And you with it, speck of dust

And you with it speck of dust

[Endgame spoilers for Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 to follow.]

As I prepared to sit down and finally write this piece, I did a quick Google search for the key words “Dark Souls” and “nihilism”. I thought I might get one or two hits with the game loosely orbiting the themes of existentialism, since that’s what usually happens when you go looking for specific matches of a game to a theme. But this time was different. The first, I don’t know, ten results wore their investment to the subject matter on their titles: Dark Souls through Sartre and Camus, Kierkegaard and Dark Souls 2, Dark Souls as a nihilistic manifesto.

Well. These are writers who clearly take their jobs seriously, who know what they’re talking about. Just that in itself can be quite daunting—you need a certain level of emotional investment to live up to the standards they’re setting for you as a reader. Maybe you don’t need to know any Camus or Kierkegaard before going in, they’ll explain everything as you’ll need it, but you still have to retain everything they’re throwing at you if you want to satisfy your end of the bargain. And it’s heavy stuff, trying to collapse decades-worth of a fellow’s life work down to a few summary paragraphs, trying to make sense of such a big thing as existentialism at the same time as relating as messy a videogame as Dark Souls.

But sure, it’s not just Dark Souls—every videogame is messy. They’re enormously complicated machines of narrative and function. That they’re often made by so many people, they’re the product of so many different societal factors that smudge and obfuscate and interrelate and form entirely new spheres of interaction. At one of their basest levels they speak languages we’re still puzzling out ways to decode. In a cultural space where half of us are yet figuring our arse from our elbows, officially speaking, as to what, in actuality, a videogame is.

It’s tiring stuff. And true to form, after reading a bunch of these articles, I was wrecked. I felt exhausted even keeping up with the gist of what they were saying. In that, they’re children of the medium, at least. I think there might be a vein in games criticism that values this capacity to affect exhaustion, if only to pay homage to the source. As I typed that out it was a joke, but the longer I stare at it…

You’ve already gathered that I overcame my exhaustion and took to writing my piece. I could say that this was all an allegory for themes of existentialism in Dark Souls, insofar as I stumbled face first into paralysis and dread at the sight of my physical, intellectual and spiritual limitations, but eventually climbed these obstacles and exerted this aspect of myself triumphantly. I could say that, and thematically it would be very nice if it was true. If there are any themes of existentialism in the preceding story, it is only through the accident that I am a person who exists. Which might be enough to prove the point, but since we’re getting into the realm of telling a story about my story, let’s not. Continue reading

This Week I Read: Intent and Interpretation

Last week I mentioned Darius Kazemi’s Fuck Videogames slideshow wherein he declaimed the contrivance of the medium as a form of expression where other forms might better suit. Link hopping, I came across this response by Elizabeth Ryerson elaborating on many of Darius’ points. It resonates with my own fatigue with the indie community (or at least the pittance experience I have with it). I love the idea of games designed for a particular narrative – it’s my primary interest in the medium – but I’ve found many ‘personal’ indie games to be barely more than ludic examples of blogging. “This is my experience; have at it, world.”

Which is fine, really. I’m not saying that people can’t or shouldn’t make games about any particular or general thing. Work away. Continue reading

The secret meaning of Resident Evil

Resident Evil's secret philosophy

The wonderful thing about subjectivity is that you never know what you will get out of anything. The ways we perceive media, for instance, are largely influenced by hidden mechanisms within our cognitive functioning. Different people can spontaneously come out with different understandings of the same subject, offering us fascinating insights into the minds of one another.

The scary thing about subjectivity is that not all interpretations are necessarily valid.

For all the buzz surrounding the Resident Evil series these past sixteen years, few people have yet to grasp the true meaning behind each successive instalment. Many claim them to be simple experiments in videogame horror and action; others instinctively chastise what they see as bad design and misguided focus. While these assessments come close, they fundamentally fail to realise that Resident Evil is actually an allegory for the discussion on human nature in 19th century German philosophy. Continue reading