Dark Souls taught me to celebrate small victories

Knowing to parry in Dark Souls needs an intimate understanding of your challenger.

To find out when you require to push the parry button for each unique opponent type, you will undoubtedly pass away, over and over once again, since you strike that button either prematurely or far too late. Therefore, discovering to parry in Dark Souls is making a contract with yourself that you are going to experience a series of particular failures, in the hopes that, ultimately, you will have discovered something.

The totality of Dark Souls works by doing this, which you most likely understood even if you never ever played it, since it’s almost a years old and has actually been evaluated by lots of critics given that. I played a few of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 a number of years earlier — sufficient to comprehend that its grim world of armored skeletons was repetitive and intense. I likewise might inform that if I had actually stuck with it, I would have discovered it gratifying, however that it would take a level of perseverance I did not think I had.

Simply put, I didn’t believe I was the sort of individual who might play a video game like Dark Souls. It ends up that I am, however I didn’t find that up until this year, when I attempted Dark Souls once again in the middle of the pandemic and a deep anxiety.

I haven’t beaten Dark Souls yet, however I’m even more than I’ve ever gotten formerly (I simply reached the Open Dragon), and thus lots of people prior to me who have anxiety and have actually gotten method into Dark Souls, all I can think of now is what Dark Souls has actually taught me about failure and durability. Which brings me back to parrying.

My Dark Souls character, her trusty weapon, and her big crow friend

Image: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai Games by means of Polygon

For the majority of my journey in Dark Souls, I did not trouble to find out to parry. I’m playing as a knight and I’ve utilized an axe two-handed for much of the video game; parrying can’t be done with a two-handed playstyle. Ultimately, however, I reached a unique opponent called Havel the Rock. You don’t need to beat Havel in order to advance in the video game, however I discovered him to be so annoying that I chose, one night, that I would beat him instead of running previous him. I likewise chose that I was going to do it by parrying.

It took me 3 hours to find out how to effectively parry Havel’s attacks. For most of those 3 hours, I did not strike the button at the correct time, and Havel might remove practically my whole health bar in one hit. After getting hit, I’d roll desperately and battle to take a swig of an Estus flask prior to Havel handled to strike me once again — which, inevitably, he would, and after that I would pass away. I would awaken at my campfire in Darkroot Basin, dust myself off, and run back to Havel, where I’d square up, get struck, scramble, get struck once again, and after that pass away … once again.

In these minutes, I’d typically believe to myself, “I’m never going to learn this,” and “Why am I doing this?” I’d get up at the fireside and, in some cases, I’d simply let my avatar sit there. On the other side of the screen, I’d sit there too. The 2 people would consider what we had actually picked to sustain. Was it really worth attempting to find out how to do this? Was it even possible? Was I capable of discovering to parry? Should I utilize some other technique for beating Havel, given that there are lots of? Should I stop attempting to beat him at all?

Dark Souls

From Software/Bandai Namco

Ultimately, I would discover it within myself to attempt once again.

Every once in a while, throughout those 3 hours, I would handle to carry out an effective parry versus Havel. However these minutes felt short lived, inaccurate, unknowable. What had I done differently? I was dead before I had the time to contemplate.

Finally, after more attempts than I bothered to count, I began to notice that in order to effectively parry Havel, I actually had to stand quite close to him. I had to position myself directly in front of his swing, in full view of his wind-up, my shoulders lined up across from his own. Only then could I manage to time the parry correctly, in full observation of the oncoming blow. I had to stand in this dangerous spot, forcing myself to be calm, ready for a hit I knew would come — a hit that I would convince myself I had the ability to stop. And in those minutes when I did effectively parry and hit him back, bringing Havel to his knees and shaving off a chunk of his life bar, I then had to do something even more difficult: square my shoulders and prepare to parry him all over again.

In the end, I defeated Havel using entirely parries and counter-attacks. It took seven perfect parries in total to take him down, each one followed by an attack on my part. In my winning fight, Havel did not manage to hit me a single time. My main memory of that battle, though, is not my parries or my attacks, or even the moment when Havel finally crumbled into dust. My strongest memory is when I had to walk back over to Havel in between each successful parry, squaring my shoulders once again, hoping I would manage to successfully parry him on his next wind-up.

I had done it before. But could I do it again? Okay, I had done it four times. Could I do it a fifth? And so on. These moments were the most terrifying and yet also the most gratifying. I knew that an unsuccessful parry on my part would knock me off my entire game. So I had to stay calm, even as I stood nose-to-nose with death.

The Dark Souls player character explores the Undead Burg with a sword and shield

Image: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai Games via Polygon

If you fail in Dark Souls, there is nothing to do except try again. Or you can give up and succumb to the meaninglessness of it all. That existential dread is part of the scaffolding of Dark Souls’ world. Its characters live in fear of “going Hollow” — deteriorating into one of the hordes of shambling skeletons. Your character is already on a dark descent into this state at the game’s outset. Based on the way other characters describe it, the experience of going Hollow coincides with giving up, lacking motivation, and losing one’s humanity in both a metaphorical and a literal sense.

The form of depression that I have in real life is similar. I describe it to most people as “sometimes I’m sad for no reason,” but there is actually a reason, which is the larger existential meaningless of absolutely everything that I do and that everyone does. At times, the sheer size of the universe and the pointlessness of any individual action leaves me in a state of emotional paralysis that is so extreme as to prevent me from accomplishing anything. Many years of therapy, meditation classes, prescription drugs, exercise, and any number of other tools in my arsenal prevent me from “going Hollow” in my day-to-day life, although the threat always looms.

Sometimes, it’s worse than usual. During a catastrophic event, such as a worldwide pandemic, my individual actions feel increasingly meaningless in the face of oppressive negligence on the part of systems much larger than myself. I nonetheless assure myself that my own actions have some value as I donate to food banks, participate in community aid efforts, and pick out increasingly optimized face masks for myself and my friends. I take care of myself so that I can take care of other people. I engage with art that matters to me, and I write and edit stories about that art, and I try to tell myself that these actions matter.

I will admit that I have experienced many days this year in which those actions felt pointless. And yet, I got up and I did it all, again and again. Sometimes, I could perceive some short lived victory, some sense of connection — the one successful parry prior to I went down and woke up once again in the firelight of a new attempt.

Dark Souls

Image: FromSoftware/Namco Bandai Games

I can perceive no larger meaning in the actions that I perform in Dark Souls. Sure, I’m trying to ring some bells, beat some bosses, and learn more about the strange world my character lives in. But the larger picture of what I do in the game remains unknowable to me and ultimately unimportant. The point is not the seven perfect parries in a row, or even the defeated mini-boss at my feet. The point is that I kept on walking toward Havel in between each one.

When I remember that these victories are so hard-fought, and so small, it feels bad. The real-life version is remembering to eat lunch, or to go for a walk, and then remembering to do it again the following day, and trying not to think too hard about how you have to keep on doing that, again and again, as many days in a row as you can, in order to feel OK. Not even great — just OK.

The big picture sucks. I’d rather not look at it. Dark Souls doesn’t let me do it, and that’s why it’s become my greatest comfort — an exercise in forcing myself to only evaluate a problem that’s right in front of me. Every single enemy must be approached with the same sense of care and patience. A long string of failures is also a long string of efforts, the evidence that I stubbornly chose to continue caring, in spite of no grand factor for doing so. I select not to go Hollow.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.