In life, like in Dark Souls, you never know what is in store for you next. You could meet a new best bud, learn a new skill, find a discarded piece of money or get splattered across the cobbles on your way home by a diarrhea-breathing dragon. Life is complicated and confusing, and what better to reflect that than a bunch of practical lessons derived from a game that punishes you for not knowing things it doesn’t tell you.
1. What is Dead May Never Die, But Rises Again Harder and Stronger
There was once a Tumbler post where someone commented on the thoughts of a suicidal person with the words: “Congratulations, now you can do anything!” Once you are at a point where your future doesn’t matter, you are free to pursue all goals, unconstrained by fears of the future. You can go shark-diving, or mountain climbing. You can travel all the world and do all the crazy things a regular worry-warts wouldn’t even dare contemplate. Do you go on a quest to slap a bear in the balls? Do you plan the assassination of a third-world dictator to help the people who are under their heel? Doesn’t matter if you die along the way, you still get what you want if all you want is to die. It’s a win-win. So, congratulations. You’re now ready for the best time in your life.
Similarly, when the world and everything in it is fucked and you find yourself as a decomposing undead incapable of finding peace, even in death, you are all ready for an adventure. Doesn’t matter if you die along the way, worst that can happen is you wake up after a nice sleep and are ready to try it all over again. Except this time you are more skilled, determined and know all the big sword-wielding bastards attack-patterns. So go nuts. The lesson is there is always hope, even in hopelessness.
It’s like the Iron Islander’s say…
2. You Can Bash Hard, or You Can Bash Smart
In Far Cry 3 the enigmatic Vaas would ask you: “Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. You can rush into a concrete wall head first or try carrying heavy bricks up ten flights of stairs one by one, but if you don’t seem to get anywhere there is no point mashing away endlessly. The world is not going to give up and fold in front of you out of pity – all you are going to get is sore arms and a lot of cranberry porridge where your forehead used to be.
Dark Souls is not here to impress you – you are here to impress it. When a strike is too heavy to block, it’s time to dodge. When you get pounded into the dust by a smelly ogre, shoot arrows at it’s ugly face from a distance. When force doesn’t work, try a smile. When a smile doesn’t work, try incinerating it with fireballs. Adapt. Every enemy has a weakness, just sitting there waiting for you to find it. The same works for life. And late afternoon office meetings.
3. Appearances Are Deceiving
The world is full of traps for honest men. This is never more apparent, than when you find a chest and open it – like an idiot, thinking you are in luck and about to find a cool new item – only to find that the chest suddenly grows arms and legs and is actually made of teeth and bites your dumb head right off your dumb shoulders. Similarly, the coolest looking armor always seems to have shittier stats than its uglier, more practical counterparts.
When something seems to good to be true, it usually is, which goes for all advertising, politics, sales, sets of rare armor and almost every stinking word that comes from everyone’s lying mouths.
4. What You Don’t Know Will Kill You, So Consult the Wiki You Spud
The world is exactly like Dark Souls in that there is shit you are supposed to know, even if no one has told you what, and gaps in your knowledge are often rewarded with sharp lessons. When you are not sure about something, bloody have to sense to ask someone more knowledgeable, or consult the great Well of Insight that is Google.
You might find out that the boss you’ve been hitting with magic attacks is highly resistant to all your dark arts, but is highly vulnerable to fire attacks and tickling. The wiki might even tell you where to find the Flaming French Duster +1 that is going to sort the problem right out in five hits.
5. Sometimes Someone Changes All the Rules Without Telling You, So Suck It Up
I thought getting into Dark Souls II would be piss-easy after breezing through Dark Souls during my second play-through, and we could get right into the action without even needing any vaseline. Shows what I know. Instead, now all the controls are all different and your character handles like arse, the jumping is all different and parrying apparently is totally different circus, where you have to start the parry a few microseconds before your enemy starts their attack, so now that’s a thing.
Something that made me laugh was that somebody also had the bright idea to change all the illusory walls, so that they aren’t opened by hitting them like in Dark and Demon’s, but now you have to press A. Fucking A? When were you going to tell me that? (The answer is ‘never’, see previous point.) I’d spent hours leaving little sword-shaped dents in all the bloody walls, hacking away like an idiot. And I thought all the floor-based tweets telling the unmoving bolder ahead of you was just a disguised doorway were just taking the piss. Damn.
6. Be Wary of People Who Laugh at Things That Aren’t Funny
Dark Souls and modes of public transport are full of people who aren’t all there. A definite tell for someone who isn’t occupying the same plane of existence as you is laughing at things that aren’t funny, and you should never be surprised when they turn out to be a few crayons short, like they’ve been on a mercury-only-diet. Next thing you know they might laugh at rocks, crows, literacy…or your bleeding wounds.
7. Trust No One
People will tell you all kinds of shit of varying reliability – some well-meaning and well informed, some absolute cretins who just completed their post-graduate studies at the University of What Some Random Twat Said on a Forum One Time. The World of Dark Souls is a semi-misanthropic community where people can leave each other little messages scattered about the world. Some give helpful clues about tactics and enemy weaknesses and offer comfort. However, mostly they are composed of hilarious examples like “Try jumping”, written next to bridge reaching over a gaping abyss of scorpions. And lava. And lava scorpions.
So don’t trust the crap people come up with at face value – think first.
8. What Goes Around Comes Around
Yeah, it might be funny to be an asshole in small, meaningless little ways. It might be tempting to eat somebody else’s lunch from the communal freezer, leave a restaurant without paying, switch babies around in the maternity ward or kill all the merchants for a laugh, but sometimes things come back at you. You can get a reputation for being a douche around your friends, and sometimes vengeful phantoms might come after you to stab you through the heart when you least expect it.
9. If You Need Help, You’ve Got to Ask
If you want to reach out to people, you’ve got to take a chance. Sometimes it means leaving your comfort-zone, and at other times it means throwing a human figure into a campfire and unhollowing yourself.
You can take a chance to find a helping hand to take down difficult bosses and teach the world about the true meaning of friendship, but going out also means making yourself vulnerable. Sometimes you don’t find a single summoning sign, but instead have your game invaded by absolute jerks, who want nothing more than to kill and show you your place in life, usually when you are busy fighting a roomful of other jerks, or about to enter a boss-battle, and really don’t need some random fucking yahoo wasting your precious few humanities. Also works in real life.
Leading up to our last lesson…
10. Sometimes Life Just Shits on You
Life and Dark Souls are equally full of surprises. If you’ve ever had a bad day and thought things couldn’t get any worse, you probably have sometimes turned out to be wrong. There is always something more.
You could literally die tomorrow. You could get run over by a car and become paralyzed, or a harmless little cellular mutation might get overlooked by your body’s immune system, only to turn out to be a really rare form of nipple cancer. Sometimes you’re just minding your own business, walking around a supermarket when suddenly you get instakilled by a fire-breathing dragon. Just when you think you’re cleared every motherfucker in the room, it turns out you were just a little bit careless, and fall down a chasm made of rancid poison.
Of course, after you ragequit and throw your controller through two plasterboard walls, you eventually pick up where you left off and that’s when you refer back to lesson 1. Dark Souls is very good at frustrating players and making you angry, and angry is good at making you grip you knobs tighter and try again. Eventually you can either lie down with your face in muck, or come back with a bigger, sharper halberd. On fire.