By Geoffrey Bunting
You would be forgiven for thinking, should you have ventured into discussions online, that the Dark Souls community is mostly populated with unchecked egos – the kind that wander these forums doling out unhelpful advice and the overused epithet “get good”. This isn’t unusual in gaming. In fact, I doubt there is a game out there that doesn’t have a topic or thread on the IGN message boards. On each one of these, there is always someone who, rather than being constructive and helpful, feels the need to be denigrating. It’s a particularly ugly kind of arrogance that leads people to leave comments that only insult other players or criticise them for having difficulty and asking for help. However, Dark Souls, with its constant difficulty and often cheap mechanics, seems to encourage this attitude more than any other series. In a game designed to be so hard and with little or no direction, there is no doubt that the creation of an online community was a consideration of the developers. And yet it also seems that these factors serve to encourage those that have become skilled at the game to act out.
Mastery of its mechanisms and its many flaws appears to be a kind of badge of honour. Less adept players tend to look up to those who can run through the game in an hour while we flounder for close to seventy. But a large proportion of these adepts decide to forget their own initial struggles in order to cultivate a fairly obvious myth that they always found it so easy. Even though anyone who has actually played the game knows that this isn’t true.
In truth, with so little of the direction and hand-holding of modern games, Dark Souls is one of those games that requires you to ask for help, whether it be summoning a phantom or another player to help you through a tough area, consulting a Wikia, or taking to message boards to look for guidance. Bluntly, Dark Souls is rough.
So the last thing you need when you’re struggling is someone telling you that what you’re struggling with is easy to overcome, without deigning to inform you of how it is easy. Which is really the identifier of this particular kind of troll – they claim they find it easy, but they’re not able to prove it.
It’s sad, really. Games, as a medium, can be so inclusive. Yet, so many people seem to rail against this inclusive process, whether it is due to prejudices against race or gender, or simply against “noobs”. With a game like Dark Souls, which has more of a cult following than a mainstream one, existing players should really be welcoming the fact that more people are trying it, not driving them away with flagrant and unwarranted arrogance and criticism.
I don’t mean to sound so cynical, but I am so that’s how it tends to come out. And yet, even I can see it’s not all doom and gloom. Obviously, amid these critics are genuinely helpful players who do want to welcome new players into their game. Forums aren’t just full of bitter, useless comments. Queries get answers and discussions begun in spite of the trolls. But more than that, Dark Souls appears a game built upon community from the off. With various elements present simply for entering other players’ games – whether for good or ill – and for leaving messages, etc., the game caters to this community quite well, in fact at times it seems built around it. The point being, if the community appears rotten at times, it’s certainly not the game’s fault.
Summoning obviously has its mind set firmly on bringing helpful players into your game, for whatever reason – generally to defeat Orenstein and Smough, let’s be honest. But while invading is seen as just that, there is space for kindness even within these parameters. To illustrate, I want to share my own experience.
After Orenstein and Smough, I headed to the Painted World of Ariamis without realising I was still human and thus still open to invasion. Though it has become a huge part of the Dark Souls community, I actually find invasions more irritating than anything else. I don’t indulge in them myself and I get pretty vexed when I’m just trying to get through something and some red chap turns up to cut me to pieces (because I’m not very good at Dark Souls). So, naturally, when I got an invader I wasn’t thrilled.
As the phantom turned up I kept my distance, seeing what he would do. But nothing happened. He looked at me, bowed – these games have developed an interesting system of etiquette – and then disappeared. Within a few moments, the gate to the boss opened and he was gone. But that wasn’t all. After I had returned to a bonfire to level up, he appeared again and watched me kill some enemies. After I was done he bowed once again and began dropping items for me. These amounted to handfuls of titanite – which I was actually looking for – probably four loads. Naturally, I was suspicious of a trick at first. But it turned out he just wanted to help, or more likely: he had taken pity on me.
Looking online, I found that many people had had the same experience. Players had appeared in the world, through a means that is usually associated with duelling, and instead helped the hosts with their progress. Having only really come into contact with the negative side of the community, it was refreshing to see.
Dark Souls is a game that utilises its playing community in a number of ways. But most enjoyable for me is the way it allows its players to help one another, especially in a game so hard. When so many games’ multiplayer revolves around getting together and killing one another, moments like that which I have described could people be lessons to us all in unexpected kindness. Saying that, I tried to do the same thing for a lower level character I came across and was duly dispatched while dropping something – so it might take a little time for that lesson to sink in for everyone.