#67 – You Died, MacDonald & Killingsworth BOOK REVIEW

August 23, 2018
krauserpua

You Died

You lot haven’t heard me bang on about Dark Souls in quite some time have you? For those unfamiliar, it’s a series of five video games from Japanese developer FROM Software, a tiny outfit previously known for their mecha Armoured Core games. It’s quite an enchanting underdog-done-good story in a video game industry generally throttled by the grip of twice-voted Worst Company In The USA Electronic Arts and the OCD-collectathon every-game-is-the-same Ubisoft [1]

Video games are very expensive to make and, like movies, most are not commercially successful. Back in the 1980s budgets were so small that I could go into WHSmith’s magazine shop and they’d have their own line of ZX81 games on cassette tape. I remember buying one called Catacombs, a fantasy dungeon crawler in which a lone swordsman wanders dark labyrinths while terrifying monsters stalk him.

Catacombs

The original Souls

Kinda like Dark Souls.

Many great games were designed and programmed by a single man, such as the golden age of the Commodore 64 home computer with men like Andrew Braybrook creating Gribbly’s Day Out, Paradroid, and Uridium. Now a major release will employ a team of hundreds and cost an average of $50m and need to sell 2.5 million copies just to recoup development cost (not to mention marketing and then profit).

Unsurprisingly, with a studio’s entire future dependent on the success of a single game, they tend to be risk averse. Thus games follow trends. In 2009, the trend was to make games that handhold the player through a linear story with almost no risk of failure. It was the era of Call Of Duty.

The competing platforms at the time were the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony Playstation 3. Pretty much nobody in Japan buys Microsoft consoles so when Sony Japan were signing deals for the next round of platform-exclusive titles one such project was to get FROM Software doing a mid-budget Japan-only title based on Tolkien style fantasy. Knights, castles, dragons, that sort of thing.

Project lead Hidetaka Miyazaki had plans. To cut a long story short, he colluded with his manager in Sony Japan to hide to staggeringly original (and staggeringly difficult) nature of the Demons’ Souls project from management until it was quietly released onto Japanese store shelves, lest it get cancelled or dumbed down. It barely sold and was considered a flop. It needed to sell 75,000 but only managed about 10,000 on initial release.

Somehow, it was released in China and Korea with an optional English translation and suddenly the game-importer crowd in the USA and Europe started hunting it down [2]. Word of mouth spread about a fantastic, compelling, original fantasy game. That secured it a Worldwide release and Demons’ Souls went on to be a cult hit, and Gamespot famously gave it a solid 9/10 rating.

Three sequels followed, Dark Souls 1, 2 & 3 and the spiritual sequel Bloodborne. Of these, it is the original Dark Souls that has drawn most praise. I’ve completed all five. I tell you all this because Dark Souls has a fanatical fanbase. One expression of this is today’s book You Died. Penned by two Japanophile journalists who were on the Demons’ Souls bandwagon before the worldwide release, it is part creator interview, part exegesis, and part oral history of the game’s creation and suffusion into the wider global consciousness.

As an obsessive fan myself, I rather enjoyed it. If you haven’t played the games, you won’t like this book at all. It pretty much requires you’ve finished at least the first Dark Souls in order to make any kind of connection to the book’s content.

I often compare Dark Souls to daygame so I’ll do a bit of that now, highlighting themes from the book. For example, in the chapter Why We Play Keza MacDonald outlines the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, “which is essentially a Myers-Briggs test for gamers.” Through a series of questions it assess your motivations for playing games.

“Do you like competition? Achievement? Finding things out? Making friends? Every person has a different combination of four characteristics: Explorer, Achiever, Killer and Socialiser.”

That intrigued me because you can likely submit a daygamer to the same test. Why do you chase skirt? I’ve noticed that different wings I’ve had seem to have different motivations. Dark Souls is unusual in that it has ways of satisfying every kind of player, as does daygame.

DS3

“Is there no-one else?”

Explorers take pleasure in seeking out hidden spots in their towns or boarding flights to second-tier European cities to scope the place out. They’ll wander, often alone, seeking to discern footfall patterns or find a good cafe, or find that city’s linguistic university. They can get impatient with the same old streets. For them, the adventure is at least as big a part of it as the girls.

Achievers want something to brag about online or in WhatsApp groups. They want to tick checklists like a catwalk model, or an 18 yr old, or a threesome [3]. They want to score themselves against the wider community and argue about it. Each likely has his own personal ranking for every daygamer he knows. You can bet he can tell you his exact notch count, flags, and average age of girl he’s banged this year. When he talks about girls, he’s proud of the achievement and the best date in the world is a bit shit if it ended as a near miss.

Killers need to compete, and taking down the girls is the core of it. They like the scent of the trail, the thrill of the chase, and the win of the notch. They see the women as prey and killers have long involved lay reports describing in detail every element of the hunt. In contrast, the socialisers want to be out with a group of mates having a good time so the winging, the coffee breaks, and the after-daygame drinking is at least as important. They enjoy the connection with girls even in social-not-sexual chats that ultimately go nowhere [4].

Another chapter, Tough Love, considers the notorious difficulty of Dark Souls and the apparent paradox that players find that rewarding rather than frustrating.

“If a game is punishingly hard, people tend to just give up on it; we’ve all been there, throwing the controller at the floor after the 12th attempt at some badly-checkpointed level or irritating boss. What is it about Dark Souls that makes us persevere? Is there something essentially masochistic in the makeup of a Souls fanatic?”

You could ask yourself the same about daygame. Let’s try some word substitution on that.

“Most Daygamers can name the moment that they broke through ‘the wall’; you need one big, hard-won victory to cement the cycle of effort, frustration, reward and release that drives people through the streets. That first big victory, where you’ve faced something that seemed impossible at first and conquered it after hours of failure and death and learning, is also necessary before you come to understand the core idea at the heart of daygame: failure as education.”

Yep, sounds about right. Was yours your first number off an eight? Your first idate? Your first SDL? Lets continue the word substitution game in another quote from the chapter:

“Understanding the psychology of daygame and what it does to our brains is the key to understanding why its version of difficulty is so rewarding and absorbing, where difficulty in other activities is just frustrating and off-putting. One of the key psychological models behind human motivation is something called self-determination theory, which posits that for a person to persist and feel motivated by an activity, it has to satisfy three different needs: mastery, autonomy, and relatedness.

Daygame offers mastery in spades [5], in that you always feel like you are getting better. Autonomy is the feeling that you are free to make choices, and that those choices are meaningful, which daygame also accommodates. And finally, there’s relatedness: the feeling of connectedness to people. That’s one of the things that prevents daygame’s difficulty from being too demoralising: it had a sense of community. You know that you’re going through it with thousands of other people, too, and seeing their messages and ghostly presences in your own game helps you feel like you’re not alone.”

Writing that out makes me wonder whether I should play Dark Souls again, or go hit the streets. Hmmmm.

You should probably buy my products. They are great and, best of all, they give me money.

[1] I actually like many of these companies’ games, just a shame about their effect on the industry.
[2] Gammas can occasionally be useful in their attempts to out-do each other
[3] Or pissing on a girl, I guess. Not for me.
[4] Not many of these in the daygame community, mind, seeing as it attracts introverts.
[5] Literally. You can have yours for just £79 in full colour from here.

2 Comments

  1. 40% explorer; 40% killer; 15% achiever; 5% socializer.

  2. What sick fuck pisses on a chick very sad , wonder if da chick pissed on him would he enjoy it

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