I’m going to ask you to do something.
I want you to take a couple of deep breaths, close your eyes, and imagine what comes to mind when you think of the word, suffering. Don’t listen to it like a whisper. It should be clearly visible in front of your eyes. In big red bold and capital letters, SUFFERING.
Note: I’m not an expert on Dark Souls. This is just my interpretation of the game. For a deep analysis of Dark Souls lore, you can view VaatiVidya‘s YouTube channel.
In Dark Souls, suffering is an allegory. It stands for everything that happens in the game, everything that you do in the game; it is the core of the Souls experience. But suffering here doesn’t only mean the constant deaths, it is certainly a part of it, but something bigger than yourself, rising above your fears, conquering them and saying, “I’m the GiantDad, bitch.” The struggle is not virtual; it’s real. It follows a similar pattern of trying, failing and succeeding in the end, making the journey worthwhile. Success becomes knowledge.
Understanding Dark Souls
We can begin to understand Dark Souls by understanding the meaning of going Hollow. Going Hollow isn’t related to death. Your player is the chosen one, the undead. He wouldn’t go Hollow at once when he dies- he’ll be in a semi-hollow state- but eventually; unless you find sufficient Humanity to prevent yourself from becoming a zombie and going insane. Humanity is the only thing that keeps you sane and prevents you from going Hollow.
Humanity in Dark Souls is a symbol of sanity. It increases your health, yes, but its purpose is far greater. The game’s mechanics makes it very clear by limiting certain actions to only a person with Humanity. You cannot kindle Bonfires if you’re Hollow and Bonfires are the checkpoints, the lifeline, a place to breathe in a world gone mad. You need Bonfires to restore your Estus Flask and upgrade your character, thus making him stronger and wiser, better equipped, ready to take on another boss. Also, you cannot summon NPC to help you in boss battles; you need Humanity to do so.
Failure goes along with suffering. They are like tavern buddies, drinking, and singing. Only if the drinks were blood and the song was of your death. You fail, you revive at the last rested Bonfire (going Semi-Hollow) and try again, and again, and again, and again. With each attempt, you get closer to defeating the boss (completing our own challenges), closer to finishing the game (achieving our ultimate goals), and closer to Kindling the flame and delaying the inevitable destruction (death).
As you fight bosses, you notice a pattern, something that happens repeatedly, and you can attribute your failure towards that one mistake, one missed opportunity that you didn’t take advantage of. It is always a gamble to go in for the kill when both, you and the boss, are limping, trying to get in just one more hit to finish it. When you thrust your sword forward, you laugh maniacally, hoping against hope that the boss wouldn’t dare to dodge or block your attack, and when you finally kill the boss, sorrow turns into joy, and all the efforts seem to have been worth fighting for because it is a feeling like no other. Get where I am going with this?
Just to Suffer
Simply put: the concept of suffering and failure in Dark Souls is reminiscent of our lives. Life is harder, and we don’t resurrect once dead, but on some minuscule level, it follows the same pattern. We fail consistently. Every night we rest at our own Bonfires, gaining energy, growing wiser, and waiting for the morning when we will go back and fight until we succeed. Defeating a boss we’ve been having a lot of trouble with (I’m talking to you, Knight of Artorias). Only those of us succeed who has the courage to learn from his mistakes, accept his mistakes, and improve them. Only then we will be wise enough to take on a boss and make him eat dirt.
Wisdom is a virtue. You don’t come by it without suffering. You fight, you die, you fight, you die. That’s an average day in Dark Souls, but being the chosen undead, you achieve victory. In a sense, all of us are the chosen undead. We are here to rekindle the flame and delay our suffering, or at least learn from it and be a better person tomorrow. That’s how we survive, that’s what suffering means. It is not something you read in a fairy tail or a kid’s story, but something that you experience with your soul.
Dark Souls immerses you unlike any other game because your involvement is personal. You cannot finish it unless you learn and adapt. You have to focus, and that’s how you win. If you do not have persistence, then you wouldn’t survive a day. Much like our real life, you can’t mindlessly wander here and expect to be successful. That’s not how it works, and that’s not how it will work. Being alive is more than a saying. It is a way of life that you live by. Rekindling the flame might be one of the best things you can do with your life. After all, all of us are the chosen undead.