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On Dark Souls, Mummy And Geist: An Analysis Of Life Within Death

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  • On Dark Souls, Mummy And Geist: An Analysis Of Life Within Death

    Disclaimer: I only completed Dark Souls 1, and have not played 2 nor 3. However, the mood and themes are consistent through the series, so that will not affect the following analysis.

    Many others have written thorough dissertations on the mechanics and story of Dark Souls, and how they combine into a unforgettable experience. The rage and despair one feels at the immense but ultimately rewarding difficulty isn't just a clear sign of excellent game design. It reflects what is most certainly going on inside the shriveled yet beating heart of the Chosen Undead. Such a reflection brings us much closer to a magnificent immersion, even if we miss out on the details of the extensive lore for one reason or another.

    I'm not writing this to gush about how much I like Dark Souls, evident as my fondness is just from the paragraph above. I just want to draw parallels between Dark Souls and two gamelines within the Chronicles Of Darkness, which has become one of my favorite settings of all over the years.

    One of the central ideas in Dark Souls is duality, or rather, Disparity. The intro cutscene to Dark Souls 1 shows this quite clearly and vividly, and the lore you find from that moment onward is built upon the impressions you get from said intro. The player and the Chosen Undead experience such a Disparity mainly by traversing a liminal space between Despair and Determination. These emotions are defining characteristics of Mummy and Geist, respectively.

    For the former, there are similarities between the long-dead glory of the Nameless Empire and the Age Of Fire. The Arisen/Chosen Undead are chained to an obsession with bringing back said glory, or rather, keeping it alive for just a bit longer at an immense personal cost. That being said, there is certainly an important distinction to be made regarding the ways one can break such chains, and the ambiguity surrounding this liberation. Any Arisen can theoretically reach Apotheosis, and this is portrayed as a grueling but ultimately self-affirming choice. Meanwhile, only the Chosen Undead has an effective capacity to venture out into the Dark, but it is naught but a symbolic gesture. In the end, only the Dark remains, no matter how much you rage against the dying of the Light. It seems to me that even an Arisen who reaches Apotheosis can certainly succumb to this grim fatalism. It compels us to reflect on our validity, or rather, how we validate ourselves in the face of our short and difficult existence. I personally feel that there is no objective answer for this, and that might be for the best.

    For the latter, the similarities are more apparent. The Chosen Undead is seen by some as the last beacon of hope for a rotten and dying world, the sole bringer of change. He does not have a constant companion in the form of a Geist to assuage his crushing loneliness, however. The closest he ever gets is Solaire, and any Dark Souls fan knows precisely why that is immensely sad. The only real companion to the Chosen Undead and even the Sin-Eaters is Death itself and the restless dead. Both of these protagonists can offer some consolation to those who are wracked by unfinished business, even if it is done through what is essentially euthanasia. The world of Dark Souls is multilayered and filled with a history of despair, much like the Underworld. We even have a quasi-Kerberos in the form of Gravelord Nito. But even so, there is not a single definite culprit for the oppressive and decaying state of the world. Not even the broken Manus in the Abyss, nor the tyrannical Exarchs in the Supernal (including the Psychopomp, whose tyranny the Sin-Eaters are nominally most opposed to).

    While the prevailing tone of Geist is one of rebellious hope for a better world, the stench of Death still permeates their struggles, even if it's not given as much focus as in Dark Souls. I feel like the presentation of Geist 2e could use more Dark Souls-esque ambiguity. Its insistence that Sin-Eaters are more than capable of changing the world for the better despite overwhelming odds is presumptuous and rings Hollow (pun intended). All I'm really saying is that Geist 2e didn't give me much of a horror game vibe. It's certainly horrific from the point of view of the restless dead, whom the Sin-Eaters are supposed to help. But for the Sin-Eaters, the is little reason to question the validity of their activism, or even their methodology. It all feels premature and disingenuous, and claiming the Underworld is a metaphorical representation of systemic oppression in real life comes across as simply trying way too hard. I don't begrudge those who enjoy Geist 2e as is, because I'm not a grognard. All the more power to them, especially if it inspires them to become genuine activists in real life. The current presentation of Sin-Eaters and the Underworld has merely left me cold and unresponsive, like a form of cringe-induced rigor mortis.

    In conclusion, while the particulars of Dark Souls cannot be effectively translated into a tabletop RPG format, its mood and themes are broad and archetypal enough that you can easily incorporate them into the ChroD and similar settings, to a lesser or greater degree. But beyond vidya and elfgames, I firmly believe Dark Souls says something important about life itself, like most forms of great art. You only need to take a closer look. If its message resonates with who you are, I wish you all the Determination of the Chosen Undead and Sin-Eaters combined. And always remember: Prepare To Die, But Don't Fear The Reaper.
    Last edited by GibberingEloquence; 06-16-2019, 11:35 AM.


    Let Him Speak.

  • #2
    A very heartfelt essay that I also feel is working from a bad beginning assumption.

    For one, Dark Souls is not the Chronicles of Darkness. That may sound twee, but when it comes to it, the DS series is about life's gradual succumbing to entropy. Geist has never been about that; the starting premise is that an evolved ghost held the Reaper at gunpoint in return for coming back with a revived human; it's just blatant in 2E.

    Second, and this is important; Geist isn't chasing the Souls series for horror. The horror of Geist is a fundamentally human one - the truly inhuman dead are more or less passive and reactive, only acting to rectify an imbalance in the Old Laws. The scary ones are the Reapers, who are at their core a police force given unlimited power and few responsibilities - but underneath the badge and the mask, they're human as any other normal ghost. The main living antagonists are Eaters of the Dead, who are fundamentally monsters because they made a human choice - the choice to take any means necessary to keep living. Souls, as a series, is more cosmicist - the Fire fades because that's what it does, and knowing that warps people. If Dark Souls was a Geist game, then the Fire would be fading because Londo poisoned it - wrecking the world so that their kingdom would thrive. That's a fundamentally different take, because there's a human face on the issue - even if Londo was right in its motive, the fact is that it becomes a war story between the Lords and Londo, not a struggle against death as a concept.

    Geist 2E is more like Sekiro than Souls - the monsters are the ones you need to be to get ahead in the Underworld. It isn't intentional on the part of the Great Below...but it still means things need to change, because it kills the people who don't abide by its idea of what is just; even a group of Mourners who want to do nothing more than curate their library are going to run afoul of River Cities with paranoid fears the krewe might discover something that provokes a revolt and the loss of the elite's protection against the hungry walls. Realizing you're the only one who can fix a system born broken? That's a lot take in. Which is where the Sekiro parallels come in, as it turns out that the current way of things is slowly killing the world, as opposed to barely holding on, and finding a larger purpose than being a weapon.

    Geist 2E is more mythic hero than Souls ever wanted to be. And that's fine, but they're really quite different things. You want a baseline for 2E, you play Persona 5.
    Last edited by Leliel; 06-16-2019, 03:24 PM.


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    • #3
      Originally posted by Leliel View Post
      A very heartfelt essay that I also feel is working from a bad beginning assumption.

      For one, Dark Souls is not the Chronicles of Darkness. That may sound twee, but when it comes to it, the DS series is about life's gradual succumbing to entropy. Geist has never been about that; the starting premise is that an evolved ghost held the Reaper at gunpoint in return for coming back with a revived human; it's just blatant in 2E.

      Second, and this is important; Geist isn't chasing the Souls series for horror. The horror of Geist is a fundamentally human one - the truly inhuman dead are more or less passive and reactive, only acting to rectify an imbalance in the Old Laws. The scary ones are the Reapers, who are at their core a police force given unlimited power and few responsibilities - but underneath the badge and the mask, they're human as any other normal ghost. The main living antagonists are Eaters of the Dead, who are fundamentally monsters because they made a human choice - the choice to take any means necessary to keep living. Souls, as a series, is more cosmicist - the Fire fades because that's what it does, and knowing that warps people. If Dark Souls was a Geist game, then the Fire would be fading because Londor poisoned it - wrecking the world so that their kingdom would thrive. That's a fundamentally different take, because there's a human face on the issue - even if Londo was right in its motive, the fact is that it becomes a war story between the Lords and Londo, not a struggle against death as a concept.

      Geist 2E is more like Sekiro than Souls - the monsters are the ones you need to be to get ahead in the Underworld. It isn't intentional on the part of the Great Below...but it still means things need to change, because it kills the people who don't abide by its idea of what is just; even a group of Mourners who want to do nothing more than curate their library are going to run afoul of River Cities with paranoid fears the krewe might discover something that provokes a revolt and the loss of the elite's protection against the hungry walls. Realizing you're the only one who can fix a system born broken? That's a lot take in.

      Geist 2E is more mythic hero than Souls ever wanted to be. And that's fine, but they're really quite different things. You want a baseline for 2E, you play Persona 5.
      Thank you for this comment. I was half-expecting someone to readily criticize me just for disliking Geist 2e. Regardless, you've made some really good observations. They haven't changed the sour taste that Geist 2e left in my mouth, but maybe they will be enough to motivate me toward giving the game a more attentive reading eventually. And to be perfectly honest, if I am to criticize Geist 2e for its presentation, I should be equally critical of Mage. Both of them strongly encourage you to Fight The Status Quo, and that encouragement shapes a lot of their lore. Mage has more support for playing the agents of the Status Quo in the form of the Seers Of The Throne, which I find a good choice. Geist admittedly has a distinct approach to this, so I can't reasonably expect it to have the same level of mechanical support for playing its equivalent to Seers. I just think Geist 2e's tone is overbearing and poses an obstacle to my enjoyment of the game. Maybe I'm just not a part of its intended audience, who knows. I've never seriously accused anyone of having BadWrongFun, and I'm not about to start.
      Last edited by GibberingEloquence; 06-16-2019, 03:33 PM.


      Let Him Speak.

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      • #4
        Regarding how difficult it is to translate the struggle against entropy and the unknown, along with how altruism may present a path forward, there is a board game that accomplished that superbly. Its called Pathologic and its made by Ice Pick Lodge. It deals with these issues while it makes some fascinating design choices, such as what happens when multiple people believe they know the only sane path. Therefore you can win, lose to others or the problem wins.

        They also make video games and all of them make some fascinating philosophical and symbolism based arguments. Knock Knock, The Void, Pathologic 1 & 2 are definitely worth a try, they are relatively cheap too (except Pathologic 2, its very new, but really great).

        They also do some unique worldbuilding and can be wonderfully weird.
        Last edited by KaiserAfini; 06-16-2019, 04:46 PM.


        New experiences are the font of creativity, when seeking inspiration, break your routine.


        The Agathos Kai Sophos, an Acanthus Legacy of strategists

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