This short series of features is centered on the use of gaming as a form of escapism. Some may argue that all games can be used in this way, but none so much as a few titles that really suck you into their worlds, lore and style of gaming. I’ll be covering a few of the titles that have been amazingly helpful in the face of crises over the span of my life and hopefully, give some insight into why they’re so therapeutic in the first place.

Instead of starting at the beginning, I’d like to delve into the Souls series by From Software. In a part of my life when I had just lost a fantastic job and the hardships of looking for work in a recession plagued UK in the late 2000’s, I found a lot of solace in the Playstation 3 exclusive, Demon’s Souls, which has continued through to health issues and the medicinal effects of Dark Souls to this very day…

Praise the Sun!

2427642-_bmuploads_2014-01-28_8552_sunlight-parma-01Now, you would think that a game lauded for its difficulty and macabre fantasy setting would be something to avoid when your nerves are frayed and at the point of snapping due to prolonged stress. Demon’s and Dark Souls, however, have a unique atmosphere to them, while initially frustrating in the early learning point, it soon becomes second nature to those who persevere.

I remember the day I first entered the world of Boletaria and hit a brick wall, consisting of flame breathing dragons eight times my size, crowds of loping undead who could murder you with a couple of well-aimed hits and tiny little holes that would have you drop to your death in what seemed to be an unfair style of gameplay.

About an hour and a half in, I realised that I had to don my old-school gaming mentality again. Recovering skills from days of playing Ghosts and Goblins and The Last Ninja, where beating games were mostly rewarded by pacing yourself and a lot of trial and error, was a minor feat in a day of checkpoints, instant gratification and gung-ho action.

1524583-capturemodule2010072414I soon found that I had been playing for hours on end without thinking about my real life worries. Even watching a movie or reading a book, I couldn’t concentrate enough on the subject to conquer my demons, but the Souls series has a profound way of sucking you into their worlds, needing every bit of concentration and attention you can muster to survive.

The minimalist approach to background music is also startlingly peaceful. It’s not very often that you’ll be tricked into making mistakes through face-melting orchestral crescendo that is usually the tactic for developers who want to make you fumble your controller in terror. Listening to your own footsteps echo down a seemingly empty corridor while you tiptoe softy, shield raised and without distraction is amazingly absorbing.

While my thoughts had been previously of loss, anger and revenge, living in Boletaria for a few hours a day brought a strange serenity into my mind.

Dark Souls has the very same concept, only that Lordran is a much more absorbing land than Boletaria. The scenery is absolutely stunning and in a recent play through, I found myself forgetting aches and pains by being lost in the world, in and out of the game. I got a little obsessed with hunting down images of old ruins and landscapes that look like something straight out of the game. It makes you realise just how beautiful the real world can be, despite the failings of humanity that sometimes rears its ugly head above the precipice.

11923263_761072224018958_8438393415486946440_nThe wonder and sense of adventure just seems to still my mind for a while and even after shutting down my console, I’m still thinking of strategies and routes and how I can improve my skills. Although, it never seems to be down to how overpowered you are and more on the lines of how much you are concentrating on the adventure.

While there are a few bosses and PvP encounters that can tip that balance over the edge, they seem minimal compared to the calm you feel through most of the journey. Even the PvP on most encounters, seem to be friendly affairs, with bowing, respect and a sense of honour in player’s actions. I think I have been trolled twice in my entire experience of the series.

If you can bring blue phantoms (other players) into your game to help on tough sections, it would restore anyone’s confidence in the gaming community, that there are people out there willing to help too. Rather than the usual cursing and lone-wolfing that you usually see in online gaming, there is a lot of solidarity with Souls’ online system. It really is refreshing to see.

dark-souls-9All of the combined mechanics of Demon’s/Dark Souls bring a beautiful, sometimes lonely but mostly placid and enjoyable session that really does help heal your own soul. Some will say that it’s simply the most infuriating game ever, but it’s just down to the way you let yourself be engaged that is the clincher here.

You see, with a game that demands your full attention, you’ll find that your woes no longer have any place to fit amongst your escapism. And although outright escapism is never a way forward, it’s definitely a way to repair and step back from everything else, giving you the room to negotiate with your own feelings and more than likely, giving you a fresh outlook on the important side of life.

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What is that fourth picture? It looks like a Souls screenshot, but I've played all games in the series multiple times and I can't place that location. Spiral staircase, bright light, lava at bottom. No idea where that would be.

Paul Graham
Paul Graham

It's a photograph of a real life ruin. Just one of the pics I talked about in the story that I found, while looking for places that looked like Dark Souls locations.