Growing up I spent more hours playing games at my friend’s house than I ever did at home. I would ride home with him after school and we would fire up whatever piece of garbage we had rented for the N64. Eventually my Mom would finally get off work and come pick me up, and as much as I would try, gaming just wasn’t the same by myself. I don’t think I’ve ever shared that with him.
So, time went on and we both grew up. I found myself attending college and dating the girl of my dreams, but my friend’s life turned out to be more of a struggle. His family had always been unstable, but as the years progressed things just got worse for him. Abusive families have a way of keeping people down, and victims often blame themselves for what’s going on around them. It’s hard to tell someone that their own family is a toxic environment, so most of the time you just sidestep the issue. Eventually me and my friend stopped talking regularly. He was so busy with the absurd situation he was living with that everything else fell by the wayside, and I wasn’t sure how to approach him anymore.
I still live close to him, and from time to time I’ll give him a call and try to talk like I don’t spend every week worried about him. Sometimes we’ll talk about how badly he needs to get out of there, but it’s hard to gain any ground in that conversation when you don’t want to sound pushy, or like you know what’s best for them. I had always imagined we would start our own company someday, or invent some stupid gadget, but life has a way of turning the tables on you I suppose.
Recently I’ve gotten back in touch with him, and was a little happy to hear that things at home seemed a little better, or at the very least a bit more stable. We started talking like old friends do, like not a second had passed since the last time we spoke, and I mentioned I was playing Dark Souls. To my excitement, a friend who is currently living with him had a PS3 and a copy of the game, so I tried to schedule a time for us to play.
The time rolled around and he wasn’t responding to my messages, and I figured he had just flaked out. I wasn’t surprised, he does this kind of thing a lot. He might be planning to come hang out right when some fight breaks out, or someone stumbles in drunk and yelling. I tried again the second night, and I actually managed to get him on Skype and Dark Souls at the same time. After several minutes fiddling with placing summon symbols and arguing over the exact rules of summoning, I was a white phantom in his world.
Minutes into playing we were laughing hysterically, conquering enemies, and strategizing around every corner. We both started as deprived, meaning we were basically naked. He had barely played before now, and I was by no means an expert, but we were having the time of our lives battling through the Undead Parish and tackling Gargoyles.
He’s always preferred atypical hero characters with big swords, big muscles, and a filing cabinet full of soliloquies about honor and justice. I’ve always preferred ugly, battle-scarred old warriors who’ve forgotten the difference between right and wrong. In the game this translated to him wrapping himself in a full set of black leather armor and carrying the Uchigatana, while I stomped around mostly naked, absurdly overweight, and wearing the rather hideous Gargoyle Helm.
As time went on and one night morphed into three nights of playing Dark Souls, I found myself feeling something I thought I had lost. I was playing games with my oldest friend, and it felt like fourth grade all over again. We have to fight to make progress, but when we do it’s a sweet victory. His life is in no way miraculously fixed by us playing a game together, but it’s given both of us a way to be close again. Aristotle used to say that tragedy puts viewers into a state of catharsis, a sort of emotional cleansing, and watching our two emaciated corpses scrape, claw, and struggle their way through death and dismemberment in Dark Souls has most definitely emotionally cleansed both of us.
We’ve recently made it to Blighttown, and we’ve started experiencing something new the game has to offer: dread. We’ve both been this far before and remember how much of a frustrating slog it can be, but with teamwork and an ample dose of hilarious antics we seem to be making solid forward progress.
I’m not sure what the future holds for our two characters, or how much longer he’s going to be able to continue playing on a regular basis. After we finish playing together our lives may once again drift apart, but the game has given us just a little more time together. With any luck we can overcome the hurdles of both the game and our lives, but only time will tell if a black knight waits around the corner for either of us.