[The Mythology of Gaming of gaming is a series that seeks to take an intellectual look at the lore and mechanics of video games. All in order to give beloved games deeper meaning even after the power button is turned off. Hopefully, the reader will be able to see their favorite video games rendered anew and be able to take their messages with them outside of the game into their own life.]
Prometheus and the Pygmy
Fire. One of the classical elements Greek society used to explain the nature of matter itself. Symbolically, this element represents a duality of either creation or destruction. Utilized with care it can be used to create in either a physical manner much like the fires of the kiln of a potter or the embers of a blacksmith’s forge, or it can be used to create community much like the warm hearth of a family home. On the other hand, used with precision and force, fire is a deadly weapon that yields destruction in its wake. An element of nature that once unleashed will mindlessly seek out anything in its path to turn to ash. This base element of primordial acclaim is something that exists within us as humans as well.
This notion of the intrinsic nature of fire is something that is oft explored in mythology. Take for example, the myth of the Greek titan Prometheus and his theft of fire from the gods. It’s a tale of self-sacrifice in which the titan risked eternal torture for the sake of the lesser being of man. Oddly, enough gaming has produced a similar tale of fire and sacrifice via the Furtive Pygmy, an ancient lord of fire from the Dark Souls video game series. In this creation story, the Furtive Pygmy used fire as an agent of creation for man and forsook his own power for the sake of his beloved creations. Although fundamentally different stories, the same themes of fire and sacrifice can actually teach a powerful lesson about our own intrinsic fervor.
Two Tales of Fire, Vigor, and Sacrifice
Prometheus was one of the titans of Greek legends that the Olympian ruler Zeus did not imprison in Tartarus, a maze crafted to punish evil and imprison those who opposed the Gods and Goddesses. Zeus, noting Prometheus’ usefulness, tasked him with the creation of man. Using clay from the earth and assisted by goddess Athena, Prometheus created mankind. A creature he came to love as his own.
Prometheus cared more for his human creations than he did the Olympians. In his cunning, he tricked Zeus twice for the sake of mankind. The first trick involved the sacrifices given by the humans in order to honor the gods. In these sacrifices man would slaughter an animal and offer its parts in tribute. Prometheus came before Zeus holding two offerings. One was meat wrapped in the unappealing raw hide of an animal. The other was bone encased in the glistening, sumptuous fat. Zeus, wanting the best for himself, took a look at the outer shells of these two offerings, saw the fat laden bones, and chose this as the portion of the sacrifice the gods would receive. Once he realized the deception, Zeus took fire away from humanity.
Once again, Prometheus sought to aid the humans. So, using the stalk of a fennel he stole fire from the sun and returned the element of fire to humanity. By doing so he once again gave them a tool of creation with which to build society and furthermore, gain independence from the gods. However, this did not go unnoticed by the ivory occupants of Mount Olympus. Zeus set out to bring Prometheus eternal punishment by chaining him to a rock with unbreakable fetters. Everyday an eagle would swoop down and eat out his liver only for it to grow back. And the process would repeat, ad nauseum.
Switching gears to Dark Souls, the origin story of the world and eventually humanity starts with two worlds. An above ground, sunless realm inhabited by invulnerable, immortal dragons known as the Everlasting Dragons. In another subterranean realm, a species of pitiable, nameless creatures lived in perpetual darkness. Nothing happened. Nothing changed. And arguably, “life” did not exist because death did not exist. That is, until the First Flame sparked in the underworld and formed four powerful souls called the Lords’ Souls.
These souls imbued their inheritors with the power to rival the Everlasting Dragons above. Using this newfound strength, Lord Gwyn, inheritor of the soul of light waged a war and defeated the Dragons ushering in an age of fire, light, and life. However, one of the inheritors of the Lords’ Souls did not participate in this war and instead remained behind in the dark with, the Dark Soul. This was the Furtive Pygmy.
The Furtive Pygmy, instead of waging war used the Dark Soul to create humanity and multiplied its numbers while Lord Gwyn and the other self-made gods colonized the world above. Eventually, humanity emerged and Gwyn became a point of worship and reverence for the humans. But this age of light became threatened when the First Flame began to die. Looking for a solution, Gwyn found the undead curse, a near viral affliction upon humans that cursed them with undying. Stripping them of their humanity, Lord Gwyn sought to use humans as fuel for the First Flame to artificially prolong his age of fire and stave off the coming darkness that was a threat to his way of life.
Comparing and Contrasting
These different stories contain three similarities. The first of which is humanity’s coming forth from fire. In the tale of Prometheus, fire was stolen away from humanity and so they were left with darkness. This actual darkness was one man could not thrive in. So Prometheus’ returning of the fire is both literal and symbolic. The literal is bringing man an elemental agent of creation with which to rebuild society. The symbolic comes in the form of spiritual enlightenment. And what was this enlightenment? That they could act independently of the power of the gods now that they were given their own agent of creation.
Meanwhile, the Furtive Pygmy’s creation of man is less symbolic but nonetheless important to understand. The First Flame gave birth to the Dark Soul. Despite the title of “Soul” this element is still an aspect of fire and is an agent of creation used to make humanity and the race of man. This would suggest a transitive property of fire in man. The First Flame made the Dark Soul, the Soul made humanity, and humanity rests within a creature called man. Therefore, fire in the Dark Souls universe in intrinsically a part of man. This is of course in contrast to the Promethean tale’s symbolic representation of fire. The take away here is the metaphor of a fire that exists within man. This zeal for life and growth that can be compared to the tenacity of a flame.
The second take away is the shared trait of Prometheus and the Pygmy. Both were beings of immense power that were more concerned with the well-being of lesser, fragile creatures. In both cases, this was humanity. The titans were a race that sired the gods and therefore rivaled their strength. And the Pygmy had a Lord Soul just the same as the god-king Gwyn. Yet, both of these primordial benefactors chose selflessness over the power of their own godhood.
And that brings us to the third point, what of the other gods? Well, all it takes is a brief look at any notable Greek work to know that their pantheon acted on appetite. There are plenty of moments when various Olympic gods or goddesses did act kindly towards humanity, but more often it was to their benefit or was a blatant act of hubris. Meanwhile, Lord Gwyn of the Dark Souls universe saw humanity as a tool to keep his artificial age of light moving forward. An age where men lived in squalor and in reverence of gods who cared little for them. Their power was used only for themselves, the elite and perceived superior.
So how do these tales of fire and power relate to us? Humans from an entirely different reality.
The Fire Within Us
It starts with our own fire, an internal driving force that exists within us as beings capable of immense curiosity and passion. Humans have an inherent need to discover, create, explore, and so on. It comes with the desire to cultivate the world around us into something bigger and better. Herein lies our own metaphorical fire.
Looks at the gods in these two stories. On one hand you have Prometheus and the Furtive Pygmy who chose to help others and used their fires for a greater good. They sought to create rather than to destroy, to love rather than hate, and they had little care for the consequences of their actions and judgement of their peers because they foresaw a greater purpose in helping others grow. On the other hand are the Greek Olympians and the other 3 Lords of the First Flame who acted on self-indulgence. They believed in their infallibility and looked not to better the world for others but for their own purpose.
And in both stories, the same fires those two benevolent gods used also lie within mankind. Thus, we have the same capacity to change the world as we see fit. However, we also have an equal chance to do damage to the world when trying to act in selfish, petty ways. How we choose to act can determine a great deal.
Now, you may not be able to cast lightning, or fly, or change the tides of the ocean. And your flame might be no bigger than the striking of a match. But even an ember given time and effort can become a blazing inferno. But whether you use that fire to create or to destroy is entirely up to you.
-Penguin Books’ Dictionary of Symbols
-Vaatividya’s video “Which Ending is the ‘good’ ending”
-Shout out to JonTheMeta4Gaming on Twitch, a pre-eminent Dark Souls lore scholar for helping clarify some points on the nature of the Dark Soul itself.