Dark Souls 3’s Relationship to Mental Health

In a society that values power and achievement, young people sometimes struggle to find their way to those outcomes. As a result studies show increasing incidents of mental illness among youth. According to a federal study (Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2018),  depressive episodes among teens rose from 8.7% to 13.2% between 2005 and 2012.

Dark Souls 3 is a fantasy role playing game made by FromSoftware. Having sold 13 million copies, the game has a cult-like fan-base. At the 2017 Game Awards it  was nominated for four different awards, including Game of the Year. 

Many popular video games today are power fantasies, meaning they enable players to embody characters with powers greater than their own, empowering them to accomplish unimaginable things. Rather than elevate its players, Dark Souls in stark contrast, makes its players feel weak and insignificant. While power fantasy games speak to the gamer masses, Dark Souls provides a refuge for  the 20% of youth (NAMI, 2019) struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

 Dark Souls is known for its extreme difficulty and its dark and depressing tone. Many of its themes reflect the thoughts and feelings of people with mental health issues like depression. 

This paper highlights the darkness and tragedy shared by Dark Souls and those experiencing mental illness. In addition it exposes the stigma of mental illness and how that plays out in our social structures. Finally, it illustrates how the game offers players relief by providing possible coping mechanisms useful when dealing with their real-world mental illness.

The main objective in Dark Souls is for a player to perform an act called the “linking of the fire.” Successfully “linking the fire” lifts the curse of the undead, but only for a time. So just like the tragedy of mental illness, “linking the fire” is a dark, daily grind that never fully disappears. The flame like mental health challenges ebbs and flows. The character you play as is called an unkindled. Unkindled are people who had previously attempted to link the fire, but failed and were burnt to ash. The fate of the unkindled is analogous to the way many people feel about depression. People with mental illness often experience anxiety, insecurity and a sense of never being good enough. A Dark Souls character, Hawkward the Deserter echoes similar sentiment when he suggests “We unkindled are worthless…And they’d have us seek the Lords of Cinder…We’re not fit to lick their boots,” referring to the Lords of Cinder, responsible for linking the fire.   

During Dark Souls players often fight alone, perpetuating a sense of being isolated and weak with seemingly endless waves of enemies trying to kill you. There is almost nobody left in the world who is sane, and players only company are horrifying creatures. This pervasive sense of isolation while playing Dark Souls mimics the isolation and social exclusion felt by  many people facing mental illness. According to Oliver Drakeford Therapy 80% of teens report feelings of loneliness, and nearly a third of teens report these feelings as persistent and painful. 

Historically, society has placed a stigma on people with mental illness. Despite our growing understanding of it, many negative views of mental health issues still stand. Media in many cases contributes stigma against mental illness, by perpetuating fears that people with mental health issues are dangerous. Media reports often link mental illness with violence, or portray people with mental health problems as criminal, evil, or very disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives. That said, other forms of media, such as video games like Dark Souls offer opportunities to educate, raise awareness and increase support for those with mental illness.  Overcoming hardships is an essential part of the game. The game’s mechanics encourage players to face their troubles. During the game players face monstrous beasts that seem impossible to defeat. And when a player is victorious, the game rewards him/her with a sense of overwhelming accomplishment and the words “Heir of Fire Destroyed” is blasted over the audio track, increasing the player’s strength. 

Furthermore, Dark Souls also gives players the opportunity to seek and receive help from others. In game, you can use things called summon signs to get help from others in order to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These summon signs only appear when another person playing the game decides to take the time to help somebody else.

Dark Souls connects many of its themes to mental health issues today. Of course it’s not the only work of culture to do so. For example, the book Still Life Tornado by A. S. King reveals the struggles of a teenage girl, Sarah, overwhelmed by the challenge of an abusive home life. In addition, the movie Frozen, introduces a main character Elsa who believes her ice powers make her a bad person. So she creates a life of isolation to keep herself from feeling anything. Finally, an online community called The Mighty (themighty.com) surveyed it’s more than 2-million members who all face mental health challenges, about songs that helped them deal with depression. Mental health is a serious issue facing young people today. Fortunately, many elements of our culture, like music, books, movies and video games offer avenues for teens to learn more, find coping strategies, and discover they are not alone.

Cultural Analysis of “Boys Among Men”

Boys Among Men, a New York Times Bestseller, has an overview of how NBA players that were drafted out of high school had their own story and experience and changed the NBA. Written by Jonathan Abrams, the book was released was in 2016. The book displays a message that says, High School basketball players should attend college before going professional into the NBA. This period lasted from 1995-2005 where it was very popular and still talked about today. The biggest stars who were known for being drafted out of high school during that period were: Kevin Garnett(1995), Kobe Bryant(1996), Tracy McGrady(1997), LeBron James(2003), and Dwight Howard(2004). The book promotes the dominant ideology that going to the NBA out of high school is a big risk and without college, it would be hard to fall back on something for someone if something was to happen to them.

High school basketball players should be removed from high school 1 or more years before going pro because of many risks that would be taken while making the decision. Every athlete is not going to be a star but the big stars had their own success. My thesis explains how every basketball player is not guaranteed success when they skip college.


The Incredibles 2 and Breaking Dominant Ideologies

In The Incredibles 2, the main characters are the mom, the dad, the daughter, the son, and the infant. The main story is continued from the first movie where the family takes down a giant robot before it destroys the city. This film has followed the trend of breaking the stereotype of the “American dream” where the family functions well and the father works and the mother stays home. 

The mother is invited by some million dollar corporation to fight crime because the CEO believes superheroes could change the world. The movie breaks the ideology of the man being the breadwinner, and the mom staying home. The father is forced to stay at home with the kids. As the dad struggles to keep the kids on track with schoolwork and relationships the mother is out in the city saving people and fighting crime. While the mother is out she worries her husband is having trouble. At one point in the movie the dad cant keep track of the baby because he is teleporting around the house. This shows a stereotype of fathers being bad at managing home life

This movie breaks the dominant ideology of the mother staying home. The women being dominant also applies to the Hunger Games where the main character is focused on survival and is not worried about anything else.

Large Oof: A Dissection of Gender Roles In “Friends”

The episode of Friends, “The One With the Male Nanny”, promotes the ideology that men must be manly and not show their emotions. Friends was a very popular show that ran from 1994 to 2004, raking in an average viewership of 52.5 million people. Clearly, Friends was a very influential show, but were all of its influences of viewers really positive? On November 6th, 2002, the episode “The One With the Male Nanny” was released. The episode was the 6th of the ninth season, right around the peak of its popularity during its run time. This episode is quite controversial as in it there is a new character, Sandy. Sandy is a male nanny who is hired by two of the shows leads, Ross and Rachel. Sandy is a very qualified, caring nanny, but he makes many of the male characters in the show, upset. The episode ends with Ross firing Sandy because he makes him very uncomfortable. This episode is controversial because it promotes the sexist belief that men should not show their emotions, or do things not typically perceived as manly. 

First of all, Ross automatically assumes Sandy is a girl. He is quite stunned when he opens the door to find a man. This shows the stereotype of how a man shouldn’t be a nanny or do anything feminine. Ross is perpetuating this untrue and unfair stereotype by assuming Sandy is a girl, and then reacting in a very shocked way when he was not. 

When Rachel is trying to convince Ross to hire Sandy, even though he’s a man, she says, ”so what he’s smart, hes qualified, give me one good reason we shouldn’t try him out!” Ross counters this by saying, “Because its weird!” Ross is countering all of Rachel’s logical and rational claims by saying its weird for a man to be a nanny. This shows a lot of sexism and how even the most qualified person who could be amazing at work, can be shut down because of their gender. The dominant ideology of ‘men should not do things perceived as feminine’ makes it so less qualified people get jobs that more qualified people who are seen as the ‘wrong’ gender for the job. This is both idiotic and unfair. 

When speaking about Sandy later in the episode, Ross says, ”He [Sandy] is too sensitive!” This is said by Ross in a very angry and almost disgusted tone. It shows how he and many others believe it is wrong for men to have emotions and be emotional. It shows how it almost disgusts many people to see an emotional man. It is spreading this message to the shows millions of fans, creating more people who will stereotype men this way. To show developing men that they must bottle up their feelings or they won’t be seen as a man could be very harmful. To show them they can’t be vulnerable or they will be called weak or a pussy. It is entirely unfair.

This is how the episode of Friends, “The One With the Male Nanny”, promotes the ideology that men shouldn’t do things that are perceived as feminine. It is so important to not promote this ideology because even today men are called weak and laughed at for showing emotions. Men need to be taught it is okay to be sensitive or emotional because when they bottle up their feelings that could lead to them exploding and lashing out, which leads to domestic abuse. Men can be sensitive. Men can be emotional. Men can cry. The people now need to accept it. 

The Old Blog is Dead! Long Live the Old Blog!

For many years, we used the Blogger platform for the American Studies blog. Since it is owned by Google, it integrates pretty seamlessly with your Google accounts — which made it easy to use, in some respects — but it is a very limited and bug-ridden platform. So this year, we have decided to construct a new class blog from scratch using the most more powerful and stable WordPress platform.

If you are interested, though, in seeing what past American Studies students have been thinking and writing about, feel free to wander over to the old blog.