Posts by Tag / SERIES: Dark Souls (2)

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My Bad Dark Souls Take

(Disclaimer: I don’t play Souls games and I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.)

So I have this theory that a big part of why Dark Souls games attract so much “git gud” toxicity is because they actually aren’t that hard.

A common argument for why Souls games don’t need easy modes is because they already have implicit difficulty options and things you can do in-game to make the game harder or easier on yourself. Figuring out which builds are overpowered and how you can increase your self-heal abilities and so forth isn’t as obvious as picking a difficulty option from a menu, but it does integrate better into the game’s world. This fits with these games' trend of relying on atmosphere and obliqueness rather than direct explanations, drawing the player in to learn through exploration and experimentation (though of course in the internet age you can also just check the wiki), and overall provide an experience of encountering somewhat difficult but ultimately conquerable challenges and learning to overcome them. The games are supposed to be about mastery, so they are intended to be masterable.

And, like, that sounds pretty cool, right? It’s not what I look for but I get why these games are well-liked.

But the combined result of these design decisions is that the games look hard when actually they are inscrutable. And I think that naturally encourages a lot of hostile bullshit signaling/gatekeeping that frames the games as especially difficult and the people who can handle them as just better.

For a game (or any skill) that’s actually exceptionally difficult, you generally don’t see top performers saying “git gud.” They’re much more likely to share useful advice, because that advice isn’t enough. Knowing what to do doesn’t take someone all the way if they still need tons of practice and skill to actually pull it off, and in those cases telling people what to do actually makes the top performer look more skilled. It shows that they aren’t threatened by giving other people the tools to get on their level, and also equips those others to understand just how good the expert is since matching their performance is still quite difficult even knowing exactly how to do it in theory.

On the other hand, if there’s just some slightly esoteric information you need and that’s most of the difference between success and failure, the opposite is true. Giving people that info would make them see how easy it is to get on the “expert” level, thus threatening experts' superiority. So if you’re trying to protect that superiority, you’ll guard that info like the password to a secret club.

Because the Souls games are hard to read, somewhat difficult, and quite masterable once you know the secrets, they’re in a sweet spot where “secret club” membership is easy enough to attain that the group is pretty large and thus will have a lot of status-seekers in it, but small enough that there are plenty of non-members to exclude and show off to, who will think the game is hard and that being an expert in it is impressive.

I suspect that if the games were more readable, they wouldn’t have a reputation as being super hard, and status-seekers wouldn’t flock to them the way they do and basically nobody would be telling others to git gud. If for some reason you want that kind of community around your game, make it somewhat hard to play but definitely hard to read.

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