Player expression in video games can be a window into the psyche of those holding the controller. Sometimes this expression is purely superficial such as choosing a camo for a gun in Call of Duty or selecting a skin in Fortnite. However, in some games players have the opportunity to adopt a unique, personalized playstyle. They can develop an individualized way of overcoming the game’s challenges. For example, some players prefer picking off enemies from afar with a sniper rifle while others will opt for brass knuckles and close quarters combat. A particular person’s playstyle is a function of numerous external factors including the game’s meta, online guides, and YouTube videos. Nonetheless, a player’s personality, how they approach their lives outside the game, can also influence how they behave while inhabiting a digital world. Personally, I found this interconnectedness of personality and playstyle to be particularly evident while slaying enemies in the newly remastered Demon’s Souls.
Immediately upon beginning my journey into post-apocalyptic Boletaria, I was unceremoniously thrust into the character creation menu. I, like many players, spent an inordinate amount of time fine tuning my character’s eyebrow thickness, nose cartilage, and nearly imperceptible facial scars, until I had accurately reconstructed myself within the game’s dark medieval setting. After self-naming my digital doppelganger I was asked to choose his class. Scrolling through the options I saw that they provided a few extra vitality points here, slightly better armor there, but the numbers were meaningless to a newcomer such as myself. Nonetheless, I was certain about one thing: Luke was not one to wield magical spells. No self-respecting man uses mana. Luke faced his foes head on, weapon in hand, like the noble hero he was. He bested them through a war of attrition. The only thing sharper than his blade was his aptitude for melee combat. The only thing stronger than his shield was his will to succeed.
Therefore, Luke was a Knight. The burly Fluted Armor and a few extra points in strength seemed to facilitate is playstyle. With character creation finished Luke went clanking off, excited to complete his quest. He quickly found a rhythm. With a Steel Shield in his left hand and a Winged Spear in his right, Luke adopted a playstyle that was largely analogous to a turtle. The Winged Spear is one of the few weapons in Demon’s Souls that allows players to attack while simultaneously maintaining their guard. In this way Luke could skewer his enemies while their weapons glanced helplessly off his shield. Luke could keep up this foolproof tactic indefinitely: so long as he did not overextend himself. Indeed, a prolonged flurry of offensive and defensive maneuvers could deplete his stamina, causing him to drop his shield in exhaustion and be vulnerable to attack. In this way, Luke could meet his demise.
Games, especially role-playing games, are an invaluable source of escapism for myself and so many others. While in Boletaria I am not Luke the college student, rather I am Luke the slayer demons. Beyond the superficial similarities in our physical appearance we are nothing alike. After all that is the goal of escapism, to be untethered to reality and transported to another world where the stress of student loans and midterms are replaced by kings and dragons. However, as I became versed in the game’s mechanics the veil which separated the two incarnations of Luke grew increasingly translucent.
As is typical of the Souls Series, the more I played, the more I struggled. The enemies forced me to master the game’s mechanics and as I grew increasingly adept I noticed remarkable similarities between slayer Luke and student Luke. Both incarnations confronted their problems, whether they be a Mind Flayer or midterm exam, by leveraging their vast stamina reserves. Just as digital Luke relied on stamina to keep his guard up while dealing damage Luke in the real world relied on stamina to continually meet deadlines. Luke the slayer cannot effortlessly cut through enemies with a single flick of his weapon, his damage per second is not nearly high enough for such theatrics. Nor can Luke the college student write essays in a single stream of consciousness or mentally solve math problems. Luke the slayer must take his time and repeatedly wait for openings in his opponent's defenses before striking. Likewise, Luke the student meticulously plans his essays and uses reams of scratch paper to complete his math homework. Neither are naturally gifted, infallible demigods. It is through patience and diligence that both incarnations of Luke find success. Stamina is their greatest asset.
Unfortunately, success is not guaranteed. In both Boletaria and college, stamina is a finite resource. Too many repeated hits can break slayer Luke’s guard and allow an enemy sword to runneth through his armor. Similarly, too many responsibilities can leave student Luke burnt out and unable to meet expectations. For both, success depends on not taking on too many problems at once. Digital Luke stays alive by limiting the amount of Dreglings he simultaneously engages while real life Luke avoids burn out by limiting the number of responsibilities he undertakes. Neither are perfect of course; they both make mistakes. Demon’s Souls and college are both a series of learning experiences. When slayer Luke finds himself on the wrong end of a Reaper’s scythe he respawns at the nearest Archstone, albeit in soul form, and tries again. Likewise, when real life Luke finds himself burnt out by a particularly difficult semester, he plays some video games, clears his mind, and when the next semester rolls around he tries again. Luckily for real life Luke he gets to keep his original body.
This explanation of the relationship I noticed between my personality and how I play Demon’s Souls is not to suggest that every gamer can reveal some inner truth by analyzing their playstyle. Indeed, you may opt to be play support in Overwatch simply to satisfy the needs of the team composition not because of some deep-seated desire to heal those around you. I am not suggesting that every play session is an opportunity for some profound revelation about one’s inner self. However, it would be naive to believe that our real-world personalities are entirely independent of how we engage with interactive entertainment. Our actions define us, even if they live in a digital world.
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