Intro to Speculative Dark Souls Lore
Hey so I guess first and foremost is a shoutout to Dianna (youtube channel, twitch channel) for recommending I use this site. They recognized that my essay-like rambling lore spec on Dark Souls was so ridiculous and scattershot that I needed a good place to focus it into coherent readable chunks. So heeeeeere we go…
I couldn’t think of a good singular topic to start off with, so I figured why not start with general thoughts on the Souls series, how I approach analysis, looking at overall themes, etc. I can’t really be any more clear when I say that there’s a lot of subjectivity, bias, and personal politics going into this particular piece of incredibly unethical independent games journalism.
I guess the biggest thing to note is that subjectivity itself. Dark Souls has a notoriously ambiguous style of storytelling, despite the extreme efforts made to build a cohesive world with strong internal logic and symbolism. Dark Souls feels built to support Death of the Author, openly inviting speculation and active audience engagement and discourse. It doesn’t tell you a story, it lays out 80–90% of the puzzle pieces and tells you to make the rest yourself. The important thing is that no one person’s finished puzzle is more valid than anyone else’s. With that in mind, the essays I’ll be publishing here are my arguments for my 10–20%.
A thing I’ve noticed in the community life cycles of Souls games is that at the beginning, the first month or so, there’s an explosion of wild creative speculation. At this point we have no idea what the “real” story of the game is, and we’re throwing everything at the wall. And then this happens:
And look I love VaatiVidya, I love his chill voice, his melodrama, his sentimental bullshit, it’s all very up my alley. But then his voice, and the voices of other big names in the community, become canonized (or rather, fanonized). People stop spouting crazy nonsense, they just point to one of these videos and say “It’s already been explained”. The fans stop speculating.
By the time about a year has passed, with the DLC out and the game data-mined to heckie and back, just about all the raw information of a Souls game is now easily available. All dialogue, all stats, all item descriptions, all this raw text of the game is known. That’s our solid facts, the textiest text of the text. All the knowables of the game are known. All that’s left is subtext, and that is when we should strive to recreate the nonsense explosion, to recreate that First Flame of speculation and become horrifying monsters spewing out chaotic creative lore theories.
Emboldened and refined by the minute details of the raw text, we have greater opportunity to investigate deeper than the canonized “real” stories of the games. Theories born from thematic threads, subjective aesthetic preferences, extremely biased political ideologies, and finding textual evidence to support them. This is how to make lore spec fun again after everything about the game is supposedly “figured out” already.
Is doing so just writing “fanfiction”? Hell yes, it is. Every attempt at criticism, speculation, even just engaged consumption of media is to some degree creative and collaborative, and there should be no shame in that whatsoever.
Demon’s Souls is a bleak somewhat directionless mood piece about nihilism in which the world is so utterly fucked that even the protectors of the fabric of reality are so desperate that they’ll resort to enslaving people like you to force you into their fight and don’t even care if you know it. It’s unfortunately undercut by the fact that the majority of the ills of the world are brought about by only a few very unambiguously villainous people.
Dark Souls is a refinement and expansion of this concept, where the roles are flipped. You are a part of the force that is corrupting and overtaking the world and upending the status quo, but you’ve been raised as a slave to the Old Gods who wish to keep your race from rising up, and must learn about the history that’s been robbed from you. You are dumped into a world in which systems of oppression are so ingrained and where you’re manipulated at all angles that no matter what choice you make in the end, the world cannot be saved. But should it even be saved?
Dark Souls 2 is a smaller scale, more personal journey (with an arguably very trans/queer origin for your character) in which your goal has nothing to do with the fate of the world, but rather self-discovery, trying to understand the nature of your mental and spiritual affliction. It shows much less of its predecessor’s contempt for royalty and your character eventually inherits the legacy of a monarch and fate of the world anyways. Also it doesn’t show a great attitude towards women.
Bloodborne goes all in on the conspiratorial scrawling and the spitting of vitriol at theocracies, even so far as to utterly invert the fear and revulsion for the underclass in H.P. Lovecraft’s Shadow over Innsmouth. Whereas in Bloodborne, the residents of the remote seaside village are monstrously mutated yet innocent victims of a massacre enacted by the dominant religion of the region. It’s transhumanist, too! The only way to overcome the cosmological prison the world has been cast into is to abandon the assumed normalcy of your human body and become something alien.
Dark Souls 3 sees the radical hatred from Bloodborne return to its own series as we go hard at themes of oppression, systemic violence, socialized slavery, and the monstrous and furious desire to destroy the world. No more ambiguity allowed, the Old Gods are dead but their legacy lives on and is choking the world to death. People more privileged than you will betray you to curry favor with those higher than them. Systems of oppression run so deep that slaves don’t recognize their own slavery, repeating the violence of history. You have to embrace the terrifying Dark and the change that comes with upsetting the status quo, or else everything will collapse in on itself.
I cannot wait to see what we come up with for whatever’s next. ❤