Most games aren’t like Dark Souls.
It’s 2017, your friend is talking to you about video games. They mention to you that they have played Crash Bandicoot as a kid, asking you if you have any input about the new Crash game. You look at them in the eyes, and say five words; “Have you played Dark Souls?”
Now, before I begin, I respect the position of the people that do this. I merely want to start a conversation, to hopefully forge an understanding, and offer better alternatives.
What is Dark Souls at a glance? It’s an action RPG with dungeon crawling aspects. As a meme: Dark Souls is hard, frustrating and at times does not feel fair. To say something is like Dark Souls, is not necessarily wrong, it just matters what context you mean. However, the major problem is that Dark Souls will not last as meme, and it’s honestly already dying. People who do not identify themselves as game journalists know that using Dark Souls as a placeholder for the word “hard” is a sign of poor understanding, from both a consumer and an industry standpoint.
So why use “it’s like Dark Souls” when games are just hard? Honestly, this could be attributed to lazy writing or assuming your readers will not understand if you write your feelings, as harsh as it sounds. People who do this reduce their opinions to an analogy they feel the reader will understand, often at the expense of accuracy, either because they do not know how to convey their feelings or they underestimate the reader. Not everyone is going to understand this comparison, and it is used on games that are generally for younger kids. This is damning. The writer might be an adult who plays games, but not everyone who would want to buy the game will be. There are parents that look up these games, and the games reviews, and in context of Dark Souls being in the media linked to murders and school violence, just a few years ago, will possibly scare parents off without looking into the games anymore when they’re obviously innocent games.
So, what should you say instead? Talk about your feelings and what makes the game hard. Talk about how enemy and environmental hazard placement feels like you’re never safe. Explain how frustrated you were, but when you got past the bumps in the road, you felt great. You do not at all need to reference Dark Souls to get the generalised feeling across of playing a hard game. Even people who don’t play games will understand your feelings because they can relate on a day to day task. Your readers are not stupid, they will understand the words that you put down, be they a genre savvy child or a clueless adult consumer.
Normally when I write, I never bring other games into the mix, unless they are games in a series. That’s personally just me, you can make comparisons in “if you’d like this game you might like these” separate from the review itself. I just think it’s disrespectful to the developers to sum up a game by directly referencing an unrelated game.
Dark Souls, as a game series, that is generally is challenging, but have their own issues. They aren’t the end all of hard games, there are many hard games that exist and are to be released, and we should review them on their own without stretching analogies. The developers deserve that little ounce of respect, to be shown that their game stands on their own two feet but comparing them to their earlier iterations if they have them. This doesn’t affect just the developers, you’re undermining your audience’s ability to understand your writing. People are not stupid, generally, if they’re seeking a review and reading the text, they’ll understand your feelings.