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Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Ten

None More Dead

They say preparation is everything, but they're wrong. What actually matters is the execution. Chop all the vegetables you like, if you forget to put them in the oven you are still having raw potatoes for dinner. Needless to say, day ten's advent calendar offering is a lesson in kind.

It's... Dark Souls!


I would never have played Dark Souls for six days straight if I hadn't been preparing a WIT. I'd probably still be playing it now, my progress slow and painful, like a barefooted man crossing a field of broken glass, or Joe Simpson's remarkable journey back to base camp. There's a man whose very existence makes me uncomfortable about my failure to go to the shops for some biscuits this morning because it's a bit nippy out. In fact, thinking of that courage, grit and determination has inspired me. I'm going to get some biscuits. Back in a sec.

Caramel Digestives, if you're wondering.

Playing a game to the exclusion of all others for a week isn't natural for me. I tend to savour the things I enjoy rather than binging on them, which is why devoting almost every hour of my life to Dark Souls for a short period was so strange. It could have been the equivalent of receiving a bottle of good quality bourbon and drinking it by the pint, then waking up the following afternoon to find I'd signed up for a life at sea with a gang of ne'er do wells. Dark Souls will punish the prepared and unprepared alike, and it has a delicious, woody after-taste.

Despite the strange and hurried nature of our relationship, Dark Souls didn't cause me to take leave of my senses. In fact, I benefited from the near-constant exposure. Spend a day in Lordran and when the sun sets, sick of being praised, you'll know more about yourself than you did that morning. What is the limit of your patience? How many mistakes do you have to learn from before you start to make them deliberately? When will you turn to the wisdom and skills of others for assistance?

The first question is key. Dark Souls never challenged my patience at all because I was never wasting my time. I've killed the same enemies in the same locations hundreds of times and I spent six or seven hours trying to escape from what is, to all extents and purposes, a bloody sewer level - but I was always entertained and always inquisitive. The weirdness of the world is part of that. I never tire of speculating about its odd cultural collisions and patchwork nature, and even though it's a world in which killing and dying are the only hobbies anyone really indulges in, the place feels alive - alive but dying. Exploring Dark Souls is sometimes like exploring a wound, picking away and gleefully scratching the itch, even though it's likely to open up to fresh suffering at any moment.

So, I spent a week picking at a scab and, when all was said and done, was convinced that I'd spent that time with one of the cleverest and most challenging creations I'd ever encountered. The second question, about learning from mistakes, is vital. There's always a way to succeed, whatever the situation, and some of the speedruns of the game show just how well prepared it's possible to be. For every encounter that I've stumbled through, surviving with a thin slice of health remaining, there's another that I've found far easier than the general consensus reckons it is. And then there are the creatures I've killed a thousand times but still manage to fall to occasionally, because my own confidence is the real knife at my throat. Mistakes are inevitable but reacting to them and applying that learning is not. Dark Souls demands that you put in that effort because it's not your stats and your equipment that will drag you over the finish line.

The answer to the final question was fundamental for me. I needed people to help me because surviving all of that on my own would have been impossible. I didn't have the time, the skill or the knowledge. But Dark Souls is a multiplayer game and not only in terms of the invasions and assistance that can contribute so much to the experience. It's a game in which knowledge and understanding will save you far more often than a shield or a spell, so it's only natural to turn to the knowledge of others when all of your efforts seem to fail. Knowing about a certain Rusted Iron Ring isn't cheating and nor is knowing where to find it, because every step toward it is still one step closer to potential death.

Despite relying on the assistance of others, despite the pages of lore and advice that I studied, Dark Souls killed me thousands of times in that week and I wouldn't have had it any other way. When I started playing, having loved Demon's Souls, I was concerned that I might have doomed myself, worried that I could end up irritated by the game because I was being forced to exist within it rather than sampling it, piece by piece over a year or more.

I was wrong. A long, concentrated draught of something pure and powerful is what a body needs sometimes. If you have time off work for Father Christmas' wedding anniversary, I suggest spending at least a few days building a bond with Dark Souls. It will punish you and reward you, and eventually you might just realise that they're the same thing. I did. And then I died. Happy.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.