Conference paper Open Access
The incredibly popular Souls games developed by FromSoftware (and their imitators, colloquially referred to as Souls-like games) have followed a fascinating design trajectory since the release of the first game in the franchise, Demon’s Souls, in 2009. In many fantasy roleplaying games, the in-game capacity of the player-character is signified by a ‘level,’ which is typically increased through the acquisition of experience (‘xp’) during gameplay. The more the player plays, the more experience she gains, which increases the player’s level, and thus makes her more powerful in the game-world. This is a common logic of progression, but in such a system the particularities of different play styles, abilities, and tactics are subsumed under an abstract metric of power, hiding the nuances of actual play from view. The Souls games, however, have steadily innovated upon this logic, changing how we play them and so requiring us in turn to think about the ways we navigate game-worlds—and perhaps even our own, by extension. This paper argues that this design trajectory can be schematized as a movement from power to skill, a shifting of player agency from an abstract or ideal domain to a concrete and material one.