think of few examples of narrative so cleverly told.

I do wonder, though - am I seeing a story because I want to see one, or is this (please don't kill me) a blank-slate action-RPG with some dialogue and characters chucked in that just happens to appear to the pedantic multitudes as something infinitely deeper?