Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Corruption and Bondage

Introduction

It is an uncontroversial point (in so far as there are any) to consider Dark Souls as premising much of its narrative drive on the polarity between light and dark. Though originally introduced to these metaphysical concepts as an antagonistic binary,[i] there are many points throughout the fragmented narrative of the games that calls this binary into question. A staple of its distinct narrative style, Dark Souls is no stranger to the persistent disruption of the stories that it chooses to reveal – whether these disruptions are about questioning the fundamental nature of the world as we experience it, doubting that our character is truly the prophesied figure of divinely mandated destiny, or instilling a suspicion of the motives of other characters as they presented.[ii] Disruption as the motivation to question, to doubt, to regard with suspicion, is a pervasive and inextricable part of Souls’ storytelling, and the dualistic metaphysics of light and dark are no exception to this. And yet, when we consider the question(s) of gender with regard to the series, we are immediately met with a vision of gender that almost without exception repeats and reinforces the traditional binary of man and woman. This is to say that despite its broader concern with structuring its narrative around a series of disruptions and shades of grey, gender is continually reasserted as a naturalised narrative site within Souls. As is to be expected, the work the series does to maintain this binary and thereby the salience of gender to its story is often done through stylistic moves that mobilise various kinds of norm that play into the conceptual structures of misogyny, sexism, and homophobia (though this is not an exhaustive list).

My concern within this essay to make explicit the mechanisms with which gender is uncritically repeated within the Souls games. Beginning with the overt ways that gender plays into the very metaphysical assumptions of the Souls’ universe(s?), I shall explore how womanhood is essentialised within the narrative and how this essence is aligned with the metaphysical ‘dark’ in a way that is either absent or far less overt with male characters. Given the numerous ways in which the series replays symbolic associations between darkness and evil, the figure of the woman within Souls is maintained in the position of the other – specifically the other as a threat. Just as the opening cutseen instills us with a fear that the dark might win out over the light – for “soon the flames will fade and only Dark will remain. Even now there are only embers, and man sees not light, but only endless nights”[iii] the game gives us a parade of female figures that are to be feared for the corruption with which they are so frequently equated. And we shall see the precise kinds of violation and violence that the fear of women is seen to justify within the narrative.

This essay shall also track the ways in which Souls inadvertently reveals the failure of the traditional gender binary. As such, the final part of this essay will consider the figure of Darkmoon Gwyndolin – whose gender nonconformity provides a useful site of contention for examining how gender works in the series as a whole. Through Gwyndolin, we shall examine not only Souls’ use of gender as a coercive structure within the power dynamics of Lordran, but also the possibility of seeing within the figure of Gwyndoin the ultimate failure of binarist conceptions of gender.

 It is important to note that none of these critiques should be regarded as damning or as holding Dark Souls in contempt. Contrarily, they are motivated by a passionate interest in the Dark Souls games, and consider my personal love of these games as a key motivation for my critique.

Yuria of Londor - [source]

Read the rest of this essay on my Medium account: Corruption and Bondage

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