Remember that list of alternative pursuits Thomsen offered to fill the 100 hours that Dark Souls occupies? The game actually encompasses each one of those pursuits. We’ve already examined how gameplay mirrors the learning of a foreign language. Thomsen mentions that we could use that 100 hours to train for a marathon. Dark Souls’ vertigo-inducing breadth makes it the gaming equivalent of a marathon and each bit of practice – yes, those countless mistimed attacks against zombies – helps us build the endurance and skill needed to reach its finish line.
Reading War And Peace? Dark Souls immerses us in war, and lots of it. But it also lets us taste the most incredible peace – sublime moments of quiet interspersed between the violence like rests in a musical score. Our hero plops cross-legged beside a glowing bonfire and we exhale along with him or her. We pause before descending the staircase into Anor Londo to gaze out over Lordran’s heavenly city. It’s no accident that there’s a cathedral within, or that winged creatures – angelic demons – have carried us to its perch, which could not be scaled with human effort. It refreshes our mind from the memories of hell and fire that resides deep under the earth’s crust where lava flows and horned demons prowl and even death himself – the Gravelord Nito – waits to greet us.
Taking a roadtrip from New York to Los Angeles and back again? Dark Souls invites us on a journey that makes the sights of middle America pale in comparison. If Thomsen were to counter this point, he’d have to discount the worth of virtual experience itself. But he’d do so at great peril, because you can’t marginalise virtual experience without casting aspersion on the life of the mind. Because thoughts and ideas and creativity and inspiration all exist in a virtual space – sparked into immaterial being by the chemistry of our own brains. The return journey between New York and Los Angeles takes you across a continent. Dark Souls invites us to criss-cross a world. To adore games is to be an insatiable wanderer.
When I finished my long trek through Dark Souls, do you know what I did? I clicked on the New Game+ option and began all over again. And I didn’t look sheepishly at the clock on the wall to beg its permission.