It was the beginning of summer, right before quarantine became what some are calling “quaranlife”. My friends and I were abiding by the new guidelines by keeping our distance, and frequently played video games together to help pass the time. Enter the 40 dollar virtual storm of pure and endless rage known as Dark Souls: Remastered, a 2016 tune up of a game that largely redefined the difficulty of RPGs (role playing games).
Although the virtual voyage would be long, and filled with a great deal of dissatisfaction, I went on to discover that there’s a lot to learn from this world of vicious cruelty and bountiful failure.
My nightmare is set in motion. I make my character, Sir Gunther II, and equip him with a shiny set of knight’s armor. I waltzed through the tutorial, which was, per its design, not too difficult. I foolishly start to think I can get the hang of it. I defeat the first boss with ease. A giant crow takes me away to a far off land unfamiliar to me, and the real game begins.
The crow delivers me to the coveted Firelink Shrine, a safe haven of friendly non player characters (NPCs) and a place to respawn if Sir Gunther were to meet an unexpected end. I rest at a familiar sword-bearing bonfire, which serve as saving points in the game, and take my first steps towards the next area. My friends assured me I would make it through with little trouble. My skill as a “gamer” and unfamiliarity with the game would prove them wrong.
Not too far from the safety of Firelink, I encounter a few undead enemies (hollowed, to use the game's terminology). In my eyes I saw weak and unremarkable foes who posed no threat. But before I knew it, the huge red words filled the screen and my vision faded to black and white.
“YOU DIED,” it tells me.
Eager for revenge, I return to the skeleton-esque soldiers blocking my way. I lower my shield and attempt to land a hit with my broad sword.
“YOU DIED,” it says again.
I raise my brow in discontent. How could it be that I die so quickly? What good does the armor do? Who in their right mind would make the first part of the game so hard?
After a few deep breaths, and silence from me on the Discord server, I return with new resolve. Instead of letting the enemies gang up on me, I lure them out one by one. Patience and strategy would lead to victory. That battle is won, and after some brief celebration, I continue into a mysterious tunnel.
“YOU DIED,” the game kindly informs me.
An unnaturally large rat attacked me in the tunnel. Alas, I was no match. The most heart wrenching part was that the party of hollowed soldiers I expended so much time defeating would be waiting for me. So would the rat.
I finally made progress though, after a few fits of rage and whirling expletives. I eventually arrive at the next “Fog Wall”, a door of mist that usually signifies a boss fight. What lay ahead was a large bullheaded creature wielding two swords, accompanied by a few hollowed dogs. This was the Capra Demon, a fight made extremely difficult by the confined fighting space and his two canine lackeys. Gunther was not up to the task, and neither was I. After 15 attempts, I decided to give up.
This lead to a much needed moment of self reflection. Naturally I ask myself why I should keep playing. The idea behind video games is to be entertained, yet I was nothing but furious and disappointed. But something kept me coming back for more.
It was attempt 28 where this war of attrition would end. Whether it was by dumb luck, or legitimate improvement, I had overcome the hurdle which had vexed me for days. The euphoria of victory was unlike anything I had experienced in a game.
It was the mindset I developed that surprised me the most. Every time I passed through the Fog Wall, a buffer between safety and chaos, I convinced myself that somehow this time would be different. If the odds were one in a hundred, I returned with the intention of making every try that lucky one percent.
Through that sense of hope and determination continuous progress was made. I ventured onward into the swamps of BlightTown, through the greenery of the Darkroot Basin, fully aware that at every turn poor Sir Gunther would die again and be sent back to the previous bonfire. Yet I was equally hopeful that a new bonfire would be waiting for my brave knight to rest his weary head.
We’ve all got Capra Demons we have to face and battles we don’t know if we can win. It’s natural to be afraid of passing through the “Fog Walls” of life. Rejection and failure are both unpleasant to deal with and that makes quitting easy. But walking away from those walls means walking away from progress. If we laid down our swords at the first defeat, what kind of journey would that be?
Failure is a timeless teacher, and setbacks are an opportunity to learn. This infuriating experience reminded me the importance of persistence. An artist's first painting is rarely perfect. Every athlete loses a game. It’s not about the loss, it’s about what you do after. It’s about approaching the challenge with the mindset that you can change the outcome with what you’ve learned.
Unlike the game, you don’t always have a choice whether you’re going to face those challenges or not. They come to your doorstep unannounced and unwelcome, and you’re expected to conquer or crumble. None of us planned to be taking classes online. No one expected to face such a violent economic downturn, or a deadly virus that is spreading by the millions. This Fog Wall came to us, and even now we’re unsure when it will fade away.
That’s the thing about life, sometimes we can’t control our situation. The only thing we can do is wake up every day believing things will be different. That hope is a lot like the bonfire. You don’t know where it is, or the distance between you and its sanctuary, but you chase it regardless. We have to continue our pursuit of better days to come. Although the distance between then and now seems grand, you never know what tomorrow might bring.
It’s also important to be aware that we don’t have to face these things on our own. Remember those friends I had mentioned? Believe me when I say I might have never beaten the first Dark Souls if it weren’t for them. The same could be said now. I wouldn’t be where I am without the people in my life who helped me get here.
This fantasy world of monsters and hollows taught me a few lessons I didn’t know it could at a time that I needed it most. Whether it was some hidden intention of the developers or just me making something out of nothing, it worked nonetheless.
You don’t have to play this game to figure these things out. What you should do is continue to challenge yourselves. Continue to chase after the things you want in your life, whatever that might be. Don’t let your fear of failing hold you back. Failure is not the end of the journey, and even if it does feel like it’s over, let hope keep it alive.
As for Sir Gunther, he’s made his return since that first game. He’s navigated the strange lands of Dark Souls 2 and is now making the trek to defeat the Soul of Cinder in Dark Souls 3. The road ahead is uncertain, and littered with possibilities for defeat, but he’ll rise to the occasion. You will too.
Austin De Dios is the News and Managing editor of The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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