FFWD REW

Curse you Demon’s Souls

“Fuck.”

I’m the sort of guy to swear casually in conversation so long as I’m familiar and comfortable with the people I’m around. My rule is: so long as it isn’t holding the place of a word I don’t know or can’t think of curses are a fine way of providing emphasis colour and texture to ordinary communication.

“Cock-damn it.”

I swear a lot when I play videogames especially when I’m playing online (though never into a headset). This is a different kind of swearing. A pure uncensored outpouring of testosterone-powered emotion.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

I love to win at online games to beat someone else who wants just as badly to beat me who hasn’t been programmed to do it by a team of artificial intelligence coders. I love it the way some people love their pets and the way some really terrible people love their children. But in a way I love to lose too. Because fuck-shitty-God-damn-fuck-ass is it ever fun to exact brutal embarrassing revenge on someone who’s been kicking my ass for the last twenty minutes.

Demon’s Souls a game recently released for the Play Station 3 is the first game I can remember making me feel this way about computer-controlled monsters. It’s the first game where I can remember going back to a level I beat not to comb through it for treasure I missed not to farm it for more gold (or in DS’s case souls) but because I was angry at the pretend monsters and I wanted to light them on fire .

“How your titties feel stupid squid-face bell-ringing ass-shit? I ask because I just lit them the fuck up . You’re lucky this game doesn’t have a button that lets me chin-sack your dead ass.”

A this point I suppose it goes without saying that Demon’s Souls is tough but "tough" is too often games-writing shorthand for "don’t bother unless you own a ceramic bust of at least one Final Fantasy character." This is not the case with Demon’s Souls. In fact its difficulty is actually a big part of its appeal. The fact that the world is so dangerous (and importantly that it never feels like the computer is cheating despite the frustration) actually refreshes the game’s tired mythology. There’s a kingdom in danger because of man’s hubris and many have tried to save it but blah blah blah. In most games that use these clichés as their story foundations the reason why no one else has been able to save the world is ultimately because they weren’t being controlled by an asocial slob with a nigh-infinite supply of diet coke and bagels. In Demon’s Souls it’s because the monsters who’ve taken over the kingdom—even the wee ones you meet in the game’s opening minutes—take genuine skill and ingenuity to defeat.

Every victory in Demon’s Souls feels hard-fought and as a result the demonic invasion feels more genuine. Like an online match against real people in other games the monsters in Demon’s Souls successfully give the impression that they want to win as badly as you do. They aren’t carboard targets popping out at you on a virtual shooting range. They are threats and they will kill you–easily in most cases–unless you have your wits about you.

Most drama and English lit classes teach that conflict is the essence of story and without obstacles to overcome a character’s journey will seem hollow or meaningless. Demon’s Souls might be the purest representation of this old wisdom that can be seen in a current-gen title and as a result its world—while appearing familiar and predictable from the outside—practically sizzles with character and meaning when you’re immersed in it.

In a way Demon’s Souls is the exact opposite of recently-released PS3 mega-blockbuster Uncharted 2. In Uncharted you are Nathan Drake Indiana Jones analogue and Nathan Fillion sound-alike undertaking a globe-trotting adventure as you try to wrest a mystical macguffin from the hands of a deadly war criminal. And it’s fun. It’s very very fun. But ultimately you’re just playing out the (exquisitely crafted) action beats of a writer’s script. Your victory is assured because there’s no other way to progress the story but to win. Demon’s Souls on the other hand dares you to turn off the console and snap the disc in half every nerve-wracking second you’re playing. The trade off is that your victories and to some extent your motivations are entirely your own.

“Fucking stupid bitch-game-asshole.”

Walk anywhere near my television set at any time over the Thanksgiving weekend and these were the sorts of things you were likely to hear. Heavenly or hellish it takes something pretty unique to elicit that kind of reaction.

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