I’ve only played Dark Souls once or twice in the past few weeks. I’m at The Tomb of the Giants, and according to the wiki, I only have a few more things to do (minus the DLC) to finish the whole game. I’m not super stoked on finishing it. Part of me isn’t playing because I don’t want it to end. The other part of me doesn’t want to play because there is no pause button (just a “quit to menu” option that’ll start the game where you left on…functionally the same, but time consuming) and the kid is known to spontaneously cry out, wriggle, generally need something (food, affection).
It’s strange that this game has enriched my life the way that it has. I don’t think the me from a year ago would have believed me if he heard me say that. But it’s reminded me what I like about writing, and the act of creating itself.
The Tomb of the Giants is located way underground, through an enormous sarcophagus and a library with piles of grimoires on the floor and skeletons strung up from the walls. It’s goth excellence. Once you go into the tomb proper, it is pitch dark, lit only by small flares here and there. You can put a Sunlight Maggot on your head, giving you this Alchemical Sun look, and wander through the caves, encountering lost adventurers huddled in fear, traitorous salesmen, giant skeleton dogs, and precipitous drop-offs (because of course). The environment is probably the most on-the-nose articulation of the Dark Souls aesthetic: obscured, difficult, beautiful.
The creator of the game, Miyazaki, used to read books that he’d check out from the library. I’m going off memory here, but I believe he spoke a bit of English, and some of the fantasy books he’d read would be in English, and he’d fill in the gaps of what he didn’t understand with his own interpretations. That’s what led to Dark Souls now-iconic mystification, the occulted bits of the game that invite the player to fill in the gaps, to not-understand while exploring the world.
I’m thinking a lot about this quality of not-understanding. It was a theme of a writing course I taught on Bizarro fiction years ago, this idea that the things that you don’t know in a work of art matter more than the things you do. You can have someone who is really good at world-building, but nothing will ever match a deftly created sandbox in which you, yourself, begin to imagine and invent the world of the book.
Taking that onboard has been a tough process in my own writing, as I’ve been a bit focused on creating something that people would be able to understand and digest. I’ve been beating my head against the wall about this for years now, and I realize it’s because that’s not the mode that I work in. The creation itself has to be mysterious to me, and the bits that I do know, I have to hide them. Creating a book is like hiding Easter eggs. The fun is in me knowing, or kind-of-knowing, and then setting up (occasionally unsolvable) puzzles for readers to mull over.
Accepting that, actually making the choice to dive deeper into the interests and tics that seem to make my work a bit unaccessible, has kicked the doors wide open. I’m no longer all that worried about the books being dismissed or disliked. All that really matters is that I have fun in the creating.
And on that note, the kid is asleep…maybe I’ll try to get through this Tomb of Giants while I still can.