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As you drive home, heavy snow falls to the ground. In an attempt to climb a hillside road, your car's tires give way and begin to slip! Suddenly, you hear a bump as the vehicle behind you gently pushes you up the slippery street.
You can't stop because to do so would mean that the good-natured soul helping you traverse this perilous stretch of asphalt would lose his momentum, and all would be for naught. You continue on. You'll likely never meet him, but he's on your mind.
Demon's Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki described these real-life events to Eurogamer as "a connection of mutual assistance between transient people." He continued, "Oddly, that incident will probably linger in my heart for a long time. Simply because it's fleeting." That experience is what inspired the game's unique online functionality, where players help one another by leaving pre-written messages on the ground or lending a silent hand to another battered soul.
And I saw that spirit last night when I returned to the Kingdom of Boletaria — my desire rekindled by the most recent Geekbox podcast. For all the talk of the dungeon crawler's unyielding brutality, I witnessed the inherent good in everyone.
Reviving at the beginning archstone in the Shrine of Storms, the game greets me with a note that says that my fellow travelers have rated a past message of mine. "Thanks," I think to myself, "for the health boost."
A silver-clad skeleton reanimates in the distance. Its glowing blue eyes lock on to mine. I haven't played Demon's Souls in quite awhile, so everything feels slightly fresh yet so familiar at the moment. Slicing through these obstacles with my trusty Dragon Bone Smasher (which looks strikingly pragmatic and effective for what the name implies), I happen upon several messages.
They warn of "a dangerous foe ahead," and I again quietly thank the faceless couriers, who just successfully alerted me to the dual-katana-wielding black skeleton hiding behind a rock formation. Fully prepared for the task at hand, I dispatch my adversary and continue forward.
More messages. One advises that a "hidden entrance" lies nearby. Another urges me to "attack." "Thanks again," I whisper to myself. "I'd forgotten about that secret undergound passageway."
So far, my entire time with Demon's Souls is filled with truthful messages either showing me the way or informing me of enemy ambushes. Not a single malevolent note among the bunch.
And this tone continues even in the face of the game's least altruistic online feature: black phantom invasion. Selfish players can breach your world in an attempt to cut down your character's physical body, which then brings theirs out of the realm of apparitions and back to that of the living. I realize one such encounter awaits as the deep fog sets in behind me at the steps of Allant's palace.
Locked in deadly combat, our duel rages. We clash with heavy force, dodge with skillful ease, and dance in a melee of steel and spells. I strike him down only to feel his counterattack. We trade blows and tactically heal our wounds. Our fight continues in stalemate for 10, 15, even 20 minutes!
My heart races; sweat drenches my palms. The battle has heightened my senses, and I'm thrilled beyond measure. But alas, I err — one mistimed dodge and a failed swing bring the end to my character. "You died" flashes across the screen.
I can still feel my chest pounding when my temple knight revives in soul form. It's getting late, and I decide to call it a night. After exiting the game, I give my friends list a cursory glance to see what those currently online are playing. My inbox has a little number one on the top-right corner of the icon. I never get messages on PSN.
"Good fight, demon."
In a world where women face harassment and degradation online and my own masculinity sits under a microscope, Demon's Souls is a poignant breath of fresh air that satisfyingly bucks Penny Arcade's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory — a warm blaze in a land shrouded by the bitter cold.
And with that in mind, I look forward to gathering with fellow humanitarians around the beacon fires of Dark Souls, Demon's Souls' upcoming spiritual successor. Anonymously, of course.