When I was an immature, broke kid in my late 20s, a video game helped me figure out how to finally step into adulthood.
Dark Souls is a swords-and-shields fantasy game, filled with awe-inspiring dragons and finger-blistering difficulty. It's also the unlikely source of lessons that helped me get my life together by driving some hard truths into my head. With the third installment of the game hitting store shelves worldwide today, I felt it was time to revisit its role in my life.
See, for a while in my 20s, I really struggled with the whole "adulthood" thing. I frittered away years of my life, making half-hearted efforts at a number of jobs. I was afraid of failing, and my approach to life only assured I would.
Then I found Dark Souls by From Software. It's overstatement to say Dark Souls fixed my life. Plenty of other influences -- the usual stuff like the encouragement of family and friends and finding a boss willing to be patient with me -- helped me pull my shit together. Still, Dark Souls served as a genuine catalyst for entering adulthood.
Gamers appreciate Dark Souls for its difficulty, and it is certainly unforgiving. To me, however, the game isn't vindictive so much as it is a strict instructor, one that recognizes lessons stick only when pupils teach themselves.
Here's what Dark Souls helped me understand:
1) It's OK to fail
In most video games, if you struggle to beat the first boss, you have little hope of conquering the rest. That's not the case with Dark Souls. Throughout the game, the challenges are meant to push the limits of your skill and reward you for persevering. When you finally win, you're that much more prepared for the next challenge.
I struggled to beat the first boss of Dark Souls. But I beat the second one -- an objectively harder challenge -- in far fewer tries. Failing at the first boss readied me for the second. In Dark Souls, failure isn't to be lamented, it's necessary for future success.
In real life, I'd often blame my failures on whatever circumstances I was facing rather than acknowledging them for what they were. When I was bad at my job, I thought it was because the job didn't fit me or I didn't have the resources to succeed. It wasn't because I didn't commit myself to improving.Dark Souls helped me own my failures and, more importantly, use them to grow as an adult.
2) Be patient
One of the quickest ways to get yourself killed in Dark Souls is to charge recklessly ahead into new territory. With lots of swords-and-shields games, you can beat the biggest monsters by mashing the attack button. Try that against a Dark Souls boss, and it'll kill you repeatedly.
Instead, the path to victory requires mental fortitude. You have to exercise patience as you face a creature designed to scare you. You can't surmount the challenge all at once. You have to hang in there and chip away a little at a time when the moment is right.
I regularly faltered at adult life because I didn't find success right away. While playing Dark Souls, I changed my approach to life even though I was still frightened of failure. I invested fully in my job and accepted that finding success would take time.
3) Focus on the journey, not the destination
I started playing Dark Souls in order to beat it. What I found was an experience that taught me to enjoy the journey. When I beat the first boss of Dark Souls, I wasn't daunted by the challenges to come or the thought of how hard the final boss might be. Instead, I celebrated, because in that moment I had accomplished something I didn't think I could have an hour or two earlier.
The beauty of Dark Souls didn't await in a twist ending. It was the pleasure of pursuing the experience and knowing the most memorable moments were ones that I made for myself. That's why Dark Souls is my favorite game.
A couple of years after I finished Dark Souls, I found a job I love. Investing myself in the job I had at the time and volunteering for tougher assignments, instead of ones just good enough to get by -- just as I committed to exploring every nook of the poison swamp of Blighttown or besting Smough and Ornstein no matter how many times they killed me -- helped me earn this one.
I'm not even broke anymore.
I certainly don't have everything about adulthood figured out, and there's still a lot I want to do that I don't know how to achieve. That's OK. I'll tackle tomorrow's challenges as they come and seize opportunities as they arise.
Along the way, I'll enjoy the ride.