Maybe We Should Just Let 'Demon's Souls' Die


#1

Demon’s Souls died a quiet death. Someone stood in a room somewhere and clicked the servers off. I want to imagine that it was monstrous, that a technician took a sledgehammer to a cooled stack of whirring computers, tears streaming down their face in frustration at what the higher ups had forced them to do. It was probably scheduled from a drop-down menu before someone went home for the evening. No tears shed, the servers wiped to make more room for Dark Souls III PVP players.

The servers went offline February 28th. With them went the connective capacity of Demon’s Souls. No more ghosts of other players almost managing to slip into your world. No more blood stains, no more summons, no more invaders. No more fantasy of thousands of people all striving to defeat the same enemies and bosses alongside you, each separated from the another by the thinnest layer of reality. What’s left is an abandoned universe of singular struggle, that thing we call “offline play.”

In the lead-up to the closure of the servers, I planned to experience it. I blew the dust off my PS3 and loaded up Demon’s Souls, a game that I had not seriously attempted to play since I defeated the first boss and then immediately uninstalled it back in 2011. I felt like I needed to experience the game, from beginning to end in the way that it was meant to be played, before that option was taken away from me.


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I couldn’t manage it. I sat down multiple times, controller fully charged and my schedule cleared, and I never made it out of Boletaria. I knew that I would never be able to play this game, really play it in the way that the designers intended, after February 28th. And I still couldn’t commit.

Maybe it was the pressure of the horizon line barrelling down on me. Maybe it was my frustration with a frame rate that often chugged and left me hanging. Maybe it was just my lack of willpower. No matter the cause, I couldn’t swing it, and now I’m sitting here a week later regretting my inability to commit. What worlds did I fail to encounter? What did I miss?

I’m mournful about a world that wasn’t even mine. I have something like the ultimate form of FOMO: I know that there are excellent things in this game that I just will not have access to in the way that many people had access to them before me. The closing of the servers annihilated my ability to do so. In the same way that I can’t go back to Everquest without expansions, World of Warcraft in the state it was at a year into its lifespan, or MAG during its heyday, I can’t get back to the place that Demon’s Souls is supposed to generate. Whatever that world was, I won’t ever know it.

In Julie Muncy’s article about logging in for the last few hours of the game, she writes about defeating the first boss before the servers went down for good. “I fight for what feels like a long time,” she says.

When the boss finally goes down, I realize the battlefield is littered with messages. They're almost uniformly celebrations. Exclamations of "Yes!," guarantees of impending rest at the save point, or, simply, "I did it!" In this oppressive, strange place, I feel a moment of pride, and peace. And not just for myself.

Reading that fills me with a sadness that’s hard to articulate. I know that there was something in the experience of Demon’s Souls that I was supposed to be getting. I know that I should have been hooked, or that the game should have been able to get its hooks into me, but it didn’t. I knew the game was dying and I didn’t do anything to make sure that I explored it. I couldn’t give up enough of myself, couldn’t get over the hump, couldn’t make it happen. Maybe I could have done what John Learned did and kept a diary, a final record of settling my account with the game. And now I can’t, forever.

Video games give us lots of ways of expressing anger. The gunshot or the burst of well-crafted energy that splits enemies in two. They also give us ways of transcending our own death, a kind of ultimate revenge: The respawn, for example, from an extra life we had stuffed own in our pockets. But video games don’t give us a lot of ways of making peace with never having something, or more importantly, losing it. We’re quick to praise a game for its triumphant message of overcoming adversity at all costs, but we rarely talk about games giving us new ways of dealing with loss or a lack of access to something. Games are understood in a way that always allows them to give us something and rarely in a way that thinks of them as objects that take something from us.

Demons’s Souls already have private fan servers that are bringing the hyper-enfranchised players back into the world together. These are people who know enough to go looking for a new world after their old one was killed. They follow in the path of those who have created pirate Everquest and World of Warcraft servers. These universes get saved by heroic individuals who are committed, against all odds and to the bitter end, to preserving them.

But I wonder if the better lesson to learn is one about loss. Maybe it’s best to fall into the despair of the most forlorn undead and simply recognize that the world has moved on and that I should too. I’m holding onto my sadness about never really getting to play the game, but I’m not struggling to raise it, zombie-like, from the dead. I think it might be best to embrace missing out.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/j5b7gy/maybe-we-should-just-let-demons-souls-die

#2

I always get a little sad when game servers get shut down. Demon’s Souls getting shut down felt a little different.

I imagine like a lot of folks who are into this series, I only got into the Souls series when the PC port of Dark Souls came out. I played through the whole game in 2013 and really fell in love with it, and after I had completed it I immediately bought a copy of Demon’s Souls to go out and give the predecessor a try. It sat on my shelf for 5 years. The other Souls games came out and I spent my time with them instead. Y’know how these things happen.

When they announced the servers would be shutting down, I figured it was finally the time. I started playing at the end of January, and I finished on February 28th, the day the game shut down.

I found a lot to love about Demon’s Souls, as examining it as the foundation for a series, playing with mechanics and ideas they never brought back, but what caught me most was the tone.

Demon’s Souls differs from the other games tonally in the franchise in a fairly major way. In all the games following Dark Souls, the world is ending, but generally speaking, everyone has already really given up. Some still hold on to hope, but most have resigned to their fate, like they’ve seen these things happen before.

In Demon’s Souls, it feels like no one is ready for the end of the world, but it’s coming whether they like it or not. Everyone is really genuinely afraid of the end, and it’s looming over everything.

By playing Demon’s Souls when I did, this fear was real. The world of Boletaria actually was just about to end. I only had so much time left to do what I could, try to help as many people I could. Normally I spend a lot of time in these games trying to work out how to help every NPC and acquire all the rare items. But for Demon’s Souls, there was not enough time.

The feeling of the world falling apart was real, as I initially didn’t see too many other players, but as I delved deeper into the game I ran into more people, friendly and antagonistic alike. I helped some players defeat some of the trickier bosses, I got invaded more than once, got given some of the rarest items by invading spirits, and I defeated the Old Monk.

With only a few hours left, I reached the final boss of the game. The “Good” ending of Demon’s Souls is far more optimistic than I was expecting given my experience with the rest of the series. By killing King Allant, and letting the Maiden in Black sacrifice herself, you successfully push away the deep fog and save Boletaria. But the magic of Soul Arts are permanently lost, and anyone lost in the Nexus will remain lost forever. Safety returns to Boletaria, but you can never return. And then as the servers shut down, I was left just as my character was. I had beaten Demon’s Souls, but I could not return.

The connection was severed, and once again, I was alone.


#3

Lovely language but it all comes across a touch too close to:

[Heath Ledger in Joker make-up, smoking a rolled up piece of the Mona Lisa, as the Louve burns in the background, flames rising up through the now shattered pyramid at the core]
*turns to the audience and starts a monologue about how great works can compel from us the feeling of loss*

Yes, ok. Very true (you can make someone feel loss by making something and then… destroying it; creating the very literal conditions of actual loss). But also anyone who wanted to experience this thing can’t and it wasn’t because this was some artistic statement or core to the nature of perishable or fleeting creations. Someone saw how to save a few quid by turning off an old server but had so little interest for the artistic work that they didn’t release the server code (remember when games that had online just used to include server code so you could run your own?) so others could shoulder the cost (we are yet to see if they are going to be as punitive as to go after those who are attempting to reverse engineer private servers to fill the hole).

A large corporation decided that after getting well paid for their commercial art, a tiny negative on their ledger was annoying them - who wants anything other than pure green? They’re no longer willing to pay the pennies to maintain the full work. And so it must be closed.


#4

Demon’s Souls is coming up on nine years old pretty soon [edit: actually over nine years old in Japan!]. I’m impressed the servers lasted this long.

God we’re getting close to a decade of Souls games


#5

I like Cameron’s writing but this piece didn’t resonate with me. There wasn’t value or a unique perspective here for me - and that’s okay - not every piece of writing has to appeal to every single person.

However, I would like to share why I was a little disappointed.

I am just not a fan of the initial headline and the final take…and that’s probably just on me as a reader who was able to experience Demon’s Souls during its launch window.

I might be alone in this but the headline had my expectations set like:

  • The author is about to go in on how the souls games aren’t actually as good as everyone thinks or “pretends” they are and maybe there is some unthought of value in letting it the game go.

  • Maybe the author has some really good original opinions about the failings of Daemon’s Souls

  • Maybe the author is going to articulate how the actual game part of Demon’s Souls wasn’t actually what was important about it at all… or something similar

That’s just kind of where my mind went when reading the headline. Instead, the piece itself felt a little more selfish.

Although Cameron say’s he’s going to miss the game, the piece reads more like what he actually is going to miss is the opportunity to be a cool dude by way of a cultural phenomenon and inclusion as the result of a zeitgeist that was kind of crucial to the Demon’s Souls experience. To me that makes it feel like Cameron “missing” the game and saying “let it go” is a real an empty gesture. Of course, he would say “let it die.” He’s not really invested in the world or the systems that existed there and it’s easier for him if it’s gone because he doesn’t have to confront never having engaged with those things and missing out in the first place.

What Cameron should let die is the feeling that he needs to play this game (its cool dude just jump on the next thing whatever it happens to be) - I think Cameron does kind of arrive at this by the end but it’s under the guise of just saying it’s okay if a video game disappears. Instead of coming to terms with his own decision it’s actually just made for him if the game dies. What if this was your favorite novel or something? I guess in some ways really dying would make the game more special.

I am not even a big Demon Souls fan just kind of disappointed with the angle of the piece. Sorry for ranting and I guess the article is meant to be self-reflective so maybe it isn’t really meant for the judgment of an audience or a reader. I just went in thinking with that headline there must be a unique take here.

I did come out of this trying to think of some interesting ways to think of Demon’s Souls as if it were really to die and what a different approach to this article might look like so maybe I did find some value in here after all?

I am no writer but these were the two things I came up with:

  • You die a lot in Demon’s Souls but the dying isn’t really important. It’s what you learn… and articulating/documenting and expanding on what the entire industry has learned from Demon’s Souls and how that’s trickled out into everything could be valuable. Doesn’t matter if it dies…it’s lessons are in everything now.

  • On the other hand, maybe the industry clinging on to the success of the souls games is actually hurting us… like trying to use the same tactic on a souls boss over and over again and that’s why Demon’s Souls has to die…that’s why all the Souls games eventually have to die.

Sorry again for ranting and sorry Cameron. Looking forward to your next piece!