Published on July 21st, 2016 | by Cactus
Demon’s Souls: Is God Apathetic?
On the first day, man was granted a soul, and with it, clarity. On the second day, upon the Earth was planted an irrevocable poison, a soul devouring demon. These are the words that first greet the player upon entering the world of From Software’s masterpiece: Demon’s Souls. For a game so focused on the slaying of Demons, it’s no surprise that the game raises a lot of questions when it comes to religion. It’s not often that a game will touch upon a subject matter like this; quite often games will feature gods, as well as player interaction with them, but it is a rarity for a game to raise questions of religious morality. The primary question Demon’s Souls asks is whether or not god is in fact apathetic towards humans.
The City of Boletaria before the Demon scourge arrived. Kinda pretty eh?
The first stage in unravelling how Demon’s Souls explains this question is to first see how it represents religion in game. Like Dark Souls after it, much of Demon’s Souls’ lore is intentionally obscured to the player. All we really know about ‘God’ in the game’s world is that the ‘someone’ who gave man a soul must exist. The game itself gives no name to this being and instead, we learn to understand it from Saint Urbain, a well regarded figure in the church. By all regards Urbain is a kind and charitable man, who supplies the player with Miracles, a form of magic derived from the love of god. In fact Urbain became a Saint because he believes that he hears the voice of God speak to him, and guide his actions. Urbain represents good in the decrepit world that the game is set in. The world itself reached its sorry state by the overuse of the games other form of magic: Spells. In Demon’s Souls, Spells are a form of magic derived from the soul. It’s believed that it was the exploitation of man’s soul which caused the soul devouring demon (known as The Old One) to be created and subsequently released upon the world. The games Demons are beings bestowed with powerful souls by The Old One, which it uses in an attempt to cleanse the world. A Demon’s soul is something beyond human understanding and are vastly sought for their immense power. A man who seeks such power is Sage Freke.
Saint Urbain – Coolest looking Saint in gaming!
Freke can be seen as the opposite of Urbain. While Urbain follows the path of god with selfless action, Freke selfishly seeks Demon’s souls in order to create new Spells and increase his own power. Urbain believes that Freke’s love of Demon’s souls is akin to Devil worship and detests him. Quite obviously the game sets up a strong dichotomy between the two. Furthermore, in game the immediate power given by Spells makes them an incredibly useful tool for combat, while Miracles are a lot less physically destructive, but contain many useful spells such as one that heals the player. In a lot of ways, the game shows you why something like Spells, which are ultimately the reason mankind is currently in ruins, can be enticing on their own. While this sets up a very good analogy for temptation, Demon’s Souls does something a lot smarter with the concept.
Demon’s can be deceiving. While she looks human, the Maiden in Black is one of the most powerful Demons
The player’s goal in the game is to defeat all the Archdemon’s scattered around the world in an attempt to amass enough souls that The Old One wishes to make them into a new Archdemon. At the point you encounter it you are supposed to lull it back into its deep sleep, and cause the Demons to vanish from the world. In order to do this, you connect the Nexus (the game’s central hub) to the place where The Old One lies resting. Once done, The Old One lets out a deafening cry, heard by all inhabitants of the Nexus. Freke is somewhat enticed by this, and encourages you to seek out more powerful souls. In fact, the mere thought of such a powerful Demon’s soul sends Freke into a stage or drunken euphoria, as he envisions the power such an object could bring him ! Urbain on the other hand, is mortified by the sounds of the Old One. He compares them to that of a hungry child. To the unobservant player, this would seem the finale to Freke and Urbain’s dispute. Urbain is a man untempted by power, his will to do good is too strong, whilst Freke’s desire for ultimate power has caused him to become demonic. This would be true if not for one detail.
Much like the gameplay, the lore of these games is also impossible!!
The crucial gameplay difference between Miracles and Spells is that in order to cast Miracles, one requires a Talisman, while Sorceries use a Catalyst. This means that if you are a Miracles user in one playthrough, you can’t just cast a bunch of Spells with the same item. The game establishes that these two forms of magic are quite different. After all, one is associated with God, one with the Devil. However, the Talisman of Beasts is the exception to the rule. The Talisman of Beasts allows for both the casting of Miracles and Spells! The very usage of the item seems to suggest that there is actually little difference between the two disciplines. To add to this, the Talisman is shaped in the symbol of God, which the item description states is nothing more than an image of The Old One. The very existence of this item in game shows that Urbain and Freke are not as different as we are lead to believe. Freke’s worship of the Old One and its Demon’s Souls, and Urbain worship of God are identical, as The Old One supplies power to both. The magic that Urbain detests the same as the magic he uses! Both Miracles and Spells are power granted by the Old One. Furthermore, if the symbol of God is the Old One, that would seem to imply that the Old One is God.
A sight of The Old One. Yes, in Demon’s Souls God looks like a creepy tree…
Now, you might be thinking ‘OK Cactus, we get it. But this is just a game, why is it important?’. Well for one, it raises a very some important questions on our own existence. In these troubled times of religious extremism and persecution, a time where mass shooting and violence are in the news nearly every week, it causes a lot to wonder about the nature of their faith. After all, why would a good God allow people to suffer? This question has been prevalent in society for millennium: If God is good then why do bad things happen? Demon’s Souls addresses that by saying that maybe God itself isn’t ‘good’ or doesn’t care about us. That doesn’t mean that we should just give up, and surrender to this ailing world. The souls games are based on overcoming impossible odds. Saint Urbain probably doesn’t hear the voice of God, as he doesn’t recognise the sound of The Old One; this doesn’t mean he isn’t a good man. His charitable actions are not diminished by his beliefs being false, in fact they are strengthened. Struggling against adversity for the betterment of others is what makes us human. Freke shows us that the natural way of existence is to become a Demon, to crave power, like The Old One wants. It is very easy for one to become enveloped in selfish envisions of glory, but what it is to be human is to fight against this aggression. Saint Urbain may be an accidental hypocrite, he thought he served God by helped empower the Devil; this doesn’t mean that he was evil. In this troubled world, it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s ok to be wrong sometimes, it’s ok to fail, you can still be a good person, you can still help your fellow man.
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