Dozens of reviews said the game helped overcome depression. Dark Souls. Hmm. Though I don’t deal with depression, I was curious. I bought the game.
Playing Dark Souls isn’t your average “relax after school/work” sort of videogame. It’s a white-knuckled, rage-inducing, smash your head against a wall until it breaks or you break sort of game.
And it may be the greatest game of all time.
The World of a Life-Changing Game
Dark Souls is a dark fantasy open world role-playing game. Imagine if Sauron had won in the Lord of the Rings. Start there. Then you have your sword, shield, armor. Oh, and you’re always 4 hits away from dying. Often less.
You travel through a cursed and dying land, where 95% of people have become mindless, violent hollows. The only thing keeping the 5% going is purpose. If they have a purpose, they retain their sanity. If they lose it, they lose themselves entirely.
As you try to bring life back to the world (though you have no idea how for a large portion of the game,) you encounter many kinds of people. Some have nearly given up, others are knights with the most magnificent optimism you have ever seen, and very occasionally, You meet someone who cares about you. “Stay safe friend. Don’t you go hollow.”
These encounters are few and far between. Most of what you encounter is mindless soldiers who hack you to ribbons, demon bosses that squash you into the ground over and over again, and the mockery of the game’s “YOU DIED” screen. You see that one a lot.
To someone with depression, it’s a fair analogy for life. Everything is out to get you. The world is dark and you don’t really know what you’re dong. It sometimes feels pointless to try, because no matter how many times you try, you cannot defeat that one enemy.
The Mechanics of a Life-Changing Game
Dark Souls makes no apologies for being an incredibly difficult game. The incredible thing is how fair this difficulty is.
If you die, it’s your fault. Always.
The enemies telegraph their attacks so you can know to dodge. If you observe and learn, you survive. Only to be crushed by the next type of enemy and you have to learn his pattern too.
This is where the game’s genius is. When you finally, after 3, 5, 10, even 20 attempts, beat that enemy or that boss, you feel elated. You overcame something that was totally impossible just a minute ago. I have jumped up and shouted in triumph after several incredibly difficult bosses.
A world that makes everything feel dark and impossible coupled with the most magnificent sense of triumph for those who persevere. Hmm. I wonder where that could be useful?
That’s the reason why this game helps many players overcome or deal with their depression. By playing the game, they overcome the same sort of self-defeating thoughts that hold them back in real life.
And me? I learned a bit of grit, perseverance, and mental toughness. Just a taste. A seed to grow into something stronger. But I had never encountered any medium that teaches those soft skills in a way where you experience them.
The Power of a Videogame
After I played this game, I realized it showed a possibility that nobody has ever really thought of before.
Videogames could be one of the most effective education tools ever made. We just have to build the game right.
Games like Dark Souls force you to use certain types of thinking and problem solving to beat them. If you don’t, you won’t beat the game.
We could make games that teach problem-solving without forcing it. We could make games that inspire curiosity towards the real world. We could make games that build resilience. The key is to build those thought-patterns into the gameplay.
Luminosity was a mind-training exercise that tried to be a game. It doesn’t work well. We need actual games that happen to have mind-training elements built into them. Games that help you live life outside the game.
With virtual reality and augmented reality right around the corner, we will have some of the most powerful computing tools ever.
They can be used to escape reality, or we can use them to help us live in reality. I know which path I want to take.