It’s not a shock to those that know me that I love video games. I used to work at Gamestop, returned for several holiday temp stints, and consistently (always without thinking) make game / gaming references to people who don’t really play. They just nod and give me that stare like mhm, man-child. Thankfully, my girlfriend is an angel and listens with a smile when I ramble on about them (she’s a solid Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil player just so you know). Anyways, now that it’s entering the winter months and hibernation mode is upon us, on the days we can’t strap our boards to our feet, the videogame infatuation returns tenfold (for those of you who don’t game I promise this post has a point just bear with me).
So there’s this game, it’s part of a series but I want to focus on the first one that came out back in 2011. It's called Dark Souls. Real quick, for those of you who aren’t gamers or who have never played it: Dark Souls is a role play game (RPG) in the same sort of vain as Dungeons and Dragons. It made a huge splash when it came out, and still has a massive following not only due to its well executed gameplay mechanics, stunningly gorgeous environments, and incredibly rich and deep lore, but also because of one, major thing: its sheer brutality. The game’s tagline just happens to be: prepare to die.
Morbid right? Just hang on I’m getting somewhere I swear. The basic concept of Dark Souls is you, the player, wake up as a chosen undead (see above image), brought to the world at the end of the age of fire. By finding your way to Lordran you work to gain your humanity back. But it doesn't last long. If you die (and you die a lot in this game. . . A real lot) you lose your humanity and go hollow. In a video game landscape that boasts indie and triple-a titles that hold your hand with an hour long tutorial level before getting started in the actual game, Dark Souls tells you what button to press to attack and what button to press to dodge, that there are two bells in Lordran that need to be rung, and good luck.
So you beat on, a boat against the current. . . I’m kidding. You wander through this massive world with no idea really where to go except to find these two bells (which for those of you who aren’t gamers and are thinking that doing so wins the game, no. It just opens up the next third of the world). You stumble through, fighting and uncovering locations like The Darkroot Garden, Anor Londo, and the Painted World. You interact with non-playable characters (NPCs) who you get to know through sullen conversations while also learning the tragic fate of the world and what needs to be done to either bring it to the age of light or cast it in darkness. Every corner you turn there is something in hiding, ready to jump out and devour you. Dragons, knights, cursed kings, and so much more. Annoyed and dismayed after dying for the 100th time, your character bloodied and battle worn, there must be some sort of reprieve, right? There is. Scattered throughout the world are extinguished bonfires which, if you light one, it allows you to rest, collect yourself, and prepare for what lies ahead.
Being a kid from New England, the bonfires hit close to home. Summer and fall weekends with friends. Pallets stacked high. Music playing from someone’s car who drove down someone’s parent’s back yard. But it wasn’t until recently, when I picked the game up again as I usually do from time to time, that something else hit me about Dark Souls.
We’re all getting ready for the holidays. The “most wonderful time of the year”. And for me, while they aren’t the most fun thing I’ve ever done (if my family wanted to go on a long weekend trip together or something like that instead, please I'd be all for it) the holidays are never truly bad for me. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone out there.... For a lot of people out there..... Hell, for a giant chunk of the world. In the few years I volleyed on an ambulance I can tell you the staggering increase in the number of overdoses and suicide attempts (both successful and not) that happens around this time each year.
It doesn’t matter who you are: poor, rich, middle-class. White, black, middle eastern. Gay, straight, trans. While some absolutely have it worse than others the truth is that life beats on all of us. At times pretty mercilessly. And there are times, I don’t care if you are the most privileged person in the world, that something has gotten to you at one point or another and made you think about giving up. We all have.
But you can’t. It’s monumentally difficult to see the light when you are surrounded by monsters and demons ready to tear you down. And I am not in anyway trying to say that I understand what anyone is going through because each person has their own battles they have to fight. But what I can say, is that I promise you there is a way to beat it. Maybe it’s by yourself; maybe it’s with the help of others. But it’s there.
So, if you are feeling remotely like this, or even if you are not and you just want a warm place to relax, I urge you to light a fire over the holidays. Whether it’s in a fireplace in a living room, a bonfire pit in someone’s backyard, or in a garbage barrel because that’s all there is where you are. Rest. We’ve all had a rough year in some way or another so talk with those around you. Listen. And no matter what happens, don’t lose your humanity. And don’t you dare go hollow.
"If you require rest, now is the time. That is, after all, what the bonfire is for."
- Lady of the Darkling, Keeper of the Anor Londo Bonfire