Friday, July 10, 2015

The Dark Souls Confidence Revelation

(Yeah, yeah it's been like two years. Did anyone even read this thing? Anyway, on to the actual blog!)

I had a revelation recently that may prove to be useful wisdom for introverted gamers who have a hard time keeping cool in social settings.

The first thing you have to do is go play Dark Souls.

No really.

Ok, so maybe this needs a lot of contextualizing, but bear with me and we’ll get where we’re going. Get settled in because this is going to be a long one.

First, some background on the whole situation. I’ve been a mixed console/PC gamer since I was about 7. Most of my gaming experience has been with Nintendo-exclusive titles, namely the Metroid and Legend of Zelda series. In these two games, the boss monsters tend to have very specific weak points that you either have to be patient or clever to expose and exploit, especially in Zelda games. In this case, the bosses are more like big angry puzzles you solve by hitting a glowing spot until it stops being angry. In Metroid, there are also occasional bosses that turn into stressful damage-races where you and the boss whale on one another until one of you explodes. I don’t have a good analogy for this one, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Spot the weak point on this sucker

In either case, these fights tend to rely on common sense and luck. Rarely have I ever died on my first go against a boss in either of these series (with the exception of a few bosses in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, which I will get to in a moment), they’re simply not that difficult usually. The puzzle is an easy one to solve or the creature isn’t terribly tough. They still have their respective challenges, but they’re not hard.

(Notable exceptions: A handful of bosses from Echoes such as the Boost and Spider Guardians and the Emperor Ing. These bosses are respectively: a very stressful damage race, a very difficult puzzle, and a very difficult pattern boss, which I will discuss shortly.)

What does this have to do with boosting your confidence around people? I’m getting to that, trust me. First we have to talk about Dark Souls and pattern bosses.

So if you’ve been living under some kind of rock or just aren’t much of a gamer, I’ll tell you a little about Dark Souls if you don’t already know. Dark Souls is a Japanese RPG that plays very much like a western RPG; it has a heavily customizable main character, class and play styles, with a medieval dark-fantasy story and setting. But most importantly Dark Souls, its predecessor Demon’s Souls, its sequel Dark Souls II and its Victorian plague-punk spiritual successor Bloodborne are all legendarily HARD.

These games are difficult, and downright unforgiving most of the time. They force the player to learn by trial-and-error, building routines to get through certain areas of the game. The bosses in these games work the same way. They are what I’m going to call ‘pattern bosses,’ creatures whose very specific movements and animations must be learned, memorized and exploited in order to beat them. You have to learn their patterns in order to keep from getting hit and hit them back at the best times.
These fights are still somewhat damage races, but they are much more gradual and calculated than, say, feeding a giant space-dragon a rapid succession of explosives before it bites your head off (a 2D Metroid staple, by the way).

Yeah, take THAT!

Dark Souls, its pattern bosses, and rogue-like games in general, rely on the player dying over and over and learning from their mistakes. Something I learned in a rogue-like called Binding of Isaac and carried over (much to my benefit) into Dark Souls was that I couldn’t get angry if I died. Because then I’d get sloppy and just die more. I developed a kind of battle-Zen-state, and at multiple points I had to accept that a boss was too hard to just rush in and beat it. I had to take my time, I had to learn its patterns. I had to study it.

I had to dance with it.

Which is what I started calling the practice of going into a fight to just play the fight but not intend to win it. I called it dancing with the boss. I danced with Ornstein and Smough, I danced with Sif, I danced with Artorias (DLC boss). And all of this dancing taught me to approach things calmly and casually, and that the only consequence for failure was trying again.

But I always expected to have to try again. I didn’t dance to win these fights, until it eventually happened by accident. So in essence there was no consequence for failure.

Then I started doing it for fun in other games. I went a few rounds with the end boss of a gorgeous little game called Transistor (by the makers of Bastion, and if you haven’t played either of these go do that at your earliest convenience, they’re great). I lost on purpose multiple times, but I was having fun. I knew the fight and all I wanted was to push the AI around and see what it did, see if I could coax out any new behaviours or any dialogue I hadn’t heard before.

Then I had my revelation:

I was fearless.

There were no consequences for failure except another lovely dance with an antagonist I was already quite fond of. There were no consequences for failure because there was no win state.

There were no consequences.

In an effort to explain the feeling of utter fearlessness I showed the following video to a friend.

Kitty wants to play!

 I was that kid playing with the lioness on the far side of the glass. I didn’t care what the lioness did, it couldn’t hurt me and I was having fun.

And then I vowed to try and extend this feeling to my everyday life.

See, I’m a very reserved, introverted person generally. Which can make working my sales job tricky sometimes, especially when I have to deal with loud or overbearing or fussy people when I’d much rather just back off and do my own thing or leave them to their own business.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being introverted. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! There’s nothing wrong with you, introverts of the world, you just prefer your own calm, quiet company to having to deal with loud, active people. We function a little differently and that’s totally normal, it’s just unfortunate that service industry jobs demand an extroverted disposition, whether you have to fake it or not.

Up until now I think I’ve been doing a pretty passable imitation of being extroverted. But I want to apply my newfound wisdom of fearlessness and consider each conversation, each stranger, like I would a Dark Souls-style pattern boss. That means taking my time and learning how a person acts and reacts. But it also means I have to be fearless. I can be fearless, because there’s a good chance I won’t ever have to see that person again.

Think about it, there’s a good chance some random person you run into at a party or as part of your job won’t remember you and won’t ever come back into your life. They’re just another try at that conversation boss fight, and if you fail, there really aren’t any consequences.

Be fearless. There aren’t any consequences.

That being said, please understand that I am NOT advocating being rude or ridiculous to strangers because you’ll never see them again. That’s not what this is about. This is about helping my fellow shy gamers find a new way to consider social situations in which they would otherwise feel awkward. I’ve found a new and strange sort of confidence and I want to share it with the people I know need it most.

So there you go, my fellow gamers. This is how I’ll be keeping my cool next time I have to deal with a difficult customer or an annoying stranger. I’ve found yet another way to apply my gamer wisdom to real life. And you can do it too!

All you have to do is go play Dark Souls.

And get ready to get dodging!

-Until next time, nerds!