Dark Souls isn't broken - You are.

Opinion: John Dean thinks gamers have gone soft - and the age of hand-holding needs to end

Page 2 of 2

Conventional logic tells us we should be striving for a world without instruction manuals or tutorials, using intuitive design to make learning a game easier. Smoke and mirrors certainly help, but the majority of the time this is simply achieved by putting too much weight on familiarity: Creating games that don't push us out of our comfort zone, and immediately feel recognisable. The comfort this frame of reference provides is usually pleasant, but the side-effect isn't good: Immediately slamming your brain into a warm, fuzzy auto-pilot.

We've done this before. We know how games like this work. The tutorial bit will feature lots of exciting story, then we'll get to choose what kind of character we want to play as. Boss fights won't be hard until we get to the third one - at which point we might start to think about tactics. You'll finish those three quests at once, so you can cash them all in at the same time.


We've begrudgingly become so accustomed to games insisting on holding our hand all the time that we've had to change the way we play them to make sure it's still fun. In practice, this usually means racing through the basics so we can't get to the good bits: Pelting through the first half of the game to get our teeth into the actual challenge. Sometimes we forget about the carrot on the other end of the stick entirely, and the challenge we're chasing doesn't even surface - leaving us racing through the entire experience with little aim other than trying to finish the game just so we can start playing a different one.

If you think that Dark Souls feels like a grind, it's only because your brain is hell-bent on telling you that the bits between the bosses aren't supposed to difficult - simply because you've been taught over the years to play games like this in such a narrow and specific manner.

Dark Souls provides a deeply satisfying challenge from the very beginning of the game, dropping you straight into a tutorial that will happily kill you over and over again. Games don't do that, so surely it must be broken?

Evil checkpoints, traps, and slow-paced combat aren't design mistakes - they're fundamental to what makes Dark Souls such a fantastic game. It's not about cracking one out over dying niche appeal or pointless complexity. Dark Souls only seems difficult because it doesn't fit the specific blueprint that's been gradually etched into our brains.

One of the main reasons gaming was so exciting when we started playing them as kids, is because we didn't understand how they worked. You often needed to read a whopping great manual to have any idea of what you were supposed to be doing, but it was this learning process that made it fun: Teaching your brain to master something new, and starting to think about simple problems in an entirely different way.


You don't need a massive manual to learn how to play Dark Souls, but you do have to approach it with an open mind. Very little is explained, and you won't have a clue what's going on. If you're reading this, then at some point in your life you've been here before. Back then, you learnt to embrace it. Before you decide that Dark Souls is broken - remember that at one point in your life, you learnt how to ride a bicycle.

After falling off hundreds of times, you eventually learnt to master it - and that moment felt utterly fantastic. Since then, we've been too busy wrapping ourselves up in familiar conventions to notice that the stabilisers have been slipped back on, and the pedals aren't even attached to a chain.

Dark Souls isn't purposefully obtuse, excessively difficult, or needlessly contrary. It's a piece of design that knows exactly what it wants to be, and refuses to let anything get in the way of its very specific creative vision. Pull on the brakes, turn around, and tell your dad to stop pushing you along - it's time to remember how to start playing games again.

  1 2