Note: How the fuck did I have sixty views yesterday? Isn’t that a new daily record? I haven’t been doing a damn thing lately on this blog. Eh, I’ll take it!
“I totally used the pendant! How the fuck I die?!” I shouted drunkenly at the TV. My death was total bullshit this time. Manus had about ⅛ of his life left and I fought him nearly perfectly only to die to some bullshit glitch or oversight in the game mechanics. He shot his black jizz-orbs and I used the magic pendant to block them but somehow a few made it through the supposedly impenetrable magic barrier to one-shot me.
So I sat the controller down and took a drink of my second or third gin and tonic, but counting was becoming difficult at the time. I was about ⅓ the way through the bottle of gin and feeling pretty damn good about life and determined. I was hell bent on beating Manus and while sore about dying for the 20th or so time didn’t let it truly get to me.
I respawned and did the minute long run back to Manus and died for the 21st or so time. And then I did it again; the long trek back to the bastard. Then I died to the shitty sorcerer guy on the way to the boss. 22. And then I ran back again and died by some stupid fucking mistake I made: I dodged his attack a fraction of a second to early and had the shit beaten out of me by his six or seven-hit combo. 23. 24. And so on to about 35. Not that I was counting anymore.
I talked about video games and fun before, kinda hinting at the idea that we’ve lost the idea that video games are fundamentally supposed to be enjoyable to play. So during all the bullshit dying and running back to the boss I asked myself if I was having fun. No, no I was not. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable at all. Realizing this I asked myself why I was even playing it in the first place. Wasn’t the point of relaxing after work and drinking to have fun and/or relax? Why would I deliberately force myself into having a shitty time?
The only thing keeping me going was knowledge of the fact that I’d totally stomp his ass eventually. I had beaten him two or three times years earlier and it was only a matter of time before I’d beat him again. This is what kept me tossing myself at him over and over despite little to no actual progress at GITting GUD fighting him.
And if that isn’t interesting to ponder, that despite not having fun and having a really terrible time something kept me going back. Some blind determination of a goal that I’d see through to the end no matter what. The first few times I played Dark Souls I would get really depressed — thinking ‘is this the boss that I’ll forever be stuck on?’ — would I have to quit the game and give up forever being a Dark Souls failure? I kept playing and eventually cracked the Dark Souls formula: hard work, persistence, determination, a total unwillingness to accept failure, and being emotionally detached from your failures. Dark Souls taught me to not be too hard on myself. To keep moving forward. A bland pursuit towards some shitty goal that you weren’t sure you’d even succeed at but you’d keep working at the goal anyways. Dark Souls taught me to just do whatever you want to do, suffer through the shit, and you’ll eventually get that tiny and addictive taste of victory.
The first Dark Souls boss you beat makes you realize why the hell people play the game so obsessively; it gives you an immense sense of satisfaction when you finally win that I haven’t gotten from any other game. You used to suck, you used to get stomped by the boss instantly and you bested him through dedication and persistence. And that instance of victory when you toss the controller on the couch with shaking and sweaty hands and start jumping around the room cussing at the TV is a feeling you’ll never forget. It’s a pure adrenaline rush during the fight that fuels the glory of the eventual victory. It’s the taste of accomplishing a goal through weathering massive hardship.
But then you inevitably feel good, cocky, like you’ve finally ‘gotten it’ and won’t have any other problems for the rest of the game. Wrong. Soon you’ll run into another wall and your past victory seems like a joke. An accident. A fluke. Luck. That one was easy but now it’s not easy anymore. You try to tell yourself to remain positive and be persistent and learn (just like before, desperately trying to keep your positive mindset) but eventually that starts to wear thin. The next challenge is harder than the last and your mood deteriorates and you crave, no need, the next victory to keep you going. And if you keep at it you’ll eventually get there, but hell if it isn’t difficult to continually fail over and over again with little to no progress to show for it.
I was walking to Manus and got hit by the shitty sorcerer guy again and had to heal. Instead of 20 estus flasks (the healing item in the game) I only had 19, a seemingly minor issue that could end the successful run; you never know how the boss fight will go down and single estus might mean the difference between dying and surviving. But my drunken mind knew that even if I did fail and it wasn’t the successful run that I might learn something during the fight anyways. I might finally learn to dodge to the left instead of the right. Or I’d finally learn the perfect distance to keep him from spamming dangerous mid-ranged attacks. Even if the run was a likely going to end in failure, maybe I’d learn something along the way. Gain the tiny puzzle piece that would eventually lead to completing the puzzle that is beating Manus, Father of the Abyss.
And fuck learning is hard. True learning is hard. We’re all wired to do things a certain way and in Dark Souls it’s difficult to stop yourself from reflexively blocking certain bosses when you need to dodge. The more ingrained your habits are the harder they are to break, the more lessons you need beaten into you to fundamentally change yourself. Change and progress is slow but if you keep tossing yourself at the boss, even ten, twenty, or 100 times you’ll eventually beat it. You fail over and over, tweaking your technique slightly each time until you stumble blindly on the magical formula that somehow works. And sometimes it’s counterintuitive to what you initially though would work. Take Great Grey Wolf Sif for example: at first you want to stay as far away from him as possible — he’s a giant fucking wolf so it makes sense — but you eventually discover this technique is suicide. Sif is ultra aggressive at mid- to long-range and will beat you to a pulp. Counterintuitively, Sif is almost harmless if you stand right underneath him. You never would’ve realized this without failing countless times and trying new techniques. Eventually you realize you were doing it all wrong, but without doing it wrong you never would’ve discovered what to do right.
So lying in bed drunk trying to think of a thought provoking blog post I found myself thinking about Dark Souls and one of the final bosses I hadn’t beaten yet, Manus, Father of the Abyss. What a dickhead. What a goddamn roadblock. I was almost done with the game but he was in my way. I couldn’t end the game without beating him because that would be giving up and bitching out. Manus was my way forward and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I quit that night in failure. I was a loser. I didn’t have enough points in GIT and GUD. So now what? Nothing. I’d fight him later. I’d let my brain make a few connections and keep tossing myself at him in a few days. Manus was as good as dead, but dead in the future where the time to conquer him simply hadn’t come yet. I still had to learn. I still had to grow. I still had to deal with my personal flaws in the game. But progress is progress and I tried to not think about, to let thoughts not useless thoughts and self-hatred wither away. Then in a drunken haze it clicked why Dark Souls is such a good fucking game. It’s a perfect analogy of chasing your goals, growing as a person, and conquering the real enemy during your quest of life: yourself.
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