[Editor’s Note: Today’s Backlog comes to us from Jade Jones, winner of the PEN/Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and, uh, well, my wife! Her work has appeared in Catapult, the Rumpus, and Electric Literature, among others. And, as you’ll see, she has some pretty specific feelings about Dark Souls and videogame sounds. Enjoy! -Grayson]
Video games are too wet.
The sop, the splatter, the squelch. But nothing is more egregiously liquid than the Dark Souls franchise.
In the style of my husband (Grayson), I’ll start with a caveat: I don’t play games. I used to when I was younger. I had every expansion pack of The Sims and spent hours with Wolfenstein, but outside of a Mario Party game here and there, I haven’t had a controller in my hand in ages. My older brother loves games, and because my parents never wanted either of us to feel left out, I would get a console any time he did.
While I played a lot of games growing up, I’ve always preferred to spectate. For hours, I’d strategize with my brother, uncle, and aunts on how to navigate a Zelda dungeon. I’d perform the vital service of screaming when to run away in GoldenEye. Then I became friends with gamers in college, and then I married a gamer. I’ve always enjoyed watching more than being the one in control.
Until a shift. In wetness.
I first ranted to Grayson about this Dark Souls theory when he featured Elden Ring in the 2022 Backloggies and not Horizon Forbidden West, which was a crime, in my opinion. Now, I’ve had some time to really express what it is about the Souls games that makes me turtle my neck into my sweater whenever I hear it burst from our speakers.
Let me start off by saying there are many reasons I enjoy the Souls franchise. I love to watch Grayson’s character get tackled to the ground with one hit, and just when I think his efforts are futile, he finally overcomes a dragon-king-lion monster by punching a sword through its rotting guts. I even enjoy what little I grasp from the storyline, which seems to be about good versus evil, and the fact that I’m never quite sure which side of that binary the protagonist falls on. After watching several of the games in this franchise, it seems that some of the joy that people find in them is their embrace of the dramatic and the over-the-top. There’s not the quiet puzzle solving of Zelda, or the appreciation for the monotony of quotidian life as in Animal Crossing. No, Dark Souls is for the messy bitches who want to hear the sploosh of an enemy’s innards exploding in an impossibly wet, haunted sewer.
Even when I was younger, and especially now after a stint working in audio, I developed an overly sensitive ear. There are ways for a game to be wet but not grating. There’s the symmetrical splash every Nintendo character makes diving into water, or the peaceful stream of Tchia’s ship coasting through the blue ocean of her homeland. But Dark Souls isn’t interested in the pleasant. Originally, I thought I was going to write this as a pitch for a dry Dark Souls, where the Fallen/the Hated/the Cursed fight solely in deserts or in brush. But I think I would be asking the game to give up something that is integral to its existence: a love for the melodrama (or monstrous?). Dry Dark Souls would be the Bellagio without its fountain. Game of Thrones without the skull crushing. Grayson Morley without his dependent clauses.
So I guess what was originally planned to be a rant against the series’ many Game of the Year awards and its committed audience who completely disregard the nastiest noises known to my ears has instead turned into an ode to Dark Souls and its impressive range of distorted wet sounds. And even if I can’t ever imagine watching another Souls game without Grayson using his headphones, I do think there’s something to be said about a game that has been able to find such a fervent and dedicated community in the grotesque.
By which I mean you all. Still, I can only hope the Elden Ring DLC features a desert, or at least fewer wet, haunted sewers.