Marked by ruins and the undead, the world of Dark Souls may seem apocalyptic, but the old order is still very much (half-)alive. This Ancien Régime haunts the world and encompasses it like a decaying husk, barely keeping it from falling apart. God-kings and their vassals cling to their past glory. Together, they form a degraded elite that would rather condemn their domain to the paradox of an eternal downfall than face their end.
This is where the Chosen Undead, the player’s vessel, comes in. It is their mission to topple the former sun god Gwyn, who keeps the First Flame from dying using his own body as tinder. Because of this, the world hangs suspended in a twilight state of limbo, neither here nor there. Whether the Chosen Undead decides to renew or extinguish the Flame, Gwyn stands in the way of necessary change.
Every time you die, you experience that status quo first-hand. Each “You Died” functions as a punctuation in a series of cycles that return the player to the last bonfire and resurrect any enemies you may have killed. If you fail to learn from your previous mistakes, it will be difficult to tell one disastrous cycle from the next. In Dark Souls, dying means becoming part of cosmic stagnation. In the end, the player, like the undead inhabitants of Lordran, may become despondent and desperate. In a word, ‘Hollowed’.
Each triumph, on the other hand, is a miniature revolution, cheating death and breaking the cycle for at least a short while. The bosses of Dark Souls are the ultimate champions of the status quo, and their demise is like the sudden opening of a blockage, allowing flow and new momentum after long stagnation. The seemingly Sisyphean endeavour finally pays off and opens new paths and opportunities.
In other words: the Chosen Undead’s quest is a revolutionary struggle against the end of history, a hypothetical concept that envisions an age in which historical change lies in the past. Instead of the teleological promises of salvation offered by Millenarianism, Communism or liberal Democracy, Dark Souls’ end of history comes in the guise of entropy, or rather, an indefinitely delayed heat death of the universe.
Dark Souls isn’t an apocalyptic game, in any conventional sense. After all, the apocalypse has been successfully prevented by Gwyn and his followers. Moreover, it’s not clear at all whether the apocalypse would be a worse fate for Lordran than a twilight, half-life existence. The real horror of this world isn’t the end of the world, but the end of history. Dark Souls leaves little doubt that flow and movement are always preferable t