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Hipster Souls: Birth of a Fad

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Hipster Souls: Birth of a Fad

Unread postby icycalm » 15 May 2019 12:38

I'd be interested in reading the very first Western previews/reviews/articles/blog & forum posts that contributed to the rise of Demon's Souls' popularity in the West. If you have some sources, let's see them.

My provisional hypothesis (without having played any of these games) is that the game is very good at making you feel as if you've overcome a tough challenge, whereas in fact you've just mostly been grinding, so that even an effeminate hipster who only plays "indie" games will feel like he is cool. This is the exact challenge model that dungeon crawlers of old used, and that's precisely what Demon's Souls is, only 1) in real-time action, like Dungeon Master, 2) with only one avatar, unlike Dungeon Master, and 3) with production values through the roof, unlike contemporary dungeon crawlers. So it makes sense why gamers would take to it, because the idea behind the game is solid, but it makes no sense why the hipsters would flock to it unless my challenge=grinding hypothesis is correct. Even then, the dungeon crawler is such a primitive, esoteric genre that, even in its modern actiony manifestation it's the last type of game that you'd expect hipsters to flock to. So I would like to read the very first hipsters/journlolists who advertised it and try to figure out what they were thinking (more precisely, what they were feeling, because effeminate males, like women, don't really think). So if you have some relevant material in mind, go ahead and link them and we'll go through them and discuss them.
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Unread postby earthboundtrev » 07 Jun 2019 13:24

I was looking through the IGN hub page for Dark Souls this morning trying to figure out how coverage of it has changed over the years, and confirmed that it did take some time for Dark Souls to become popular: https://www.ign.com/games/dark-souls

According IGN's coverage timeline Dark Souls becoming a fad is something that took place around 2014, and based on IGN deciding to stream playthroughs of it I can assume that Dark Souls being streamed on Twitch, and played by people on YouTube around the same time or a little bit before contributed to its popularity considerably.

The website Kill Screen has been used as a hub for the feelings the hipsters have about videogames for a long time, so I think linking their review is necessary to begin a conversation about where the fad started. Unfortunately, I cannot tell when the review was published because there isn't a date on its page, but I think it's a good example of the kind of review we are looking for: https://killscreen.com/articles/review-dark-souls/

The grinding is praised halfway through their review:

Jason Johnson wrote:Quite often, you will be utterly defeated. In exasperation, you may turn to the classic technique of grinding. This relic is often cursed as the bane of modern game design. What could be more archaic than spending time killing the same set of bloodthirsty enemies over and over again: as if you were flogging yourself nightly to obtain moral fortitude? And yet, it feels like a huge relief here. You are grateful for it, because you are so desperately weak.


Another even possibly better starting point is from this website: https://critical-distance.com/2018/03/2 ... rk%20souls. It's a link from a review/article aggregate used by "critics" aiming to answer the question of "Where is all of the good writing on games?", but then features hilarious content like this on its Dark Souls review/article aggregate page:

Kris Ligman wrote:So when I say that ‘sex is like Dark Souls,’ I also mean ‘Dark Souls is like sex,’ in that there is a culture of acceptance… in how we talk about certain experiences as being either universal or ‘should be universal.


Here's a full link to the article quoted above if anyone is willing to read it: https://direcritic.tumblr.com/post/1320 ... dark-souls
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Unread postby before tigers » 10 Jun 2019 09:51

The way the Souls games handle "grinding" is not as straightforward or typical as you might think and I'll try to explain all of it as best I can. NB: I haven't played Demon's Souls (no PS3, nor desire to get one in the current year) but I have played the other Souls games extensively, and I am fairly certain the general points I'll make apply to Demon's Souls as well as the rest.

1. Your primary source of power increase is weapon upgrades, which are restricted by progression through the game. You cannot upgrade your weapon past Regular +5 in Dark Souls without obtaining a Large Ember which is only in a specific chest located a good chunk of the way through the game. A majority of the materials required for other upgrade paths are also only found in places more than halfway through the game. Grinding will not get you what you need to make your weapon stronger; you must make progress by clearing levels and beating bosses.

2. Your secondary source of power increase is character stats/level, which have heavily diminishing returns from early on aside from HP. You can not trivialize the game by grinding because the enemies hit hard no matter how big your health bar is (pumping it up so that it takes a boss 5 hits to kill you as opposed to 3 won't make a decisive difference if you suck at the game).

I suggest that critics of the day were unprepared to deal with the difficulty of the Souls games and referenced grinding to cope with their videogame illiteracy since it seems like it's there, but really isn't, and the ultimately insignificant health gains one might eke out by grinding give some casuals the will to persevere. They are actually developing their skill at the game while they are focused on the illusion that the vague stat numbers going up enables them with. It's a positive feedback loop.

You cannot beat Dark Souls without being able to hit and to evade with proper timing (unless you figure out some cheesy instakill tricks on certain bosses), and the stats do little to change the fundamental essence and demands of combat. You might be able to take more hits, or have to land less hits, but regardless you need to learn the boss patterns and how to deal with them just like any decently challenging videogame.

I recommend you actually play the Souls games and see for yourself that grinding doesn't get you anywhere in them, nor will it decisively get you past any bosses.

It's also worth noting that the Souls games (with the exception of Sekiro) are actually rather shallow once you look past the cruft they bombard you with and understand that all that matters is your i-frame roll and picking the correct openings for a basic attack. Even game journalists can beat a Souls game; anyone can (every kind of cripple has), but they successfully seem much harder than they actually are, which I think is brilliant design since in videogames the feeling of challenge matters more than any factual degree of it. Regardless, you cannot beat them through grinding. It just doesn't help much.
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Unread postby icycalm » 10 Jun 2019 10:38

Thanks for the detailed analysis.

My PS3 blew up in 2013, otherwise I would have played Demon's by now. I don't generally play games out of order if I can avoid it, for various reasons, a major one being so that I can review them properly. So I'll get to these games when I get to them, and then I'll write about them in depth. Until then, we have this thread to tide us over.
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Unread postby ChevRage » 10 Jun 2019 21:21

It's definitely easier (and more effective) to grind in Demon's Souls than in the later entries in the series since they greatly ramp up the experience needed for higher levels.

That game also has way more exploits and ways to cheese enemies (which are, again, fixed in later entries). A notable one being that once far enough from their starting location, enemies will turn their back on the player, forgetting that he ever existed, to walk back to their starting location. You can then sneak up on them to get an easy back-stab. Rinse and repeat.
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