Like walking through a quiet neighborhood on a weekday afternoon, the world of Dark Souls (2011) feels tranquil, and you feel alone in a way that isn’t bad. You are, however, very much not alone in a way that is very bad. Around most corners lies some foul creature, even the least of which can cause you a great deal of trouble if you’re not ready. It could be an Ent, a Hollow Warrior, a Basilisk, any number of things.
On walks with Teddy, it is almost always a Dog.
Often, by the time you see it, it’s too late.
Teddy will bark, howl, scream, whine, and lunge, and the other dog owner will shoot you a dirty look. These encounters are about as much fun as when your character dies due to one of the aforementioned.
Over time, though, you learn where the trouble lies and how to navigate smarter. Make sure to take out the Balder Knight to your right at the bottom of the stairs before you continue left. The woman on Union usually has her yappy little mops on the porch on weekday afternoons. There’s a dead bird on James that Teddy will try to eat.
I thought that’s where the analogy ended, but my life has recently become even more like Dark Souls in a way that isn’t bad.
In September, I started working for Rowster Coffee. I was originally brought on to develop a food program for the company, but, in short, that didn’t work out and I’ve mostly been working as a barista at Rower’s Club on Fulton. I felt a great relief when I was freed from my responsibility of basically being an executive chef without having any real experience. But part of my relief was that, instead of constantly having to plan the next thing, I could just take it a day at a time. Make coffee, be in the moment, go home, walk the dog.
Often working weekends and having odd days off during the week, I’ve begun to lose track of time. Not just track of what day it is, but what season, what era, which of my friends are still in college, and so forth. Maybe this is part of being an adult, but this is not a bad thing. Not for me. Not yet.
Dark Souls’s plot is not heavy-handed; it follows no three-act structure; it’s actually easy to miss entirely if you don’t read the few things to be read and listen to the few living characters to be listened to. The short version is that we live in the Age of Fire, where all people eventually turn Hollow, perpetually rising again when killed—that includes you. There are things that should probably get done, but not in that specific of an order or even that urgently—would the Age of Dark really be better? Is it even worth ushering in? You really do have all the time in the world. And, though the Souls series has fostered a robust speedrunning community, the games do reward your patience. If you take your time and pay attention, you’ll die less, find more cool weapons and peculiar trinkets, and learn more about the world and why it is the way it is.
I do think there’s a lot to be said for slowing down and taking your time in our world too, though I’m not suggesting that nothing is urgent and it doesn’t matter what order we do things in. I do think we tend to assign more significance to time than is intrinsic to it. January 1 is an arbitrary time to mark the passing of a year, and the year itself is an arbitrary measurement. That’s why I don’t feel that now is too late to say that, after an exhausting 2018, 2019 will probably not be any easier, any better, or any more your year. Has it been so far?
That’s also why I feel that the seven-year, four-month, and two-day anniversary of the release of Dark Souls is as good of a time as any to write about it.
At the top of a wobbly ladder that leads to the Rower’s Club attic where we keep backup supplies, there’s a piece of cardboard with a map of the space and a tiny note that says, “Congrats! You made it.” I realized very recently what it reminded me of: In Dark Souls, players will leave each other notes written on the ground in orange soapstone, often warning them of dangers ahead or items they don’t want to miss. A common one you’ll see after particularly difficult gauntlets—sometimes at the top of a ladder—reads, “I did it!”
This year, and any time you play Dark Souls, you will rush into something, and you will fail. You will take your time at something, and you will fail—even at something you’ve done easily a hundred times before. Sometimes, it’s worth celebrating making it to the top of a ladder.
Any hardcore gamers in my audience might come out of the woodwork now to fact-check or harrass me. To clear the air, no, I have not yet beaten the first Dark Souls. I’ve gotten decent at it, but sometimes I just need a break. Sometimes, when you’ve just gotten through The Depths, you go way out of your way to return to the relative comfort of the Firelink Shrine because you’re just too tired to go through Blighttown right now.
In one month and one day, I’ll take Teddy to his first class for reactive dogs, and that’s just about the only thing hanging on the visible horizon. Maybe I’ll start playing Dark Souls again in February—I have time. Honestly, Blighttown really isn’t that hard if you just do it; the anticipation is often worse. That being said, sometimes you just don’t feel like moving on to the next thing. You may be afraid, or you may not have the energy, or you may just be okay where you are for a little while.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.