Like other media, games tell stories that follow structures of storytelling that are ingrained in our culture. One aspect that all stories have in common, is that they have a beginning and an end. This ideal can also be observed in the Soulsborne series. The difficulty of the game often makes experiencing the story a fruitless endeavour, frustrating players along the way. Nevertheless, the community is prolific and highly engaged. This essay endeavours to shed light on the motivations that keep players engaged with the series.

To those who wish to enjoy the game’s story, the difficulty of the games may come across as a gatekeeping mechanism denying entry to anyone not skilled enough to overcome the challenges. Whereas the games are a prime example of what Henry Jenkins conceived of as narrative architecture (2004), a large portion of the community content produced revels around the ludic aspects instead. Failure is what largely constitutes the framing of the experience. Intuitively it may appear wrong to enjoy failing. However, Jesper Juul (2013) regards failure in games to be different to failure in real life. Rather, “the positive effect of failure comes from the fact that we can learn to escape from it, feeling more competent than we did before.” (45). Judging from the community focus, agonistic aspects alongside failure seem to be the motivating force to playing the games.

Despite the series being capable of delivering a story, it is instead the restrictive nature that fascinates the community. In essence, the “less efficient means” (1978, 34) that Bernard Suits writes about in his definition of play, in the form of the hard-to-master mechanics, are what is the centre of attention. In terms of narrative architecture this means that players use the games to produce emergent narratives. The players primarily depict moments of gameplay that can best be analysed by Sutton-Smith’s rhetorics of play as described in The Ambiguity of Play (1997). Given the agonistic nature of the games, much of the community’s gameplay revels around the rhetoric of power. Fighter PL.’s channel is a prime example of how the game is played online, hosting videos like Dark Souls 3 – The Parry God Returns (2017). Most of the videos display the mastery of skill and beating other players in competition, again reflecting on the aspects of failure. Other examples are indicative of frivolous play. Whereas Iron Pineapple’s Dark Souls Remastered: Darkwraith Shuffle (2018) is framed as a tutorial for player combat, it is nothing short of nonsensical frivolous play, created to irritate other players and amuse the audience. Judging by the amount of content along these lines, players appear to be using the framework of the game to create their own emergent narratives, instead of experiencing the story the game has to offer.

In conclusion, it seems that the Soulsborne series seems to lend itself to providing players with the opportunity to engage in various forms of play, whose motivation is not necessarily connected to experiencing the game as a whole. In a way, the agonistic nature of the game is conducive of facilitating experimentation with the ludic aspects of the game, resulting in a plethora of possible ways of playing the game and using the virtual world to live out personal ideas and ideologies irrespective of the story.


Dark Souls 3 – The Parry God Returns. 2017. YouTube video, 13:40. Posted by “Fighter PL.,” October 15,

Dark Souls Remastered: Darkwraith Shuffle. 2018. YouTube video, 2:03. Posted by “Iron Pineapple,” May 27,

Jenkins, Henry. 2004. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture.” in First Person New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, 118-130. Cambridge and London, Engl.: MIT Press.

Juul, Jesper. 2013. The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, MA and London, Engl.: MIT Press.

Suits, Bernard. 1978. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sutton-Smith, Brian. 1997. The Ambiguity of Play. Cambridge, MA and London, Engl.: Harvard University Press.