Content warning for discussion of sexual harassment.
We welcome special guest Adam Conover from Adam Ruins Everything for a chat about Dark Souls, fairness in games, and how much fun it is to ruin common misconceptions. We also talk seriously about comedy, Louis C.K., and sexual harassment.
Not sure I’ve seen anyone mention this yet, but just wanted to shout out Riendeau’s pre-Miss You quotes at the start of her episodes! It’s a fantastic idea that always grips me right in. Please keep doing them if you’ve got ideas!
I gotta say that the episode really hit home for me, especially Adam’s whole thing about what to do with rumors and speculation before they become substantiated. Full disclosure, I attended a Louis CK show earlier this year in Toronto. I had read Gawker and Jezebel’s reporting on him prior to that, but took the stance that unless these rumors were corroborated I’d give Louis the benefit of the doubt. After all, he comes across as so genuine!
Smash cut to this week, and I feel so gross at my moral equivocation just a few months ago. I didn’t have to shout from the rooftops that CK was a predator, but I could have just stayed home and not give him my money that night. Instead I did what so many people do, and ignored the issue until it grew too big to look the other way. I sincerely hope to learn from this and be better the next time one of my faves is outed as a scumbag.
Great episode. Love hearing from Adam who I was delighted to see interview Rand Miller for Obduction back when that came out. I hope you continue to tackle the big issues of the day and ask us how we can better treat the oppressed and marginalized.
Adam Conover only briefly mentioned the Witness during this podcast, but he interviewed Jonathon Blow on his Adam Ruins Everything podcast about the design process and the philosophical bits. Jonathon Blow gives very Jonathon Blow answers but it does provide some insight about how that all came together.
I gotta say I thought this episode was one of the worst Waypoint Radio episodes that had 40 minutes dedicated to what essentially what could have been summed up into a few sentences “I got hacked but kept going”. The actual gameplay impact of the giant blacksmith being killed is at most being forced to run back to the previous blacksmith which would have taken 5-10 minutes (if you had not purchased the weapon repair box), the whole point of this discussion was trying to talk about how this huge blow had been dealt to Adam because of this blacksmith being dead but in reality he provides nothing of actual value to the average player save for maybe cooler looking boss weapons which under perform in almost all instances.
Besides the above I feel like the intro of the podcast completely was off base, Danielle talking about how the game only exists in this community with communication with others, but a lot of people myself included did NOT play the game online, not on a stream nor connected to the net, so no messages on the ground. Some of us taking advantage of such systems lessens the gameplay experience (summons can and will beat the boss for you while you stand still in a corner eating a sandwich if you let them, there’s no challenge or adversity overcome there, just a sandwich).
To each their own, but being locked out of specific weapons is more than just having to run back to the other blacksmith. Yeah they’re paper tigers, but maybe someone wants them because they enjoy the collection and completion aspect of the game. I get that it’s not un-fixable and on NG+ they’ll be back, but maybe this is his only playthrough and now that content is unobtainable.
As for playing the game without the community, you’re right it is entirely possible to do that. However the majority of people do not and that’s not the way it’s intended to be played. The social interactions built in and the intentionally obtuse design are not designed to be taken head on by individuals, and they’re not really challenges either. There is no challenge in stumbling upon hidden walls or discovering hidden ledges you can fall to, most of these discoveries are happy accidents. Walking around attacking every flat surface and tiptoeing off of cliffs isn’t difficult, it’s just a chore. Encountering your first mimic isn’t a test of skill, the game doesn’t even hint that such a thing is possible until it kills you.
Perception and self-control are skills though and that’s what those aspects of the Souls games are challenging you on. There are often visual and environmental cues to detect illusory walls, hidden paths, and mimics. Glowing items are often used as a way to attract the player’s eye and get them to think about how to reach that path/area, for example.
In regards to mimics, it is actually quite easy to tell if a chest is a mimic - they actually breathe (there is also their unique chain, but that’s for quick differentiation and you’d have to be like Sherlock Holmes to notice that at first). By the time you encounter your first mimic, Dark Souls has been quite open about the fact that there are traps and that caution and awareness will do a lot to save you. Moreover, the first mimic is in Sen’s Fortress - a level based entirely on traps.
All this combined with the potential presence of bloodstains in a room with just a chest makes it almost reasonable that players will pick up on something being amiss. The challenge is maintaining caution and awareness in a hostile/tense world and not just immediately satisfying the urge to open a chest and get treasure. I don’t think it’s fair to say it doesn’t require skill - there is a whole puzzle adventure genre dedicated to developing these skills in much more obtuse ways than you’ll find in any of the Souls games.
Loving to learn how a game works but not being very interested in playing it is my history with Dota 2. Even after 5 years, there still isn’t a game I think about more on a day to day basis but I almost never actually play it.
And I came back to Dark Souls after reading the Wiki about how armor upgrades work, too.
The “magic tricks” used by game designers is an interesting revelation for me. Expectation management and “careful” presentation of information at work.
The discussion of fairness in games also lands for me. I’ve always thought of randomness as an important part of games. But I feel there is a backlash against randomness that is sometimes framed as unrealistic, as though the real world can be fully known and fully controlled. Lack of randomness in a game can be interesting, but because it is an artificial choice for the magic circle, not because it is a natural element of the world.
Science provides a deterministic framework for understanding the world. However, it is built on ideal conditions and statistical generalities that mean we can understand how things will usually happen, but not that they will happen that way everything.
I like the same randomness, within known expectations, in games. Admittedly I also don’t persevere through games after I think I’ve understood the system, as described in the podcast.