Demon’s Souls died a quiet death. Someone stood in a room somewhere and clicked the servers off. I want to imagine that it was monstrous, that a technician took a sledgehammer to a cooled stack of whirring computers, tears streaming down their face in frustration at what the higher ups had forced them to do. It was probably scheduled from a drop-down menu before someone went home for the evening. No tears shed, the servers wiped to make more room for Dark Souls III PVP players.
The servers went offline February 28th. With them went the connective capacity of Demon’s Souls. No more ghosts of other players almost managing to slip into your world. No more blood stains, no more summons, no more invaders. No more fantasy of thousands of people all striving to defeat the same enemies and bosses alongside you, each separated from the another by the thinnest layer of reality. What’s left is an abandoned universe of singular struggle, that thing we call “offline play.”
In the lead-up to the closure of the servers, I planned to experience it. I blew the dust off my PS3 and loaded up Demon’s Souls, a game that I had not seriously attempted to play since I defeated the first boss and then immediately uninstalled it back in 2011. I felt like I needed to experience the game, from beginning to end in the way that it was meant to be played, before that option was taken away from me.
Watch the Waypoint team take on Bloodborne's Father Gascoigne right here:
I couldn’t manage it. I sat down multiple times, controller fully charged and my schedule cleared, and I never made it out of Boletaria. I knew that I would never be able to play this game, really play it in the way that the designers intended, after February 28th. And I still couldn’t commit.
Maybe it was the pressure of the horizon line barrelling down on me. Maybe it was my frustration with a frame rate that often chugged and left me hanging. Maybe it was just my lack of willpower. No matter the cause, I couldn’t swing it, and now I’m sitting here a week later regretting my inability to commit. What worlds did I fail to encounter? What did I miss?
I’m mournful about a world that wasn’t even mine. I have something like the ultimate form of FOMO: I know that there are excellent things in this game that I just will not have access to in the way that many people had access to them before me. The closing of the servers annihilated my ability to do so. In the same way that I can’t go back to Everquest without expansions, World of Warcraft in the state it was at a year into its lifespan, or MAG during its heyday, I can’t get back to the place that Demon’s Souls is supposed to generate. Whatever that world was, I won’t ever know it.
In Julie Muncy’s article about logging in for the last few hours of the game, she writes about defeating the first boss before the servers went down for good. “I fight for what feels like a long time,” she says.
When the boss finally goes down, I realize the battlefield is littered with messages. They're almost uniformly celebrations. Exclamations of "Yes!," guarantees of impending rest at the save point, or, simply, "I did it!" In this oppressive, strange place, I feel a moment of pride, and peace. And not just for myself.
Reading that fills me with a sadness that’s hard to articulate. I know that there was something in the experience of Demon’s Souls that I was supposed to be getting. I know that I should have been hooked, or that the game should have been able to get its hooks into me, but it didn’t. I knew the game was dying and I didn’t do anything to make sure that I explored it. I couldn’t give up enough of myself, couldn’t get over the hump, couldn’t make it happen. Maybe I could have done what John Learned did and kept a diary, a final record of settling my account with the game. And now I can’t, forever.
Video games give us lots of ways of expressing anger. The gunshot or the burst of well-crafted energy that splits enemies in two. They also give us ways of transcending our own death, a kind of ultimate revenge: The respawn, for example, from an extra life we had stuffed own in our pockets. But video games don’t give us a lot of ways of making peace with never having something, or more importantly, losing it. We’re quick to praise a game for its triumphant message of overcoming adversity at all costs, but we rarely talk about games giving us new ways of dealing with loss or a lack of access to something. Games are understood in a way that always allows them to give us something and rarely in a way that thinks of them as objects that take something from us.
Demons’s Souls already have private fan servers that are bringing the hyper-enfranchised players back into the world together. These are people who know enough to go looking for a new world after their old one was killed. They follow in the path of those who have created pirate Everquest and World of Warcraft servers. These universes get saved by heroic individuals who are committed, against all odds and to the bitter end, to preserving them.
But I wonder if the better lesson to learn is one about loss. Maybe it’s best to fall into the despair of the most forlorn undead and simply recognize that the world has moved on and that I should too. I’m holding onto my sadness about never really getting to play the game, but I’m not struggling to raise it, zombie-like, from the dead. I think it might be best to embrace missing out.
You can follow Cameron on Twitter.