My save file read “December 2009, 33 hours played.” Like many, I thought the knight on the cover of the box looked cool. I thought I chose correctly. I’d soon second guess myself. I’d give up. I was upset with my life. How I was playing this incredibly frustrating game reflected so much. Over the span of six years I managed to fall in and out of love a couple times. I put my camera down. I danced. I ran. I didn’t “play.” I survived.
Two broken Playstation 3’s later, I lost most game data from when I actively reviewed games. Except for this, ugh, one. This game that represented so much and yet I had such insignificant progress. I managed to defeat the Phalanx, Tower Knight and the Armored Spider before trying to salvage whatever remained of my romantic life. Even reading that sentence again, it “sounds” like a video game thing that you shan’t equate to real-life debacles. Errors and miscues abound, my life was morphing and moving. Which is odd, because much like this game I’d given up on, I’d always felt like I was wading in mystery. Waiting for something to happen, versus actively pursuing something new.
I’d get lost in relationships that had minimal forward progress, but they felt so … I don’t know. Fleeting? Still special, but I couldn’t hold on to anything. I was too busy trying to make sure it was real.
The search became more about these voids. Demon’s Souls wasn’t very suitable at my current maturity level. The worlds [archstones] made me uncomfortable to inhabit the further I progressed. When I felt like I was moving forward, the sense of satisfaction was -- even more fleeting. There was always something else representing oncoming despair. Enemies that were stronger than when last encountered. I’ve always felt games can do so much, but at this moment this game embodied therapy gone awry. “We need a break.”
Another failed relationship. Another job lay off. Within a year two women walked in and walked out as quick as they came. What wasn’t I learning? What should I have learned before entering this fog gate?
I began running. Running allowed me to focus. The practice allowed me to train my brain to value small steps, but work towards a big picture. I was a year removed from any experiences related to what Demon’s Souls had to offer. I was single, but not lonely. I was dancing and helping others dance. Another portion of my life was opening up, and it was because I sought it out.
The drawbacks of going back to communities and activities you’ve done while in a relationship can be a layered form of death. People get to know you as “relationship you” and when you come back, unattached, something is foreign to you and to that community. The light has change. Something is missing. Faces are the same, but you aren’t.
Soul form is a term I rarely understood when playing Demon’s Souls the first time. I learned [too late] in the game if you die, your life is halved. Die too many times in a specified world and that world’s tendency moves to black, making enemies harder … or you, more fragile. Sure, secret doors open, more unavailable NPCs are spawned as a result -- it means nothing if you have no understanding of how to play this game. This game. This fucking game.
What I didn’t realize until my eventual revisit five years later, while in Soul Form, no one can invade your game. In 2009, Demon’s Souls had this maturing life of its own. The obstacles of learning how an individual wanted to play the game were plentiful. But to add this element of invasion, it felt so exciting -- and violating.
I’ve gone through a great deal of my life figuring out pitfalls based on how death affected my immediate world. Within these past five years I’ve had over a dozen deaths occur in my family and friend circle. All of which left a bit of a warning. “This life is a trap.” I read from a note I still keep in an old folder, next to a photo of, her.
My aunt, who helped raised me when my mom had to work and go to school, she suffered a heart attack earlier this year. We thought we were going to lose her. She’d been doing drugs and drinking for quite sometime. She fought. She survived. She got out of jail a few days prior to me publishing this, I hope for the best.
Two months ago I’d been receiving calls from a correctional facility. I never answered. I know it was from a prison, because in my family, those numbers start looking the same with over time. Apparently there are two other, separate men, in my family with the same name as myself. I had never met them. One was recently sentenced to death via lethal injection -- the other will be doing a life sentence in a different prison.
I mentally moved away from it all. I began writing different. I stopped writing, because it hurt to read the words. It hurt not having others read them. I changed how I was playing games and began thinking about how I absorbed all forms of media. I wanted to reevaluate how I lived. I wanted to assess if I actually was living. Sometimes that can be hard to tell. Treading water.
The kids I teach began calling me “immortal one” in 2010. When you teach and train with kids almost half your age, the “old man” jokes increase exponentially. I’d leave my job and slink my always-aching bones to a dance studio. One thing about having a new life and going back to doing things you use to, you begin feeling like a vampire. Faces change, but something always repeats. The unfortunate event of seeing such vibrant young faces fall in and out of love -- making mistakes we’ve all made. Love always increases the difficulty, and the satisfaction of a life accomplishment with love involved seems to reap varying rewards.
After reading this all over, I’m still questioning my emotional stability. Why would I go back to Demon’s Souls after all that has happened. The games industry is moving away from written reviews. The games culture is moving away from multi-million dollar investments where you play as a white guy who kills everything. This game had became some heavily weighted “loose end” that I had to tie, while still alive to do it. I’d recommended Demon’s Souls to people whom asked my thoughts, but felt disingenuous as the years passed. The save was on a hard drive, unfinished.
My save file read on March 9th, 2014: “December 2009, 33 hours played.” And there I was, staring all of my flaws down. Every mistake, every accomplishment for the past five years lead me back to this game. I couldn’t wait.
I used every resource available. If there was a video on youtube about lore and strategy, I watched it. To take this, already overwrought, analogy further. The structure of Demon’s Souls exists in a way where you can find helpful hints and guides, but until the player applies their specific approach -- the guides mean nothing. A fight with a major demon could be a cakewalk, or a waking nightmare, depending on how you have structured your personal playstyle.
The easiest fights for me were essentially the saddest. The Dragon God was Demon’s Souls way of showing the player that some of these demons didn’t choose their environment. Some of them are trapped here until someone frees them from their torment. A similar experience was had going against the Old Hero. One of the first battles where as soon as I saw confrontation, I stood still. I saw a blind, trapped warrior, demonically morphed into a giant. He swung wildly, hitting walls and pillars. I felt guilt.
I found myself challenged most when looking at my black male knight. I used the game’s hormone slider to give my character softer features and a doughy muscular frame. I thought that was a better representation of me, and not some hyper-realized version of what I’d like to look in a video game. A video game culture bent on showing me what a testosterone infused male ideal we should all aspire to being. This character, a knight, hacked and slashed for 33 hours in 2009, to ultimately become a magic-using archer in 2014. What a difference a difference can make.
Suffering deaths from being nudged off platforms by the Maneaters, the invasive Black Phantoms whom I grew to love, and my biggest killer -- The King Allant. I’d often come back to the Nexus, in Soul Form … feeling alone. I talked to NPCs until speeches and dialogues repeated. “No maiden, I don’t seek’th soul power, I just wanna hear your story.” Hearing someone else’s story helps flesh out what is special about your own. It also doesn’t hurt the ears when the voices are THIS perfect.
Everything hit home in the Valley of Defilement. I saved this place for last. It was the last area I entered in 2009 before breaking down and shelving Demon’s Souls for five years. Here we are again, several deaths, job applications and broken hearts later. I wore my running shoes. It was three in the morning. I wanted to feel comfortable.
This notorious area of Demon’s Souls, hell reimagined, to the point where there are enemies that exist only to poison you. They are called “plague babies” and they wait at the very end of my knight’s journey. I died seven times. I wouldn’t be broken. I’d been ambushed, poisoned and my major weapons and armor broken. My outer shell looked very well put together, but my stats told a different story. I was bleeding, plagued, dying and the longer I stayed in the valley the more the old pangs of depression set in. “F**k it. I’ll be late to work. I have to do this.”
Once the Leechmonger and Dirty Colossus fell, on the first try no less, I was surrounded by darkness. A lady’s voice called out, asking me to leave. Enemies refused to attack me. They decided to pray. In the middle of a lake of poison, there was a knight [Garl Vinland] and a maiden [Astrea] who wanted to escape the wars of the world and build something for themselves. They wanted to heal the sick and bring light to an area only familiar to darkness. The knight fell protecting the one woman he loved. That one woman, prayed asking that, out of all times for her life to hang on a thread … for me to take it. We can only run for so long.
Five years well worth it being lived. Five years I wouldn’t wish on another soul. I’m glad Demon’s Souls helped me through this tough time. A therapy I’d only assume is meant for a select few.
If you’re interested below are more cellphone snapshots. All images taken were either during or after a demon was killed:
If you find yourself in need, here are the resources that helped me along my journey.