Dark Souls, Part Three: Bringing Me to the Brink

Part two of this series is here.

I need a cheeseburger or ten
Desperate measures in Sen’s Fortress

From elation to despair in a very short time span. That’s the nature of Dark Souls, man. I dusted off my disappointment as best I could and made my way back to the Undead Parish bonfire. I couldn’t help but notice that the common enemies were a breeze now, and I lit the Undead Parish bonfire with a sense of smugness.I was getting the hang of this game, I thought to myself. I knew, however, that the next area was no joke. It’s called Sen’s Fortress, and it’s filled with traps, swinging blades, and snakemen. Hissing, biting, sometimes lightning-throwing snakemen who were ugly as sin and not much fun to fight. Plus, if you fell off the narrow bridges that had huge axe blades swinging over them, you plunged into the land of Titanite Demons, a mini-boss from earlier who were now just casual enemies. That’s if you survived the fall, which you might not, depending on your vitality.

I found Sen’s Fortress frustrating because in addition to all that, it’s a maze in which I got lost more times than I cared to count. This was what made Blighttown extra-difficult for me as well. I have NO sense of direction, so once I get turned around, I’m nearly helpless. I explored almost all of Sen’s Fortress not because I wanted to but because I couldn’t figure out the correct way to go. I fought two of the Titanite Demons in the pit to get their loot, and I killed one of the Iron Giants on top of the roof, though I felt bad doing it because he didn’t attack me, and he would sit down and cry*. In addition, the first bonfire in Sen’s Fortress took me FOREVER to find, which meant I had to start from the bonfire in Undead Parish every fucking time. I grew to loath the first part of Sen’s Fortress, but at the same time, I started breezing through it rather quickly. My pyromancy helped with the first lightning-throwing snakedude, and it made me meanly glad to watch him shrivel up in flames as I hurled my fireballs/fire orbs at him.

I’ve talked about the bonfire system before. I still think it’s a genius way to have checkpoints, but I think there should be one more in each area. I understand wanting each death to be costly, but the price is sometimes too steep, especially as the game goes on. Then again, the sheer relief when you see a new bonfire and light it is incomparable. Resting at the bonfire allows you to take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the next ordeal. I don’t know if I would appreciate each one as much if they weren’t so plentiful. One other thing I should mention about the bonfires is that there’s always one right before the boss fight, for which I’m extremely thankful. So, the run from the bonfire to the boss is usually quite short with few enemies, but it’s still a pain in the ass when all you want to do is fight the damn boss again.
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Dark Souls: Why I Keep Playing This Game, Part Three

Looking pretty human these days
All’s quiet in the Painted World of Ariamis

This is part three as to why the fuck I keep playing Dark Souls. You can read part two here. Let’s continue with my frustrations as I battled Priscilla, an optional boss, time and time and time again.

I went against my rule of not reading the wikis at this point. Priscilla had broken me, and I read everything I could about how to defeat her. The problem was, everything I read talked about how easy it was to beat her. You simply did this or that, made her visible, and then finished her off. In addition, most of them assumed you could kill her easily and talked more about how to cut off her tail for a special weapon. I was feeling really shitty about myself as I despaired of ever beating her. Then, I read one tip that mentioned if you had a certain spell (which I did), all you had to do was draw her out of the room to the bridge area, cast the spell on yourself, blah blah blah. I tried the tip, and it worked, but for some reason, I couldn’t cast the spell again later. I managed to get her down to about a fourth of her health before she disappeared again I died to her, but still, I was finally getting the hang of her. It was only after I died that I realized I’d used the wrong spell. I tried the right one in the next run, but it really didn’t work. I also realized that what HAD worked was drawing Priscilla out of the room and near the bridge because then I knew exactly where she was. Three quick hits of my axe, and she was visible.

Side Note: Even with all the advice available, I still had to fight the boss MY way. Priscilla is weak to lightning, so many of the guides suggested using the Lightning Spear against her. I tried it, but it just didn’t feel comfortable to me. Plus, you have to break her poise to make her visible (done by a certain amount of quick hits in succession to stagger an enemy), which I learned from the forums you can’t do with a spear.

Here’s the thing about Dark Souls. You have to play it the way that is comfortable for you. I mean, yes, the general tips are helpful, but if you don’t like a certain weapon or way of playing, all the tips in the world won’t help you. For example, I don’t like the rapiers. At all. I tried a special one against Priscilla a few times, but it didn’t work for me. Granted, it wasn’t leveled up because if you’re a bad player as I am, you don’t have any souls at this point, and everything is goddamn pricey to level up. Anyway, I put Velka’s Rapier away, and I haven’t touched it since. In addition, I mostly play ranged characters, and my Dark Souls character is a pyromancer (which is ranged), but given the limited amount of spells I have, I had to get good with my Battle Axe as well. I prefer to use my pyromancy, but sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention.

I ditched the Lightning Spear and decided I’d stick with my Battle Axe, which was like an extension of my hand at this point. When I finally managed to kill Priscilla (and she’s easy to kill once you can see her because she doesn’t have much health. If you keep hitting her, she can’t turn invisible again), I felt more relieved than anything. else. I felt I had made the biggest mistake of the game thus far, and I’d made plenty of mistakes throughout my playthrough. I had been so close to quitting the game or starting over, and now, I didn’t have to. The minute she started crumbling into dust, I raced to the bridge/ledge and jumped off. I was eager to get the hell out of the Painted World and to never return.
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Dark Souls, Part Two: I Can’t Quit This Game

You are NOT my friend
Bell Gargoyle on the loose!

I wrote about my experiences with the game, Dark Souls, up to the point where I played through it a second time up to the point when I ragequit the first. You can catch up on my adventures so far here. Because the post was getting long, I decided to end it and start a new one as I stepped foot into new territory–Blighttown. After beating the enemy that had bested me the first time I played the game (Gaping Dragon), I took some time to buy a crystal shield that I’m still using (though it deteriorates over time and you can’t repair it), to level up, and to make my weapons better than ever. By this point, I had an impressive array of weapons, but I still stuck mostly to my +10 Battle Axe. This is one gripe I have about Dark Souls–the game gives you a lot of weapons, but because each is so different, it’s easier just to become comfortable with one or two types and forego the rest. Another gripe is that I think there are some things that are unfair about the game versus being hard, but I’ll get to that later.

Blighttown. I’d heard stories about this area and how terrible it was. I don’t know of anyone, pro (YouTuber) or not who actually liked this area. Oh, I should note that I went back to the Undead Asylum and picked up the Rusted Ring, which would be very helpful in Blighttown because it allows you to walk on ‘poor footing’ (i.e., water) as easily as you do on solid ground. I’d never been in Blighttown before, and all of a sudden, I was as nervous as hell again. One thing FromSoft (the devs) does well is cultivate a sense of dread. Because most of the big bosses are so hard and saving (at the bonfires, really, read the first part) is so sparse, you have to do most areas over and over and over again. So, while the bosses may remain hard, you get pretty good at running the paths up to the big boss. When you beat a big boss, you move on to a new area, possibly with new common enemies, and you have to relearn what you once thought you knew.

Side Note: It’s really frustrating to see people talk about how easy a certain boss is if you’re having trouble with him/her. “Oh, you just have to do this, this, and that, and it’s no problem.” First of all, that’s dependent upon build. Second, these are usually people who have played the game for many, many hours and have beaten it several times. They have forgotten how hard the game was the first time they played it, or they’re just preternaturally good at the game. Even if the boss is easy to them, it’s not helpful to the person struggling to hear how easy said boss is. Also, you can get all the tips in the world on how to beat a boss, but you still have to fucking do it. That’s often much easier said than done.
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Dark Souls: Why I Keep Playing This Game, Part Two

Straight outta Undead Parish
Bell Gargoyle is coming at me, bro!

In my last post, I wrote about my feelings the first time I tried to play Dark Souls. I encourage you to read it before reading this post, which will be about my experience the second time around. I’m currently nearly halfway done with the game, so I expect I will write more posts on it as well. This game has gotten under my skin like no other. It’s brutal and unforgiving, and I often hate it as I’m playing it, and yet, I can’t stop playing. It’s my current obsession, and I play nearly every day. Let me try to explain why that is.

The second time I started Dark Souls, I stuck with what I knew. I created the same character I had in the first game, a fat, old Asian woman of the pyromancer class, which meant starting with a Hand Axe yet again. This time, I breezed through the tutorial in the Undead Asylum and tromped my way through Undead Burg and the Undead Parish. I died a few times, but nothing like I did the first time around. In fact, it took me a third of the time to reach my nemeses, the Bell Gargoyles, in the second playthrough than it had in my first. Granted, I didn’t accidentally attack Andre this time around, so that shaved off a few hours, but still. Also, I’m currently playing on a speedy new rig that my brother built for me, so that also accounts for some of the time difference as well.

However, the biggest difference is that I’m better at the game–at the least at the early game. I don’t have much problem with the common enemies in the first areas, and it’s rather refreshing not to be afraid as I defeat a boss and approach a ‘new’ area. I wouldn’t say I was good yet–indeed, I don’t think I’ll *ever* be good at Souls–but I was at least making it through the first few areas with little fuss or muss. I also made sure to upgrade my Battle Axe (my main weapon) and my Pyromancy Flame with regularity, something I didn’t do the first time around. That’s part of the problem with Dark Souls–it’s so overwhelming, you just do the basics because you can’t even think of anything else. At least that’s how it was with me. I missed a lot of the lore and the items you can pick up because I was just so focused on getting from Point A to Point B. This time? I’m more able to explore the areas and find a LOT of stuff that I missed before.

Still, I approached the Bell Gargoyles with trepidation because I remembered how they wrecked my ass in my previous playthrough. This time, however, all I could think of as I watched the first one stand up and walk towards me was how fucking slow he was. I didn’t kill them on the first try, but I wasn’t intimidated. I knew it was just a matter of time before I got them, and I marveled at how helpless I felt the first time I fought them. I did summon the Phantom Solaire after dying to the Bell Gargoyles a few times, and we made short work of them. Once again, it was Solaire doing most of the work with me hanging back and stabbing them in the asses. I didn’t feel elation, but a sense of vindication once they were vanquished–my first big nemeses of Dark Souls were dead forever.
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Dark Souls, Part One: It Has a Hold on Me

Editor’s Note: I have been obsessed with Dark Souls for the past month or so and am trying to figure out why. To that end, I’ve started two series on it–one that is about my experiences playing the game and one that is about how I feel about the game in general. There’s overlap, of course, but I felt that there’s also enough separation for two series. This is part one of the series about the game play. Part one of the other series is here

fly me away, Snuggly!
Say hello to my friend, Snuggly

The first time I started playing Dark Souls, I was prepared to die. Or so I thought. I knew it was a brutal game that didn’t give a shit whether you lived or died–in fact, it preferred it if you did the latter, thank you very much–and I thought I could handle it. I’d seen people play it, and I’d watched them die multiple times. I can do this, I told myself. I was so fucking wrong.

I started by creating my character. Dark Souls doesn’t really tell you anything about, well, anything, so I chose the pyromancy class solely because I like fire. I made my character female and old and fat like me. I chose Far East traveler as her race, and I made her look as much like me as possible. It wouldn’t matter because she wouldn’t be human for most of the game, but it made me happy to see her Asian face, so that’s all that really matters. I named her Mulan because that’s what I name most of my characters, and I was ready to play.

The game drops you into the Undead Asylum with nothing but a Broken Sword Hilt to defend yourself. If you go into the game not knowing anything about it, this area will kick your ass, even though it’s the tutorial. One thing you have to understand from the start is that FromSoftware (the developers, from now on referred to as FromSoft) doesn’t give a shit about you. They don’t bother telling you how to fight before they start throwing enemies at you, and if you don’t know that the glowing things are items you can pick up (from corpses, no less), you will miss out on your first shield and weapon right away. The different classes start with different weapons. Mine was a Hand Axe, and even to this day, I’m the most comfortable with axes.

One thing I have to mention–you cannot save in the traditional sense of the word in this game. Instead, you light bonfires in the different areas, and when you die (and you will die, I guarantee it), you return to the last bonfire you reached. You get souls every time you kill an enemy, and souls are what you use to level up and to buy things. If you die with souls on you, they are lost to you forever unless you return to the spot you died and retrieve them. It’s one of the most infuriating things about the game because you feel as if you lose so much progress every time you lose your souls, but it’s also one of the most brilliant things about the game as well because each death means something.
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Dark Souls: Why I Keep Playing This Game, Part One

Flying on a giant crow. as you do.
Snuggly is my only friend

Editor’s Note: I have been obsessed with Dark Souls for the past month or so and am trying to figure out why. To that end, I’ve started two series on it–one that is about my experiences playing the game and one that is about how I feel about the game in general. There’s overlap, of course, but I felt that there’s also enough separation for two series. This is part one of the series about how I feel about the game. Part one of the other series is here

Dark Souls is known as a hard game, though its aficionados would scorn that and say it’s no biggie once you know what you’re doing. While that’s true to a certain extent, it’s really irritating to hear, especially when you’re struggling with what you think is the hardest enemy in the world. So, pro tip: If someone is having a hard time with something, don’t say it’s easy, even if it is for you. It’s rude and enraging and makes you look like a dick. Don’t be that person. PSA over. Now to the main post.

I heard about Dark Souls from my good friend and gaming buddy, Ian, and it intrigued me. I like trying hard things, but perversely, I give up rather easily because I’m used to being instantly good at things I try. Still, there was something about the game that drew me in, and I decided to give it a try, although I was terrified of it. I knew I was going to suck at it, and I was prepared to die* many, many times. I knew I wasn’t going to have an aptitude for the game for many reasons. I’m old and my reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be. I’m fairly new at games, and I would be using a controller for the first time. My laptop is junk, and I’d have to deal with lag time and crashing. Those are just a few reasons off the top of my head.

Still, I started a character, making her look like me and choosing the pyromancer class solely because I like fire. FromSoftware (also known as FromSoft and From, the developers) doesn’t tell you shit about anything, so unless you want to read the wikis, you pretty much have to just fly by the seat of your pants. It’s not my preferred way of doing things as I like to plan things way in advance,** but you have to take Dark Souls on its terms or you might as well turn around and go home. FromSoft (Hidetaka Miyazaki, the main developer in specific) had an uncompromising vision for Dark Souls, and I admire them for it. Dark Souls doesn’t hold your hand as you play–indeed, it positively revels in your death–and if you want to play the game to completion, you’re probably going to have to use the wikis AND play through it several times.

My first experience with Dark Souls was harrowing. I started with a Hand Axe, and swinging it took effort, stamina, and more importantly, time. In many combat-focused games, using your weapons is effortless–there’s a reason they’re called hack-n-slashes. You can wield a hefty sword effortlessly, and you can swing it again and again and again. I’m not dissing those games. Indeed, I’ve had a lot of fun with games in which I merrily cut swathes through countless waves of enemies. Granted, I’ve mostly used guns, but I have used blade weapons as well. There are no consequences for using your weapons, which is the exact opposite of the combat in Dark Souls. When you swing your weapon in this game, it takes stamina. Also, if you don’t have the stats you need to wield said weapon, you will not be able to use it properly. Your weapon (and armor) degrades over time, which means you’ll have to repair it–if it’s reparable.
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Toxicity Within the Gaming Culture: An Outsider’s Observation

Toxicity Within the Gaming Culture: An Outsider’s Observation

Ed. Note: This post has been written over the last week or so. It’s not as cohesive as I’d like it to be, but I wanted to get it all out. Plus, I’m still getting my writing chops back, so keep that in mind as you read this post.

It’s been a horrible couple of weeks for gaming culture, and it started when the ex of an indie developer decided to air his dirty laundry publicly, accusing his ex of sleeping her (and her gender is very important here) way to some positive reviews for her game. Which, as many gamers were quick to point out, isn’t really a game, presumably because it didn’t have any guns that go PEW PEW. Soon, there was a witch hunt against this developer* and nude photos of her were spread across the web. The man she’s accused of sleeping with in order to get this juicy review (didn’t happen) has also gotten some shit, but not nearly as much as she has.

Before I tackle this and the harassment that Anita Sarkeesian** has received for her newest Tropes vs Women video, I want to take a look at gaming culture in general. You can read my prior post on what it took for me to call myself a gamer for some of the negativity I see dominating gaming culture. Some will argue that it’s just a reflection of society in general, and while I agree, I have to wonder why it’s particularly vitriolic in gaming culture. I mean, writers and directors of movies don’t get umpteen death threats if the end of the movie isn’t agreeable to the viewers, so why is this a normal thing that happens in gaming? I mean, the developers of Call of Duty got death threats when they tweaked a weapon, for fuck’s sake. What the hell is wrong with gamers that this is a common thing?

Part of the problem is the endless patching of games. A game is released, oftentimes in an unfinished/unpolished state with the knowledge that there will be patches in the future. In the Early Access program on the Steam website, developers actively ask for gamer input. I have complicated feelings about the Early Access program which shall be left for another blog post, but suffice it to say that it’s interactive nature allows gamers to give feedback to a game in a manner that actually affects the outcome of said game. Therefore, it’s not unreasonably to say that gamers are a part of the creative process, albeit a small one. So, they have a sense of entitlement, that they DESERVE the ending they want (or the gun power or whatever). Still, that doesn’t seem like enough to inspire death/rape threats, does it?
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Channeling My Inner Cyndi Lauper and Putting the Religious Right on Notice

The subject of birth control should be far from controversial. To many women, the only thing controversial about it is that we’re still fighting this battle.

I’ve loved Cyndi Lauper since I first watched her video, Girls Just Want To Have Fun. This was back in the eighties, and she was the most outrageous person I’d seen up to that point. She had obviously dyed hair cut in a punk cut, loud makeup, funky clothing, and gaudy jewelry. In addition, she had Asian women in her video. I’d never seen that before! Cyndi was unapologetically different, and she seemed so comfortable in her own skin. Plus, she could fucking SING.

Watch the video and try not to smile and sing along. You can’t do it; you simply cannot. She brought some much-needed color to my life and even though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, she was the first woman to show me that being a freak wasn’t necessarily a negative thing.

She had another song that came out in 1993 but that I didn’t hear until much later called, Sally’s Pigeons. The tone of this song is much more somber, as is Cyndi herself. It’s the story of two best friends growing up and doing the things that girls that age do. Their girlhoods are normal until the best friend, Sally, gets pregnant.

She left one night with just a nod, was lost to some back alley job.

That’s just one line, tucked in the song, but the impact is powerful. I’ve used this song when posting about this topic before because it’s one of the few songs that actually mentions the reality of life before Roe v. Wade. I’m not saying this was a true-life story of Cyndi’s though it feels authentic; I’m just saying it hit me hard because I could imagine this scenario, except with me in the role of Sally.

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Religious Freedom For Thee, But Not For Me

Religious Freedom For Thee, But Not For Me

Ed. Note: My thoughts are still jumbled on this. It’s really hard to get past incoherent rage. So, I apologize that this is going to be disjointed. It’s the best I could do. 

My reaction in reading the Hobby Lobby decision on Monday: FUCK YOU, SCOTUS, AND THE HOBBY LOBBY HORSE YOU RODE IN ON.* I was pissed off, disgusted, seething, and a whole plethora of other emotions, and I still am. But what I am the most is tired.

I’m tired of being considered a second-class citizen in this country because of my gender. Yes, I can get pregnant and give life, but that doesn’t mean that I should be forced to do so. “The fetus is a person.” Well, no. It’s potential person at best, and given that 10 – 20% of pregnancies end up in miscarriages, it’s easy to refute that truism, even if you can’t convince the person saying it. If it were true that every pregnancy should be brought to term, there would be no miscarriages. There are valid reasons for terminating a pregnancy, even if it’s not because the fetus has a genetic defect. Now, I’m going to say something heretical. Even if I were to concede that a fetus is a life (which, again, I don’t), my rejoinder would be that I am, too. I’m a living, breathing person, and I fucking matter. I matter as much as those cells hypothetically swimming around inside my body; no, I matter MORE. I wrote about this realization after Dr. Tiller’s murder. You can read my thoughts about why I matter here. And, to get even more meta about it, why it matters that I realize I matter.

Going down that road, that’s another thing that makes me tired. These religious extremists are telling me that I don’t matter as much as this potential person does. My hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, etc., are meaningless to these assholes once I become pregnant. Then, I am nothing more than a vessel for the potential life inside of me. They are saying that anything I want for my life is moot once a sperm happens to hook up with one of my eggs, and I am having none of it. What’s ironic is that they don’t give a shit once the baby is actually born, but another post for another day.

I am tired of the anti-choice successfully dominating the narrative so that pro-choice activists have to apologize for abortion or qualify it. Yes, it’s a terrible horrible awful thing and yes the goal is zero abortions and, and, and….We’ve allowed them to define ‘good’ abortions (or rather, acceptable abortions, i.e., in the case of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother) versus ‘bad’ abortion (unacceptable abortions, every other abortion). It’s because of this that anti-choicers can argue about the evil Slutty McSluts who are having sex all over the place and then going through the drive-thru of McDonald’s to order up their abortions for the day.
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Conscious Discrimination in Gaming as in Life

Conscious Discrimination in Gaming as in Life

Now that I’m dabbling in gaming culture, I’m seeing a common complaint by some gamers that I used to see in politics, and, indeed, in society in general. “Why do you have to bring ___________* into it? I just want to enjoy ____________** without any of that icky identity crap that goes with it!” In case you can’t guess, the people saying this are usually white guys, probably straight, and they don’t understand why they have to deal with race, gender, sexuality when all they want to do is play a damn video game! They can’t understand why we minorities have to harp on these issues. Well, let me try to explain why it’s important to us who are not in the majority.

The default for video games is to have a white, straight male as a protagonist.. Even though gamers themselves are becoming more diverse, the protagonists have remained mostly a monolith. Blah blah blah developers creativity, but as I pointed out in a previous post, if every developer churns out the same product, it’s not really creative, is it? I will say that I started gaming in the heyday of its diversity with you having the ability to choose to customize your character to varying extents in more games than ever. However, if a game gives you one protagonist, you can bet that nine out of ten times*** said protagonist would be a white male. So, those of us tired of playing straight white males are going to point this out from time to time. Not all the time as some straight, white male (SWM) gamers claim. Probably not  even half the time or a quarter, but enough to make it uncomfortable to those who wish to remain oblivious of the issues. Any discussion of an issue that one would rather not face feels like too much attention given to said issue.

If you’re a SWM in gaming, you have the luxury of not having to think about race, gender, sexual identity, etc. All the games cater to you because you are the default norm. When minorities point out the rather obvious fact that they are missing from the equation, it seems like THEY are the ones who are bringing up race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and injecting it into the conversation. The SWMs don’t see that race/gender/sexuality already play a big part because you don’t come up with that kind of uniformity by accident. No, I’m not saying it’s some kind of conspiracy – I’m saying it’s societal norm that is invisible because of its pervasiveness and acceptability.
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