Recently, my brother got me back into Dark Souls. Shortly after, we managed to get my best friend into it, too. So, there’s been a lot of Dark Souls being played at my place lately. Which got me thinking.

Just what about this game made me like it so much?

Those who know me well know I am not exactly a HUGE fan of modern video gaming: If the graphics are too “good,” I get a headache from looking at it… I still play NES, Genesis, SNES, Gameboy and MS-DOS games on a regular basis… And while I enjoy a lot of the more modern efforts, I feel as though there has been a shift in soul from the games of 10-15 years ago.

I could make a metaphor for it (say what happened to Rock Music around the end of the 70’s), proselytize about it for a while, and waste this space here… Or, I could simply leave it there. Because, I don’t want to talk about that today. Instead, I want to talk about Dark Souls.

There are two main things which draw me to games like Dwarf Fortress, Ys, and ADOM, Those are:

  1. High Difficulty

  2. Implicit Storytelling

I’ll talk about my love of games with insane difficulty some other time. Instead, I’d like to focus on the second idea today: Implicit Storytelling, or telling a story using things other than exposition and dialogue.

In Dark Souls, You are given what amounts to 5 minutes of direct exposition: And that includes a genesis story, a small amount of dialogue from a dying character (Oscar), and then confirmation from a character near the [start of the game][crestfallen].

All that does is tell the player what they are supposed to be doing, with the smallest amount of story behind it. Everything else in the story is left for the player to glean from “Talk”-ing to NPCs, reading item descriptions, item drops and locations, and the dialogue-less boss intro cut scenes.

There are many benefits to this, but first and foremost is that it doesn’t force the player to hear the entire story. There are players out there who are content knowing what they are supposed to do, without caring about why. And on certain days, I don’t want to spend 30 minutes of the hour I have to play games watching a movie or reading a book.

Another benefit: It makes the story one of the many ways a good game can reward exploration. If the player wants to learn more about the world, then having the setting, history, or story itself be told in item descriptions makes every item worthwhile (no matter how hard it is to find or collect).

On top of that, it makes the world seem more like a living, breathing place… and less like a play, or a movie. In real life, only rarely are we told all about some particular event, happening, or custom. Usually, we need to find out about it on our own. And, since we have computers and libraries, we usually end up reading about it before anything else.

So, while it is still video game-y to make a key or a helmet tell You about some person or event in history, it _seems more real… Because it uses a method of discovery we are already familiar with.

I don’t want this to be too long a post, so I’ll leave it at this: I love Dark Souls for many reasons. But I think the first and foremost is how beautifully it uses Implicit Storytelling to tell its story. It does it so masterfully, that as a whole the Dark Souls community has been able to (semi-reliably) piece together a lot of the back-story of the world of Lordran without being told much at all.

And it did it so well that I noticed how much I enjoy it when a game can do that, too.

Categories:  games 
Tags:  implicit storytelling  dark souls  explanation  video game