Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dark Souls and Faceless Heroism

     Dark Souls is a game about heroes. Well. . .not heroes so much as heroism. It's a game about facing seemingly insurmountable odds - not even winning or losing to them, just facing them. It's a game about death. It's beautiful, tragic, triumphant, and sorrowful all at once.

     But most important of all, it's a game where I can make my character look like a Nazgul, and oddly enough that encapsulates the above better than anything else I could say. Let me explain.

     One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was at my cousins' house and we were playing with Star Wars toys. They immediately called dibs on the Luke and Han action figures, and I remember feeling relieved, because that meant I got to be the Stormtroopers. An interesting choice, given that it ensured both my character's death and my side would lose, but I liked it anyway. I always gravitated towards the faceless minions like that. I always wanted to be Stormtroopers and Imperial Guards and Ringwraiths and Foot Clan Ninjas and Cobra Commandos and the Black Knight. It had nothing to do with them being evil - I often cast them as the good guys when I was on my own - but because they were cooler. Something about the masks and helmets abstracted them into something. . .better. They weren't developed characters with complex stories and brave adventures already decided for them. They were just masks, covering something unknown and untapped. They were blank slates.

     They were ideas.

     The idea of being an evil knight fighting an unstoppable dragon appealed to child me not because they were intrinsically cool - don't get me wrong, they totally were - but because that idea was just so amazing. You're fighting this nigh-invincible beast a hundred times your size that can breathe fire, and who are you? You're just a lone, faceless warrior. You aren't a hero or heroine with a supporting entourage or a prophecy to fulfill - you're just a human who fights a dragon. You're just an idea.

     That was cool. That is the role I always wished I could fulfill. It was the fantasy I wanted to live.

     Dark Souls is essentially the platonic ideal of the concept. Everywhere you turn, you are faced with hordes of undead soldiers, giant rats, twisted swamp creatures, and drakes. Get past them and you fight behemoth magma demons, gargoyles five times your size, a dragon whose upper body is nothing more than a maw of teeth and throat, and hydras. All of them are unstoppable. I mean, think about it. How do you even fight a giant mouth? How do you win?

     But you go to them nonetheless, and you fight them. And who are you? You're just a lone, faceless warrior. You probably die, just like anyone else would. You're just an undead who fights monsters far beyond you. You're just an idea.

An AWESOME idea, I might add.

     You're the idea of a knight charging at a hydra with only a sword and a shield. You're the idea of a sorcerer delving into the spider creature's lair and doing battle with her. You're the idea of a Nazgul with a claymore fighting a giant fire demon that can crush you with a single swing of its fist.

     You're the idea of a hero. You aren't one - no sidekicks, no heavenly blade your blacksmith father left you, and you probably died ten times before you won - but you could be. You might be. It's tangible, if incredibly faint. That's what playing Dark Souls is to me; a pursuit of the faintest speck of hope. Maybe, just maybe, I can survive. Maybe I can dodge that attack. Maybe I can find a chink in their armor. Maybe I can win. And on the rare occasions that I do - when I dodge the witch's fire spell and deliver the final blow, without ever dying - I feel as though I've gotten a little closer to that fantasy I always dreamt of as a child.

     That, I feel, is the greatest allure of Dark Souls. Not to lose yourself in the fantasy of being an amazing hero or heroine, but to strive to be one, to pursue the idea. It's a game not of heroes, but of heroism, and I don't need to be kid who likes Stormtroopers to appreciate that.

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