It’s probably because of my character — paranoid and performatively self-denying — that I’ve yet to buy a game console. It would almost certainly be a PS4 if I did decide to make the leap, and the only games I’d be interested in would be Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series. The idea of losing so much spare time is what stops me, but I don’t have the self-control to just avoid the activity altogether. Instead, I spend hours and hours watching YouTube videos and poring through Wiki entries for the lore underpinning these titles. It’s accurate to call this self-defeating — a methadone substitute for my addiction-in-waiting — but I do wonder if, for some of us, it’s the myths and the backstory that are more interesting than the actual games.
It’s the sort of question you often hear asked of sci-fi and fantasy works. The Lord of The Rings is a prime example; a text that is as much scholarly as novelistic, written by an Oxford don whose passion for internally coherent fictional worlds ran so deep that he sketched out more than a dozen mature languages and dialects for characters who hardly ever spoke them. If you were really into LOTR as a teenager, it wasn’t just the warm hobbit holes, frosty mountains, and great battles that attracted you — it was the secondary sources; the map, indices, and footnotes.
I’m not claiming that the lore of Dark Souls can stand toe-to-toe with Tolkien’s monster of a legendarium, but it seems clear that exploring both holds similar pleasures. You follow one unfamiliar term to the next like bread crumbs through a labyrinth. In LOTR, a brief trip through the world’s divine hierarchies might take you from a Maia like Gandalf, to the Ainur to Eru Ilúvatar. While in Dark Souls a parallel journey could go from Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, to the Lord Souls and then the First Flame. You might think all this is just gibberish, but for some people, knowing what these terms mean and their place in a larger structure is just as enjoyable as being able to lay out, say, the social order of the Roman Empire (it goes slaves; freemen; plebeians; equites; senators, if you’re curious) and arguably more useful for day-to-day life.
The internet has made it easy to feast on myth, lore, backstories, and more
More importantly, in the internet age, it’s easier than ever to gorge on this sort of data. If a fantasy world is a waiting feast for a hungry imagination, then the YouTube explainer video is a conveyer belt of food aimed directly at your mouth. I should say here, that at this point I’m not just talking about Dark Souls, but also other deep wells of lore — comic books, fantasy, and sci-fi.
Take Alt Shift X, for example, a YouTuber who makes videos about Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. His explainers manage to be both concise and discursive at the same time; leaning on the addictive YouTube aesthetic of quick-fire edits, while splicing in footage from the TV show alongside neatly attributed quotations from George R.R. Martin’s books. Alt Shift X also uses what seems to be a fairly unique method of laying out his explanations as if they were 2D maps. You have one screen of information in front of you, you can then travel left or right to find new, unexplored areas, and from these spots travel up or down. Alt Shift X has a similar diagrammatic approach, dividing each of his theories into sheets of information, then linking them all together like a dungeon map from a fantasy tabletop game.
The satisfying thing about all this is the internal coherency — you’re moving about between different topics, but you have an idea where they all fit into a larger whole. And toward the end of his videos, Alt Shift X often zooms out to deliver the money shot: the whole, messy, connected, illegible overview. It’s an image that encapsulates a lot about the attraction of this sort of lore-learning. There’s a sense of knowing where all the pieces are, and how they fit together. And — in a way that’s just as addictive as an actual video game — out of the corner of your eye you can see the YouTube sidebar full of more videos and more information to digest.Perhaps I should just stop kidding myself and get a PS4.
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