This is to say that the universe of Dark Souls , while it contains arguably supernatural elements like ghosts and curses, operates according to a system of physics in which all forms of power from the bodily to the abstract are tangible. It is a uniquely naturalistic fantasy mythos, especially when compared with traditional fantasy universes like those of J.
Tolkien and C. Sorceries, for instance, are clear and present applications of souls as physical actions.
Even a cursory look at the list of sorceries will make this obvious, including techniques such as soul arrow, homing soulmass, and soul spear. Or, to take another example, the estus flask is a curiously exact method of translating the soul-burning flame of a bonfire into a consistent, invariable, quantifiable restoration. Every element of the world fits into a material system so precise as to seem as will become clear in the following section as mathematical as the field of physics.
But there is a consequence of this kind of thorough physicality in the worldbuilding of Dark Souls , and it is basically what makes the content of the game so thematically dark: that the directed, motivated inner life of the player-character as imbued by the player which prevents them from hollowing, can nevertheless only avoid its inevitable eventual annihilation through imagination. To illustrate this further, consider the following structuralist portrait of the human condition written by the cultural anthropologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Becker:. We might call this existential paradox the condition of individuality within finitude.
This immense expansion, this dexterity, this ethereality, this self-consciousness gives to [a person] literally the status of a small god in nature, as the Renaissance thinkers knew. Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, [a human] is a worm and food for worms.
This is the paradox: [they are] out of nature and hopelessly in it; [they are] dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. Becker But at any rate, the core idea is the same: that humans can use their minds to occupy an imaginary position outside of themselves, and that from that imaginary vantage point their lives seem ignoble, meaningless, and doomed to an eventual, usually-unwelcome ending.
But why would this be so in Lordran? How does the robust fantasy world of Dark Souls require that its beings face existential positions so analogous to our own?
Apart from the lack of a credible metaphysical dimension as explained in this section, the answer perhaps unsurprisingly is souls. Like energy in our universe, the souls from the First Flame are a finite resource. And this seemingly simple fact contains not only the justification for individual life and death in Dark Souls , but also the way in which its entire physical, bounded universe tends toward an eventual end. Our universe, like our planet, like every one of us, is dying. Every expenditure of energy by every chemical process in the universe moves it one microscopic step forward toward an equilibrium state in which its energy is dispersed into inert, useless distribution.
The universe of Dark Souls faces a strikingly similar eventual end. Its present existence is predicated on keeping flames lit, and the universe as such exists only by the temporary separation of heat from cold, light from dark, and life from death. But flames require fuel to continue burning:. Burning souls—be it through linking the First Flame, kindling bonfires, or even leveling—is a matter of dispersing the energy of the universe in an irreversible process toward spent, ashen nothingness.
And what does nothingness look like, in Dark Souls?
Consider the following words by game director Hidetaka Miyazaki:. They are almost like the very minerals of the land in that they are transcendent creatures that existed before life itself graced the world.
By this I meant things like the emotions and acts that came along with the lesser creatures. Miyazaki The Ancient Dragons are not living creatures. The Age of Ancients is an era entirely devoid of life, movement, and experiences. Whether the dragons could even move or act before fire came into the world, bringing the disparity that included life and death, is unclear in the opening cinematic—in which we see only a static and motionless dragon prior to that pivotal event.
A world with nothing but archtrees and immortal stone dragons is something akin to a pre-big-bang singularity: a motionless, unchanging, unformed, lifeless, timeless conceptual landscape. Aside from the obvious analogies so far drawn between the lore of Dark Souls and the depletion of finite useable energy in reality, is there specific evidence in the gameplay of a parallel between the game and big-bang-to-big-crunch or big-bang-to-big-chill cosmological models? Yes, plenty!
To begin, think about the slow and steady yet practically inevitable accumulation, consolidation, and expenditure of souls that occurs among the combatants and undead inhabitants of the world over time. Consider: Why do even the lowliest enemies in Lordran have dozens of souls to lose to the player-character upon defeat? Imagine the world shortly after the defeat of the dragons. By splitting the power derived from the First Flame as the lord souls into smaller and smaller cohesive souls, the lords spread power and existential identity into numerous beings.
While the exact nature of reproduction in Dark Souls is ambiguous even after careful attention to areas of the lore concerning families: Gwyn and his children, Izalith and her daughters, Siegmeyer and Sieglinde, Seath and Priscilla, and more , it is nevertheless clear that there were further generations of beings after that first set. Thus, the existing souls would have been split further. Now, extrapolate from that set of events to the time period containing the events of the campaign. On a similar note, there is an interesting alignment between this same basic consequence of the fact that energy can be neither created nor destroyed—only relocated—and the way in which every stray item in the game is associated with a corpse.
With the singular exception of chests, every item picked up in the game is either dropped by a dead enemy or found on a dead body.
The comical : a philosophical analysis in SearchWorks catalog
The player must physically enact the fact that one only possesses matter and energy by taking matter and energy from someone or something else. Souls can be spent by using fragments of the dark soul i. Dark Souls is a dark game. Its level design and lighting systems shroud most of the game areas in shade and darkness; one of the brightest areas of the game, Anor Londo, can be revealed to be a very dark place concealed through illusions; and the game includes three of the darkest regions I have ever encountered in any game: the Tomb of the Giants, the Abyss under New Londo, and the Chasm of the Abyss under Oolacile.
Darkness waits in every corner of the world, and when the flames finally subside, its domination of the world will be total. But for the player-character, is this such a bad thing? After all, if one enters the Abyss under New Londo with the Lordvessel rather than presenting it to Frampt , Darkstalker Kaathe provides the following valuable context: refusing to link the First Flame means ushering in an Age of Dark, which is an age of humanity.
Sounds pretty good! And yet. In the latter half of his six-hour commentary video on Dark Souls , Matthewmatosis notes yet another alignment between the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and the content of Dark Souls :. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
Matthewmatosis The Age of Dark is the age of humanity only to the extent that it is to be a period governed by the power which brought humans into the world—that of the dark soul. This does not mean that the age will be hospitable or amenable to humans. In fact, the sad tales of Oolacile and Artorias seem to provide very strong evidence that just the opposite shall be true. In fact, it just raises questions: why would an Age of Dark—which, if it is an age of the Abyss, should be horrendous for humans—be an age of humanity?
In effect, why is it the dark soul that begets humanity? Succumbing to the Abyss has a lot of similarities to hollowing, including madness, disfigurement, and animalistic behavior—but it has additional elements: despair and rage. The primeval man rested beneath the city, yet, like many of the bodies strewn about Lordran, still bore its soul: in this case, a lord soul, a large portion of the dark soul. Such an immensely powerful soul must have been a tremendous temptation to the zealous sorcerers of Oolacile.
Surely, they must have thought, this would provide an ultimate meaning for their lives, a worthwhile purpose: the acquisition and utilization of the soul of Manus. But there was a problem: Manus was not really dead, per se , only ritualistically put to rest at some point in the past. Unable to simply take the soul with ease, the people of Oolacile imprisoned the awakened Manus and attempted to extract the soul by force.
Filled with rage and despair, Manus emanated dark Abyssal power from his person all around the nearby caves, filling them with writhing humanity sprites—large manifestations of the dark soul, entities of pure longing. Dusk of Oolacile provides further context on Manus at this stage:. I still think on that creature from the Abyss that preyed upon me. My faculties were far from lucid, but I quite clearly sensed certain emotions: a wrenching nostalgia, a lost joy, an object of obsession, and a sincere hope to reclaim it.
This dark, despairing, raging Abyss then spread further, seeping up into the city. Robbed of their newfound purpose and keenly aware of a fearsome existential threat close at hand, the people of Oolacile would have been gripped with a deep despair of their own. Later, Artorias is dispatched to Oolacile to stop the Abyss pouring from Manus. When faced with utterly overwhelming odds, he leaves his greatshield with his wolf companion Sif in an act of compassionate chivalry. As a knight, he intends to do his duty to his lord and save those close to him as well.
But without his greatshield, Artorias must block attacks with his left arm, which results in the arm being broken. Whether because of this injury or merely coincidental with this injury, Artorias fails in his mission. And what is an elite knight who can not do his duty to his lord? It is not an elite knight.
See a Problem?
The role, the identity, breaks down. In its place there is a question: if not who he thought himself to be, who is Artorias? In this physically and mentally weakened state despite his powerful soul , Artorias is overcome by the Abyss and filled with rage at his situation. He becomes a thoroughgoing bad-faith actor, comparable to a hollow, and goes on fighting Abyssal creatures and whoever else should encounter him in a caricature of his former mission, drawing additional strength and additional anger from the Abyss itself.
What is the evidence that Artorias and the people of Oolacile required some additional susceptibility to the Abyss, beyond simple exposure to it? Simply, that we are aware of at least seven individuals who enter and in some cases live within the infected township, yet do not succumb: Gough, Ciaran, Chester, Dusk, Sif, Alvina, and the player-character. Think, also, of the covenant of Artorias.