I haven’t started gaming in 2016, yet….

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By Rob Fanzo

If anything, conversation around gaming in 2016 is bringing the games of the upcoming year to the forefront of every discourse. As we have in years past, we look forward to the release of VR, games like Uncharted 4, Hitman, Deus Ex, among many others. Yet, I will look back at the end of this year, as I already know, and remind myself that I started the year with one of the biggest back catalogues from a previous year.

Yes, the year of 2015 was, for me, the year of the open world. A year filled with 100 plus hours of devotion of my time to one game at a time. I died repeatedly in Bloodborne, I lived for the S ranking in Metal Gear The Phantom Pain, I drove hours and hours around the field seeking goals in Rocket League, I spent a ton of time getting lost in the Wild Hunt of Witcher 3, and rocked out the Big Boy in Fallout 4.  Those do not count the platinum I earned in Arkham Knight, the countless hours of Battlefront as a storm trooper, and never quite finding the end of the desert in Mad Max. Of course the little guys get forgotten (I am looking at you Order: 1886) for not being open world, but no matter what this past year left me with a backlog of games both open world and linear that I am still swimming in as 2016 begins. This year will see the launch of over 20 PS exclusives alone at my gameplay hours.

With a new year sitting before me, the struggle within me arises. Do I leave behind 2015 like the years before it, along with the games I never finished? Or do I simply continue to plow through them until I no longer have a list, and therefore forego the new releases of 2016?  One of the most difficult things as a gamer is to surrender and admit defeat toward an unfinished game.

It is equally difficult to ignore a new release that beckons your attention with its press coverage and its advertisements. Soon, it begins to populate your online friends, consumes their discussion with you, and becomes the most popular streaming games on Twitch and other social services. The firestorm created by this social sphere demands gamers lean one-way or the other.  More often than not, it requires gamers create a backlog, as many, like myself, desire to support developers as they continue to produce media in a medium we love. So we sacrifice playing a game to play another. We decide that it is time to move on to the new, and we trade in the old, or it sits on our shelf and collects dust. And although we may support develops financially, that support dissipates as we never finish those games, and decide against making that same purchase again with the attitude that if we never finished the last one, why bother to get the next one? Or we decide we have enough to play, and will wait until it goes on sale. So we skip on purchasing a game, we return them, or we never enjoy and appreciate all elements of them. I find myself in this precarious position as the year begins.

I sat down last night to pick up my save file in Witcher: The Wild Hunt for the first time since right before Phantom Pain released in September. As I began to remember my love for the Witcher, I realized why I had, as so many other games, simply abandoned it.  No, it was not the overly complex rich lore, the combat, the branching skill tree, or the overly interesting side quests that had me sidetracked for hours. It was the combination of those things, life, and the sheer need to keep up with the rest of the gaming world.

 

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I had decided on a side, I just did not know it.

I had decided, despite my best efforts, to side with the gamer that refuses to miss out on the newest release. I had to know Arkham Knight, I had to know The Phantom Pain, I had to know about Fallout, Battlefront, Rocket League, Taco Master (yes, that is right blame Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller), Bastion, Soma, Shovel Knight, Tales from the Borderlands, Mad Max, Just Cause 3, Dying Light, and Mortal Kombat X. I had to know the secrets, the gameplay, and the systems of these games.

I had to know about each of these games, damned be it, if it mattered where or what I had accomplished with what I was currently playing. Each new release became the focus of my attention. And as I completed a playthrough of that new release I immediately jumped backwards in time to the previous title. I began to speed rush through games, began to try to frantically tackle the Witcher before Arkham Knight released a month later. Then Rocket League came. I raced through Arkham Knight knowing Rocket League had sidetracked me, and that the Witcher remained an uncompleted mark on my gaming backlog I needed to clear before Phantom Pain arrived.

The race continued all year. And yet, it became a race I never won.  In fact, it became part of a larger symptom of my life. Gaming in 2015, for me, became a checklist: a desperate, growing checklist of incomplete games or games missing a key element I would not discover until the end of the year.

That key element arrived on November 10th in the form of Fallout 4. As I continued to play through what I had anticipated as my game of the year (a separate topic for a separate time), I began to feel something inside. Then, near the end of December, I began to realize that one of my most eagerly anticipated games of the year, Fallout 4, had become a labor, not of love, but a labor.

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I was heartbroken.

To give this further context, Fallout 3, which I picked up in 2010 about three years after its initial release, is one of my favorite open world games of all time, if not my favorite.  Hell, it belongs in my top ten, maybe top five video games of all time.  I spent 134 hours in its main game, achieved the platinum, and although I never finished the expansions, spent another chunk of hours playing them. I loved Fallout, and I had been waiting years for another.  I even ordered the pip boy edition of Fallout 4 the night it was announced, and had the day off work when it arrived.

Yet, here I was, sitting there, in my chair, after 85 hours of gameplay thinking to myself I wonder how much more I have to do to finish this game?  Can I blow through it in one night so I can move on to AC:Syndicate? How much more do I need to do before I get the platinum?  I knew I was afraid of forgetting about those other games. Those games that for the better part of a year had absorbed over 200 hours of my time. Yet, what also consumed my time was not just my concern for forgetting, but for not having the time to play until completion games like Syndicate or The Witcher. My OCD could not deal with these unfinished projects. I began to realize that this path was familiar.  I walked it with The Evil Within, with Alien Isolation.  Two great games I began and then life, other games, work got in the way. They are part of a regretful backlog I continue to harvest on my shelf, and now even though less daunting, a digital shelf called the “Library” by my PS4.

The closest I akin this to is a mild form of depression mixed with Stockholm syndrome. I fell in love with Fallout, but no longer because it was Fallout, but because it now held me captive as a prisoner who wanted to go off and explore other games, but felt grounded in the need to finish what I started, what I loved.  My OCD to finish what I start, find every inch of a map, and my minor love for trophies aside, I had become part of an unhealthy gaming relationship with Fallout 4 and myself.  The worst part of this: I knew how unhealthy it was becoming, and yet I persisted.  My frustration, my anxiety, my desire to finish pushed me through until I got the platinum 120 hours in, and yet, I felt empty. As that trophy showed up in the upper left hand of corner of my screen I felt cheap, and as though I had not really earned it, or enjoyed it, but as if I had checked another item off of an ever growing list in life.

For days I stared at it, hoping to feel the same joy as I did when I accomplished it in Fallout 3. Nothing.  Nothing except the desire to go back in to Fallout 4 and find more locations (I had currently 210 when I finished), to find more secrets, to unlock more weapons, to see the other two endings.  It had become my first incomplete platinum.

Then two things happened:  I had a conversation with my fiancée about checklists, and how my students I teach see assignments as checklists and not opportunities to learn, to grow, to develop, to fall in love with a topic, idea, or subject. During our discourse, we discovered I had done the same thing with reading books, and perhaps with games. They had become a checklist. That same day, I listened to Kinda Funny’s own Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty talk about Colin’s attitude toward games. Colin made several comments that reflected on his feelings, but I soon realized also reflected, in many ways, on my own. He summed it up to two things: 1. He himself was going to play games he wanted to play and not rush through them and 2. That we cannot possibly play all the games there are or that we want to play.

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These two conversations made me realize my problem: I had stripped away the joy of gaming for the checkbox that says I have had this experience and I am ready for the next one. I had lost my joy for gaming. The reason I play, the experience I soak in, the narratives that are told were reduced to quickly reading the text and hitting the cross button to move on to the next piece of dialogue so I could platinum a game that I had waited over five years to play.

And I had done this all year long.

Looking back, 2016 will be the year I started with a gigantic backlog of games from 2015. I still have Mad Max, I want to play Syndicate, Phantom Pain is still sans two missions and some side ops, and well The Evil Within and Alien Isolation are still on the back burner, but that is fine. They do not have to stay there. New games are coming it is true. This year holds a lot of promise not just for PS4, but for VR and redefining how we play video games. And yes, Uncharted 4 will still be a day one purchase and play for me.

But I plan on spending some time on that backlog. I already have with a game from last May. The Witcher 3 and I are on nightly rides through Velen and Kaer Morhen, and somewhere between those two places I have rediscovered something: my love for gaming. If I spend an hour and go nowhere except to craft my armor, find a new location, and play a game of Gwent, then at least I know I enjoyed every second of it.

Yes, my 2016 will be different. I am resolved to remember the joy in gaming. Now, when I pick up Bastion on my Vita for ten minutes at a time, I do not worry about maximizing those ten minutes to complete a level. I ask myself, did I enjoy that ten minutes? When I hunt the Wild Hunt in The Witcher I will enjoy the hunt. When I finally dive back into Bloodborne’s DLC I will die repeatedly, but enjoy and learn from those deaths. Does this mean there will be times when I will spend a half hour dying before I shut it off to move on to something else? Yes. Will I enjoy those deaths repeatedly? I doubt it. What I do not doubt is this: I will enjoy every moment of every game I pick up. I will know that I played a game like Bloodborne, and that even when that game or any kicks my ass, it is the joy of the experience, not the victory of completing a task so I can check a box that will define my 2016. Although, as I await Dark Souls 3’s arrival in the spring, I still believe any victory in a Miyazaki game is worth checking off my list.

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Top 10 Games of 2016 (according to me)

With the year at an end, it’s time to look back at the Top Ten gaming experiences I had this year. These are games that I feel deserve a slot based upon what I played.  They count down from ten to one.

Image result for battlefield 110. Battlefield 1

No doubt the return to the past, and in this case WWI, a hardly touched upon war, makes for some memorable, if not terrifying experiences.  Bullets whizz past your head, explosions are everywhere, and someone is undoubtedly going to snipe you from across the desert. I had so much fun with Battlefield 1 it is the first campaign I finished in a military shooter since the original Call of Duty  years ago.  The vignettes were just the right way to approach such a complicated war.  They also functioned as a nice series of mini-games for the too busy gamer such as myself. Image result for let it die

9. Let it Die

A late-comer to the party, this Free to play game took me by surprise with it’s Dark Souls inspired gameplay.  From the Grasshopper Manufacture studios, Let it Die’s quirky, dark, bizarre world shows why Grasshopper knows eclectic worlds better than anyone else publishing games out there.  I was hooked the moment the game showed me its meta approach and reminded me I was just a dude playing a video game.Image result for Titanfall 2

8. Titanfall 2

I cannot get enough of the multiplayer, and although I am still working on the campaign, there is something fun, if not dumb about the whole thing that I cannot stop thinking about picking it back up again. I loved being able to soar around a level while shooting at enemies below.

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7. Watch Dogs 2

So maybe my Mr. Robot Obsession drives this one up the list a bit, but who doesn’t love being able to hack everyone and everything in sight? The best part of Watch Dogs 2 is the way it lets you play with the world without being too serious about itself.  Want to hack a car so you can surf on top of it while it drives down the hills of San Francisco? Want to take  selfie while a woman smashes her ex-boyfriend’s car with a baseball bat in the background?  I did.

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There’s something about this little indie follow up by the same studio that brought you Limbo that I cannot explain.  I went through several emotions during this game, that, unlike any other game out there, I am I got to experience. 1. This is cool. 2. This reminds me of Limbo. 3. These puzzles are easy. 4. What the hell am I doing here?  5.  Ok, this got weird.  6. Ok, when is this weirdness going to end? 7. Wait, that’s the end? 8. Wow, I need to talk to the internet about this one.  Definitely worth your time.

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5. Dishonored 2

I loved the first Dishonored.  In fact, I played through it multiple times, earned the platinum, and went back for more.  Knowing I now had two protagonists in the city of Dunwall and Karnaca meant twice as much fun, with twice as many powers.  There’s something about the way Dishonored 2 lets the player have control over their game that earns it a top five spot in this year’s list.

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4. Uncharted 4

No one makes a narrative like Naughty Dog.  Wrapping up Nathan Drake’s last adventure this year felt fitting. Sure, there was familiar territory, familiar characters, and some new gameplay mechanics mixed in, but what makes Uncharted stand out is forgetting that you’re playing Uncharted as a video game in the first place.

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3.Doom

Did I mention Doom was once the standard, along with Wolfenstein, for 1st person shooters?  This year’s Doom was pure bliss.  Blast after blast, rune challenge after rune challenge, the gameplay loop became addictive, fun, and over the top ridiculous. Oh, and the soundtrack, the heavy, industrial metal pulsing through your veins as you destroy a room full of imps? Too much fun.

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2.Furi

The biggest surprise of the year. I never would have thought this little game that sees you going from boss battle to boss battle would be so intriguing.  The  storyline is great, the fights are challenging, fun, and doable (if you don’t mind dying and split second timing), and most of all, the soundtrack.  Those synthetic, electric beats will keep your heart pacing as you dodge your way around every arena.

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  1. Dark Souls 3

One of the most punishing series to come along in awhile found itself blending together the successes of the first Dark Souls with some of the fast paced combat of Bloodborne.  The result: another great entry into the Souls franchise, a fitting game to send the series off on, and one of the best games this year.

You Died: An Academic and Life Lesson Kindled in Dark Souls

You Died: An Academic and Life Lesson Kindled in Dark Souls

Note: This article is intended for educators and students, as well as those new and familiar with the Dark Souls Series. It is a consideration of the use of games like Dark Souls in the context of an academic setting by exploring a basic set of concepts surrounding the series, as well as drawing on broad, overarching concepts focused on in classrooms.

 

It’s been over two months since the successful launch of From Software’s latest installment in the to Dark Souls series, Dark Souls III. And although I have yet to finish the Miyazaki masterpiece, I am relished to reflect on how I might use it, or games like it within my classroom. Before you scoff, or perhaps jump for joy at the idea of seeing You Died repeatedly in a classroom projected on a screen, take a moment to consider the power behind those words. Yes, they are ominous, and yes, if you are an academic with no knowledge of the game’s mechanics or lore you might be shouting from your Ivory Tower This is not academic, nor classroom appropriate!

Yet, much like any good literary work, the symbolism behind these words carries more weight for its players than any academic droning on about literature might (ask my students, they would assure you You Died might as well be written as a response to taking my exams). For players within the realm of Dark Souls those words conjure a critical examination of their failure. It’s a failure that reminds them that for progress to continue in a game, they must accept failure, evaluate their mistakes based on the feedback of the game, adjust their strategy, and attempt to achieve their goal through 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, or more tries. Only after achieving this success can they then progress.

Isn’t this the same lesson we learn in life? The same one we want to instill in high school and college level students about academic and personal failures?

The average high school student is hurdled into a complex, driven, competitive environment influenced by academic, socioeconomic, political, and cultural factors. They weave a complex tapestry inside and outside the environment of academic settings with their personal and social life. Parents are expected to help them navigate this complex array of emotional and physical duress. Yet, so are educators who spend 8 hours a day with them 180 days a year or more. The realty of this situation has influenced China’s aggressive marketing strategy to hire more male teachers to influence their male youth.

With this influence so prevalent it becomes increasingly important teachers drive students toward success. Educators must build students who are not only able to compete academically in a global market, but emotionally in a shifting, evolving culture infatuated with scientific and technological advancement. The emotional element of this has not roots in science or technology however, as those are viewed as calculated, logic based fields. It is within literature students find that human beings learn to exist within complex worlds built upon relationships and belief systems. It is in those same classrooms where literature is taught that students learn the mechanics of critical thinking, interpretation, deduction, and collaboration.

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So why not teach students literature? What does Dark Souls have to do with any of this?

I do teach students literature. I also recognize that each student is diverse and for some, reading is passé. I also know that students live in a visual, electronic, feedback driven culture. Literature can be appreciated, and any academic will indicate that lessons learned come from immersion in literature. Characters are relatable, characters teach lessons, characters educate. Plotlines align with life, and even the most fictitious plot relates to an innate desire within humanity to see and learn about the world through the word as Friere might say.

Video games also achieve these things now. And for the modern student, may open an avenue that leads to literature. Dark Souls I believe is capable of this, and is one of many examples I intend to incorporate into a week-long examination of the influence of Literature and History on the game later this year to students. This will examine the way a medium can lead to an interest in academic pursuits, and demonstrate that the way for academics to bring back the love of learning is approach students and ask them to turn from the mirror to the window and become “’ half sick of shadows’ “ (see “The Lady of Shalott”).

Thus, Dark Souls. It would be amiss to introduce the series to those unfamiliar without first acknowledging that the overview I intend to give is not by any means thorough. The lore and subtleties of the game are complex, and beyond the scope of my intention here. Instead, it is important to focus on and show what I believe is the right way to kindle (see what I did there? Well, ok, maybe not yet, but you will) student’s and academics understanding of how the series invites academic use.

 

Dark Souls foremost feature is the now infamous You Died screen, which players see after each death. It is this screen from which I believe derives the most fundamental appeal of Dark Souls: the desire to succeed and the drive to continue playing. Death is inescapable in Dark Souls and occurs very early in the game. The majority of players will not make it past the first fifteen minutes without experiencing this screen at least once, if not multiple times. In a game with minimal directives and instructions, this is the most imperative lesson: Death will be frequent, but it will always be at the fault of the player. In this way, Dark Souls teaches its students that failure is often the result of a misstep, but failure is acceptable if you are willing to learn from it.

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As a side note, anyone familiar with gaming culture can expound on this, but death in gaming often is “cheap.” The deaths in certain games may be the result of faulty mechanics, poor level design, or numerous glitches, bugs, or failure by the games designers to achieve a balance between fair and difficult. In these cases death teaches the player little, except how to exploit a system to avoid it. Dark Souls as a series rarely suffers from these issues. It would be amiss to say they never exist, but on a scale much lower than most games that artificially strive to create challenges for the player.

These challenges and failures lead to one of the most fundamental lessons incorporated into the classroom: thinking. Players (students) begin to critically think about their mistakes. They begin to analyze movement sets, search for, recognize, and memorize patterns, determine their own strengths, improve or lessen their weaknesses. In other words, they think and adapt. They problem solve. They learn from failure. They also learn from success. They integrate and apply prior knowledge from each encounter in the next. These are the same objectives we strive for in literature, in writing, in math, science, or historical endeavors within a classroom.

This is the surface level of the Souls series. The game mechanics train and educate players in a given system, and ask them to utilize it in every encounter and scenario in the game. Repeatedly. Most importantly, it asks them to fail. Repeatedly. Every failure brings that player back to a bonfire. At that bonfire the world is reset, enemies respawn, and every success, as well as failure is eradicated and the player begins again. In fact, these are the only checkpoints the game provides, and they are often spread far enough apart that the player learns a second lesson: Proceed with caution. Sprinting through, racing to the next checkpoint to mark off the box often leads to failure. It is only with time, patience, and diligence that the player can often succeed in reaching the next checkpoint.

An example of this in action is IGN’s recent series Prepare to Try: A series of YouTube videos that took a “noob” (someone new to the world or experience) and asked him to complete the game. Yes, he had guidance, but he learned the systems as well. The game taught him to do all this through failure. Failure over 137 times. How many students would be willing to fail the same extended project that many times while making progress toward its end? My guess is not many. Yet, the reward of completion was enough for him, as it is for many players who enter the Souls series.

Part of success and failure in the series also derives from its complex, intricate, evolving PvP and co-op PvE system (Player vs. Player and Player(s) vs. Everyone). In the first two Dark Souls games a player had to return to the bonfire, kindle the fire by the offering of humanity, and then offer a second humanity (called “reverse hollowing”, you turn from undead into a human) to partake in the system. This meant the Humanity items a player picked up were spent and lost forever. As a result, players must choose when to do this carefully, as Humanity was sparse throughout areas, or cost the game’s currency, souls, to purchase from a vendor. The system sounds more complex than it is, but it is an economy players learn to spend wisely. As a result, students (players of the game) learn economic lessons about sacrifice, hardship, and budgeting for such moments.

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Once in human form, players may summon other players. The PvE system rewards other players who opt to assist their players in defeating the AI, particularly the larger, more difficult bosses who inhabit each area of the game. It provides a community of friendship and fellowship, even if fleeting (the co op partner is “sent” back to their world after defeating the boss of an area) and allows players to volunteer their time to those struggling through an area. It also benefits those who may struggle to see the mechanics, patterns, or concepts at work, and through co-op allows them to seek guided assistance in working through the learning curve before them. Here, both sides benefit from communication, and although wordless, the language of victory unites them in a collaborative effort. Collaboration is key, and failure can still result in You Died appearing on the screen, forcing both players to start over. However, success is a reminder of how sometimes a group of people is needed to learn, even if there are setbacks along the way.

As for the PvP system. Although it encourages hostility, and two players battle until death is bestowed upon one of them, the world is not without its opportunity for rules. In fact, the Dark Souls series is unique in that many of the PvP players who engage in it also recognize a code of conduct among its participants. They attempt to educate other players about this through in game actions as well as dedicated message boards and online tutorials. These include but are not limited to: bowing in respect to your opponent before a fight begins, not healing during battle by drinking the game’s health potion (known as an Estus Flask), saluting a fallen, defeated opponent, letting your opponent defeat the AI enemies in an area before beginning the fight, and of course, learning areas where invasions (as they are called) for PvP take place as appropriate fighting spots. There are also larger, complex pieces in place, such as “fight clubs” where groups gather to watch two opponents duel and ensure fairness of a fight by stepping in if someone breaks the rules. All of these of course, are subject to be broken, as in any academic setting when students try to break rules, or find shortcuts, but both in classroom and the Souls series these are frowned upon.

Players ganging up on other players in fight clubs who break the rules are not the only ones who have begun punishing players. FromSoftware, Dark Souls parent company, has begun issuing bans on PC players who hack the game’s source code to increase weapon capabilities, armor strength, or other issues as well. These bans remove players from the community. Although cheating in a classroom will not remove a student from the population, it can affect their grade and set an example for others. Yet, most of my students do not see the consequences of cheating in a high school classroom as a serious consequence as it has no consequences across their entire academic career. Yet, I believe this is where DS as a series helps illustrate that one time cheating can affect an entire experience. Players are effectively removed from something they have worked hard to achieve, and forced to accept what amount to a lifelong (or server long) ban from an experience. How many students would accept cheating in class as a ban from the rest of high school or college, or even a job setting? DS reminds students that even in a fictional realm the consequences are lasting. Most importantly, that consequences as a piece of a world can shape or alter the complete landscape of how you approach an experience or live in it.

The complexity of Dark Souls moves beyond this though. In what is another significant element of the game that shares an important, crucial connection to how high school students can consider their education, Dark Souls carries a rich, meticulously detailed lore. Where it differs from many of its contemporaries in the gaming community is its insistence on minimal narrative driven, cut-scene crafted storytelling. Instead, Dark Souls provides players with item descriptions, cryptic dialogue, minimal cut-scenes, and requires players to then weave these together to craft a narrative. These items, unlike other games (i.e. Uncharted, who sometimes leaves items in plain sight) are not always easily found nor earned by players on their first attempt through the game, nor required to complete the game. Dark Souls prides itself on this obtuseness, inviting players to simultaneously create, dissect, construct, and even deconstruct its world to discover its plot, subplots, and its lore. This is intentional design done by Miyazaki, and one that has another unintended effect: it creates a community.

Before discussing community, however, it is important to recognize what this scarcity of story does for players. It requires research, deduction, analytical thinking, and speculating based on evidence and information found within the world. It asks players to become students of research, exploration, and invites them to draw conclusions based on that work. Any classroom with open-ended questions, with an approach to student based learning requires the same fundamental skills of its students. Although they are not always eager, and do not see the practical “real world” application of these skills, they (as Souls players) have opportunities to practice these skills in a way masked by technology and labeled as “entertainment.”

Dark Souls lore is also responsible for one of the most dedicated communities of any game in the current eco-system. Visit any of the Souls Reddits and you will find communal discussions about every aspect of lore, tips and advice for the game itself, and lengthy (upwards of 20 pages) writings on the entirety of the lore. Videos detailing elements of the lore (some also upwards of 30 minutes or more) have been created with the sole task of detailing the entire story of each of the three games in the series. It is the passion and the desire to craft this information, along with cooperation and collaboration by numerous parties that allows this community to exist. It is this same passion I believe Dark Souls can create among students who share the experience. Their opportunity to collaborate, to collect knowledge that is not found on the internet, but within the confines of a text, which should fuel their desire to craft written and oral responses. Much of what the Souls community has gathered about the game is strictly from their own “reading” of the game, as the director and producers of the game have remained largely silent as a way to encourage the community to craft their own understanding of the game as a ”text.”        The concept of bringing a “video game” into the classroom is the worst nightmare of many educators. It does nothing but welcome a strong distraction for students from academic work, by the default of its medium it also suggests there is little or no educational value in any form, but games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Mario Brothers. The development teams, the writers, and the directors and producers of these games continue to push the artistic boundaries for games. Find any academic who is well versed in media and they will tell you the novel suffered from the same public outcry in its formative years, that film too and even television, fought the same struggle to be taken as a tool that could educate and expand the minds of public consciousness. Video Games are relatively young, and fighting this battle now. Yet, college, and even high schools now offer film courses to critique the social and philosophical discourses found within movies. Literature in the form of the novel is a staple that no English classroom would exist without. There are a few courses across the country that are daring to do the same with games (a recent college course at one university explores the Norse Mythology connections to Skyrim).

As for Dark Souls, it may appear as an unlikely candidate when lined up against other games whose narrative, historical, and social commentaries provide stronger evidence for study (Dragon Has Cancer comes to mind). Yet, I believe the hands off approach Miyazaki’s franchise takes toward its gamer speaks volumes to the current classroom exploration occurring with student-led or student driven education models. Both kindle a relationship with self-discovery, and both foster a lot of real world skills students need to be successful. After all, isn’t that what successful education strives to do? Kindle the flame within.