The Power of the Minimalist Narrative

by  Christian A. Brown  |  August 23, 2015  |     No Comments

As many of you know, I make no secret of my geekdom. Sure, I pump iron, talk sass, and keep tabs on what’s trending in the music and art scene. However, I also like to waste a gorgeous summer afternoon or two hunkering in a dim room with a controller in my hand. Video gaming can be a repulsive habit to those who are chronic-extroverts, or those who simply don’t understand the hobby. For me it’s the best kind of vacation—with my proclivity for fantasy, my mind literally checks out and travels to another world for an hour or so. I don’t play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), seeing as that sort of game can be dangerous to a person such as myself who’s so easily drawn into illusion. (Back in the day I had a WoW addiction—not intervention level, but almost.)

Lately, I’ve been playing a little Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin in my downtime. For those of you not in the know about niche video gaming history, Dark Souls is a dark fantasy series that began as Kingsfield, back in on the PSX (original PlayStation). At that time, it was a first-person dungeon crawler. Since then, Souls has evolved into a 3rd person action/ RPG game with some of the most striking, eerie aesthetics, themes, and content-delivery of our age. There are Gieger and Lovecraftian influences galore: tentacular-beasts, crumbled ruins, and a carefully cultivated sense of dread and horror infused into every asset of the game. Whenever I play a Souls title, I realize how well it does what authors are always told to do: it shows rather than tells.

Dark Souls, Lake of Despair

Look at an image like this and perhaps you—like I—become stricken by melancholy and thoughts of mystery, magic and death. (Is that Charon—or something like him—ferrying the boat?)

Dark Souls Horror

Now behold this monstrosity and maybe your breath hitches, your mind wonders from what Chthonic abyss this Godless-thing hath come, and your hands try to not drop the controller as the monster attempts to swallow you whole. The appearance of this creature conveys its voracious-viciousness before you’re probably eaten and learn that for yourself. There’s no soft-touch in Souls games. They drop you into a richly manifested nightmare world, give you few clues about what the F is going on, and leave you to defend yourself—with hardly more than a dagger and some rags, at first—against relentless hordes of hideous creatures in your hunt for meager, buried truths. It’s a survivalists’ game, akin to a road-warrior story—only one with strong existential and metaphysical philosophies. Who am I? What is the soul? What defines good and evil? These sorts of questions are subtly asked of the player through the construct of the world. Here, the world speaks as the narrator, more than the characters do. Now the Souls games still have great characterization, which is told in the snippets of dialog during encounters with other folks lost in this purgatory. And you can find extensive lore attached to each and every item in the game. Knickknacks and weapons alike have poignant anecdotes or intriguing histories in their descriptions—through which we learn about the world and story, at whatever rate our curiosity permits. Take this blurb, from an axe:

“The beloved black axe of the gallant Shieldless Lothian, formerly of Forossa.
No warrior matched the ferocity of unbeatable Lothian, but he abruptly retired from the battlefield and was never heard from again. Some say that he grew tired of the frailty of human foes, and set off to slay the legendary dragon.”

Souls games have genius design, and I can see why the series has developed a cult following. The games have made me think about how I can apply their sort of masterful immersiveness to my craft. Many of my fans have said that I have a penchant for the descriptive, for fleshing out a scene in three dimensions, or sickening/ exciting them with prose (thank you for those compliments, by the way). I’m curious, then, as to how a story laden with only environmental and—scattered but meaningful—dialog and character detail would be received. It certainly presents a challenge, and one that I think I’ll tackle with a tie-in novella between the first arc of Geadhain’s grand tale and the next. Speaking of which, I’m happy to say that I’ve drafted the first two chapters of the final installment of Four Feasts Till Darkness (don’t worry, there are many more ‘installments’ in different arcs). While Feasts isn’t a Souls experience, I believe it’s dark, philosophical, and mind-twistingly beautiful in a way all its own.

All my love,

—C

P.S. Leo is working on an exquisite piece of art that I can (hopefully) reveal next week! In keeping with this week’s theme, another, new, creeptastic piece of art can be found in the Gallery. As well, I finally got around to doing a proper media photo shoot last week. Thanks to Dan Abramovici over at Callbackheadshots! He has a rather hilarious movie—in which he stars—that’s worth checking out on iTunes, too.

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