Trigger Warning: Dark Souls Series – The Dangers of Settling with Mental Illness

*This post originally published on The Game Bolt in August, 2015*

[“Trigger Warning” – is a piece dedicated to showcasing video games which focus on mental disorders as well as emotional and psychological trauma. It is my hope as a lifelong gamer and sufferer of various psychological disorders to combine my greatest passion with my greatest weakness to benefit the gaming community at large. These pieces are meant to applaud games that I have found to appropriately exemplify such issues in the human condition. Some of them are visceral and violent games that take a liberal approach and are not for the faint of heart. Others take a lighter approach to the whole affair and can apply to a much wider audience. Hopefully, those who do not suffer from such afflictions can look at these games as a chance to grasp at something otherwise intangible. While those who do suffer from psychological afflictions can look to these pieces of fiction for hope and catharsis. Without further ado, enjoy. 🙂 ]

[By the way, this is the trigger warning for the article: suicide, depression, death, anxiety, PTSD, self harm]

Dark Souls, In Summation

The Dark Souls series has a rather complex and somewhat nebulous back story that I won’t get into here for the sake of reader. Either you already know the lore from playing it or only after a novella would I be able to detail it for you. But I will point out the player’s role in all of this and the important piece I want to focus on involving the series’ various NPC’s.

As a player character in each Souls game you play as one of the countless undead who are cursed with undeath, the inability to die; thus you go on and on attempting to overcome the curse by finding a solution to it. And so, you set out on a journey as a chosen undead to find a way to end the cycle while trying your hardest not to give up. Every undead has a goal that they set out to accomplish and this feeds them hope to keep fighting against the seemingly impossible odds. But there’s a tragedy in that hope, hollowing. When an undead “hollows” they have given up on whatever their goal was when they came to the land and have become content in simply existing, trapped in a hellish world where their actions now have no meaning.

The best example of this might be Lucatiel of Mirrah, a swashbuckling female warrior who came to the land of Drangleic in Dark Souls 2. Her land is one best by constant battle. The people of Mirrah are at an endless war with one another. So Lucatiel decided to venture to Drangleic in search of greater challenges to test her mettle. But, sadly she lost her way. When you meet her for the first time she relates her story to you but with a tinge of doubt in her mind due to the chaos inhabiting Drangleic. As you meet her throughout your ventures she starts to lose faith in herself and her abilities. Eventually she hands you a human effigy. Human effigies look different depending on who holds them, and they represent one’s own life force. So Lucatiel hands you her humanity which shows her metaphorical hollowing. Unlike most adventurers you come across who are already hollowed, you share a tender moment with a strong character who falls right before your eyes.

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“My name is Lucatiel. I beg of you, remember my name. For I may not myself…”

The interesting thing about hollowing, even the player can technically hollow in real life when they decide to give up on a challenge within the game. In some cases some people even quit the game altogether. I did once! Until a kind friend coached me through Dark Souls 1. And this concept of hollowing, of settling for stagnancy, is something people suffering from mental illnesses can dangerously fall into.

The Difference Between Settling and Accepting

There’s a dangerous and sadly common trend amongst those who suffer from mental disorders and trauma. Some people afflicted with mental disorders let it consume them self. What happens with someone who has say, depression, is that they see their depression as the only way to persist in life. They become scared at the idea of not having depression because they don’t understand what it is like to be fully functional. They don’t know what it’s like to not have to deal with depression, and so they fear having to change themselves for the better and find a new way to function in life. It might seem odd to those who don’t have the perspective but consider what it’s like with any big change in life.

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Where I “hollowed” in Dark Souls 1.

Think of what it’s like to start a new job, a bigger better one where you have a great amount of promise but quite a bit more responsibility. Some people can make that transition easily. Others fear the sudden pressure that is placed upon them despite it being a good situation. Dealing with mental illness can function the same way. Why change what is familiar? Why try to get better when one already knows what to expect from their situation? It is the fear of the unknown and quite a natural reaction to the circumstances. Adults who were abused as children often find self-destructive ways to deal with their trauma. Those with PTSD have ways to escape, albeit unhealthy ways. Depressed people are content to wallow in their depression. And this is a cycle that needs to be avoided at all costs.

What can one gain from the Dark Souls Series?

Don’t give up. Keep moving forward no matter what. And remember that baby steps are still steps. That’s what the Dark Souls series amounts to. If you go into it blindly, much like going through life, you will fail time and time again. It took me 286 deaths to get through Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin my first time through and there were times when I straight up quit, got pissed, and turned off my system. But, I regrouped and came back to it only to proceed after clearing my head.

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Sometimes pulling one’s self out of the action to regroup can be the best option.

Dark Souls is a game that requires patience and perseverance and at times you’re going to be banging your head against a rock until it finally breaks. It’s a game that teaches about exploration and trial and error. It has a somber tone as each new NPC you meet has given up or forgotten about their goals in life. But you, as the Bearer of the Curse, are special and can end that cycle for yourself and a few others along the way. So if there’s anything to be gained from this series it’s that hope can always be found if you’re simply willing to try.

Your dear writer’s thoughts on Dark Souls…

A mentor of mine once told me something that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life: “Think of all the people in the world who are lost, which is quite frankly all of them. As long as you’re trying, it’s okay. It’s all the people who are content to being lost that we need to worry about.” It’s such a simple statement, but it says so much. We all have troubles in our lives that hang over our heads and keep us awake at night. And it’s important to remember not to let those things consume you.

Lately, as of writing this article, my PTSD has been hitting me full force. I spent two full days hiding in my room. I missed work. My roommates thought I was gone both days. I didn’t answer phone calls. I ignored texts. I did nothing to further myself. I simply existed, because that’s all I could manage. The flashbacks were so vivid I would draw them for you or even create a fully three-dimensional friggin wax museum replica of them. They’re that ingrained in my mind. But after two days, I woke up. I realized that I needed to keep moving and so I left the house for a few hours to talk to my boss about my absence and get some lunch. It was all I could manage for the day, but then again, I was trying. I was happy. Baby steps.

Don’t ever lose your momentum. Some days you’ll move an inch, others, miles. But in the end an inch is better than nothing if you can’t manage the long journey.

Trigger Warnings for Dark Souls: There’s quite a bit of violence in Dark Souls. You are murdering the heck out of 99% of what stands in your way as well. Not to mention that there’s a good deal of graphic or disturbing imagery that might set some people off. There’s no talk of suicide or anything of the like so it’s friendly to those who are sensitive to such subjects. Quite frankly, the game is a marvel in combat mechanics that I can’t recommend enough. So give it a shot!

 

 

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