After studying what auto-ethnography is about, it is finally time to begin undertaking my studies. One will be with a group, and the other I will be doing on my own. There are many different elements to the auto-e experience and I am hoping I get it correct from the very beginning. With that said, it was important to me that I was able to choose a subject matter that was simultaneously familiar to me, yet some concepts of which continued to elude me.
This decision came rather naturally to me one evening while settling down with my partner over skype and grinding out some playthrough on the video game Dark Souls III. I had been ‘farming’ for ‘covenant’ items; items which are usually earned through the player vs player aspect of the game, in order to get a 100% achievement unlock rate for the game. I was expressing my distaste for this boring gameplay to my partner when he simply and bluntly stated, “why don’t you just PvP for it?”.
I scoffed at the thought. Me? PvP? Nonsense! I was absolutely terrible at it. Technically I was terrible at the whole game. The Dark Souls series, the brainchild of Japanese game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, was known for being punishing. I’d enjoyed it as casually as one possibly could for someone who does not seriously hone gaming skills. The offline gameplay was challenging enough. Online, with other players trying to kill you… It was another thing entirely. I expressed my distaste for PvP gameplay. “Because I can’t. I’m sh*t at this game. Everyone is just too good” I complained.
But why were they good and why did I see myself as bad? Beginning to think about how I could quickly gain these covenant items through PvP gameplay without the challenge was really what started me down the path of thinking about the different subcultures within the Dark Souls online community; which is so centered on players killing players.
Interestingly, to me, there are two types of online play; cooperative and competitive; however, there are multiple types of competitive play. Cooperative play is mostly limited to being able to ‘summon’ other players to your own world via in-game summoning signs. A player places these summon signs near challenging or boss areas to be summoned to help others, and gain in-game rewards in the form of ‘souls’; which is the games form of currency. There are two exceptions to this in the form of covenants, which I will elaborate on soon.
There are 3 types of competitive play in this game. Competitive play mostly centres around hindering others from making it through certain areas. There are two such covenants that do this, which are made up of in-game groups of players which choose to align to this covenant for the potential rewards – usually high powered spells and items. Both covenants, the Aldrich Faithful and the Watchdogs of Farron, are automatically summoned by the game in their respective areas to prevent the progress of ‘trespassers’ – players who are trying to get through these areas to kill the bosses to progress through the game. It is the job of these automatically summoned ‘invaders’ to dispatch the ‘trespassers’ of these areas for their own rewards. The Aldrich Faithful covenant is a rather unique example in this type of PvP play due to it’s connection to the area it takes place in and it’s rivalry to another covenant, The Blades of the Darkmoon.
In Dark Souls 3, there is an area called Anor Londo which was recently over-taken by a heretical priest-like figure named Aldrich, the Devourer of Gods. The Aldrich Faithful are warring with the Blades of the Darkmoon, as their leader has had her brother (considered an in-game God-like figure) devoured by Aldrich. This leader sends her Knights to protect other players who have had their own worlds invaded by the Aldrich Faithful in the Anor Londo area. Still with me? Here’s why this is important.
Basically, a player tries to move through the Anor Londo area to defeat Aldrich and progress with the game’s storyline. However, to stop them from ever making it to him, Aldrich sends his ‘faithful’ to invade their world and kill them before they ever reach him. If an Aldrich Faithful has invaded a player’s world, then another player belonging to the Blades of the Darkmoon may then be sent into that same world to ensure the success of the player. It all sounds complicated, but here’s where it gets interesting.
Among the player base, the Aldrich Faithful are considered ‘scummy’ players and the Blades of the Darkmoon are considered the more noble covenant to align yourself with. When looking over forum sites like Reddit, the criticism of those who choose to align with Aldrich is rather clear. Those who align with the covenant simply state it’s a part of the game and that those who dislike their choices should simply get better at the game.
The other ways to engage in competitive play involve using an in-game item, red-eye orbs, to invade other players worlds in any areas where the boss has not been defeated. The players that choose to invade this way do it for one of two reasons; either they have aligned themselves with a covenant and are collecting the covenant items gained when they kill they host player, or, quite simply, they just want to kill someone for the fun of it.
And then there is the ever-interesting ‘fight club’ scene in Dark Souls. In the same way that you can place a summon sign to allow cooperative play, you can also place a summon sign that allows you to damage other players in the game; the host, or other invaders. One would think that it is crazy to simply allow an invader (red phantom) loose in their world to kill them, however you can gain souls as a reward for defeating these players. This is where the interest lies – in some locations of the game you can actually summon multiple of these red phantoms and they are able to kill each other.
And so the culture of fight-clubs was born. As the Anor Londo area has a small arena-like setting, it is a prime location where players put their summon signs down to be summoned into a host world to pit their skills with each other and continuously fight until there is a victor.
These fight-clubs have their own cultures and their own sets of rules and the rabbit hole goes rather deep. Exactly how deep is something I would like to investigate, but it also requires for me to get good at PvP.
So, here we are.
The point of my auto-e studies is to ‘git gud’ at the PvP aspect of the game in order to investigate for myself how these subcultures work and how they are structured internally.
My previous experiences with PvP have been mostly me hiding behind my partner in cooperative play and allowing him to deal with the problem. When he was not around, I died. Alot.
In order to record my own experiences, I will be using the streaming platform Twitch in order to engage with an audience and perhaps even spearhead discussions on the subject matter. I will also throw in a few Reddit threads in the Dark Souls III for discussing my own observations with others and even livetweet some of my experiences along the way to see how my followers react. I will also take advantage of pseudo-skype/teamspeak platform Discord, which allows both voice and text chat to speak about the topics with anyone who chooses to engage with the subject matter through my streams.
I will be playing the game on both Xbox One and PC to see if there is at all a difference between the way console players and PC players conduct themselves as well. Additionally, I will trawl through youtube video comments on other PvP videos to see if there is any insight onto the subject matter outside of the usual troll comments. Wish me luck.
In the end I hope to collaborate my observations into one video. I believe it may be hard to keep these videos to the required time (10 minutes!) but I hope to get a clear and concise understanding of the way PvPers in Dark Souls create their own virtual cultures.
Until then, feel free to watch this video that highlights some of the PvE and PvP shenanigans that are encountered in Dark Souls 3’s predecessor.