My hunter character stands in front of a fog gate.

Dark Souls is starting to infect my dreams. I often have vivid dreams when playing games, but few games manage to blend the conscious and unconsciousness states as expertly as the setting of this game.

It started off as an insidious intruder into my sleep, but has evolved into the welcome distraction into my waking hours, and this isn’t too surprising given the unsettling mood the game establishes.

A dream-like world

I have always had the ability to have lucid dreams – where I am aware that I am asleep and I am actively able to control what happens in the dream to some extent. A pleasant side-effect of my decreasing health is that the frequency of these lucid dreams have increased exponentially, they become particularly potent when I have something to really ignite my thought processes.

At the moment this is called by Dark Souls. The atmosphere of the game and the highs and lows it creates during the experience of play invokes rare a sense of empowerment. It’s a curious thrill in the case of Dark and Demon’s Souls – both of these titles allude to a masterful challenge but I’ve always been more compelled with their engaging and involving worlds.

The atmosphere of the game is a perfect conduit to the sort of feeling needed to experience a lucid dream. The compartmentalised landscapes of Demon’s Souls have been largely replaced with an open environment of mist-filled forests, half-lit sewers settings and castles overtaken with foliage. The dark, languishing dungeons are still present, but this game feels more organic and therefore far more dream-like with its ruinous setting and labyrinth style level design. There’s a sort of slow progress to getting your bearings in Dark Souls, many fans describe it as your first wall, when the motivation changes between the slog of learning and the pleasure of beginning to get to grips with what the game teaches you.

Pinpointing where you are in the world, and where the where the boundaries of the game world ends adds to this dream-like quality. As you master Dark Souls, the game unfolds in one slow motion, each new corner harbouring a small epiphany as you realise how everything you’re exploring connects. So since I first sat down to play Dark Souls I have had some of the most vivid lucid dreams I have ever experienced.

Navigating a darkened tunnel to reach a bonfire.The hydra's many heads attempts to shoot at my character she she runs off screen.

Some misdirection

The lucid dreams themselves always seem to start in the same way. They are prompted by the particular boss or moment in the game where I am stuck or where I have left to return it to. My character – myself in the third person – floats out of the ground in a similar way to how phantoms are summoned in the game. It is at about this moment that I start to recreate the contents of the game, and I realise that I am dreaming. It’s an amazing feeling and even in my dreams I am disappointingly limited to the boundaries and physics of the game, so I mainly use the extra dreaming time to collect my thoughts on the particular moment that plagues me.

It turns into a sort of tactical thinking ground for the battle strategies that I would like to try in game. The only really odd thing with my Dark Souls dreams are the fact that I always seem to win – I never die. This is an almost stark change to my normal experience of both Dark and Demon’s Souls that I almost always realise at this point that I am dreaming if I didn’t do so before. I become too confident in the “safe version” of Dark Souls and I am no longer immersed. I usually wake up shortly after.

Exploring the surroundings of Darkroot Forest.Appearing at the bonfire at Firelink Shrine.

After effects

Playing Dark Souls feels like I am exploring the world of my dreams. It has the sort of look and feel that alludes to the veil of half reality conjured by the dreaming mind. It starts to tap into the ebb and flow of dreaming by mesmerising your waking hours, forcing your thoughts to exploring its secrets. It rests in the back of your mind prodding the unconscious desire of where you really want to be. Even as I sit here writing this I can feel the draw of the game willing me to come back to the console.

The way I describe it makes it sounds tortuous. Playing Dark Souls is a challenge, but the action of overcoming its harder moments feels as easy as breathing once you wake up and understand how to play successfully.

I can’t help but admire From Software for making a game that gets under my skin not just adequately, but even more impressively than its predecessor.

Engaging with the Capra Demon.Defending from some crystal monsters.

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