There is a new game in town, and this year, it has become one of the most popular games released so far. Elden Ring is a Souls Style game published by From Software that gives the players a vast open world, the opportunity to build characters of various classes, weapon choices, and stat selection, and an intense difficulty curve to master en route to becoming Elden Lord. In this episode, Dr. Gameology and Jenny welcome their friend Wes also known as Baron von Dank, from the Alea Iacta Est Guild (AIE) to talk about how to have a healthy gaming persona in The Lands Between while recounting some of their memories of playing Final Fantasy XIV and Elden Ring. They dive deep into psychology, discussing the importance of having good mental health while existing in this space, as well as the challenges they faced and the strengths they gained from playing the game that shone through in others. Plus, they explore with us the characters and the storyline of Elden Ring, sharing their discoveries and insights on the gaming world as a whole.
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Welcome to the Psychology of The Lands Between
A Mental Health Discussion Of Elden Ring
I am @DrGameology. You can find me at MegaCon whenever that happens and also, Twitch and other social apps. You can find me on this show every week. This can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, and mostly anywhere else podcasts can be found. What are we talking about in the world of video games?
We are going to talk about how to have a healthy gaming persona in The Lands Between.
Jenny, this topic has been brewing in my mind. Sometimes it is hard to talk about games that are this deep when the other person has not played them. We also have a great opportunity to introduce our audience to one of our gaming friends that sometimes shows up in our episodes. I have a couple of little anecdotes throughout the episode. I am excited to add-in. We have Wes here also known as Baron von Dank, also known as Vel, also known as our friend. Wes, thank you for coming on the show to talk with us about some Elden Ring.
Thank you for having me on and giving me all these different titles and names.
Most importantly, the title that you have earned is Elden Lord.
Multiple times at this point.
We are doing stars on a restaurant or something. Jenny, what has your week been like in the world of gaming?
I have been playing a bit more Final Fantasy. I am glad to say. I have had to cancel the last two sessions I was supposed to play, but there is a good reason. It is a busy month, but I am not going away. I do plan to play again soon. I believe one of the last things we did was a Sprout Alliance Raid with the AIE Guild. We did another duty that I do not remember the name of but it does not matter. We did one of the duties and it was fun.
Since the last episode, I have deleted Evony off my phone. It started to get to the point where if I wanted to keep doing the puzzles, I was going to have to start paying money because it was unreasonable how much resources I needed to build up to do the puzzles. I was like, “Why do not I find a puzzle game that I like? I am not paying money for this game,” so I deleted it. After the last episode, I played It Takes Two because you guys inspired me. I have planned on playing it at least four times and it has not happened. It is not just Final Fantasy that gets pushed away out of my life. It is hard.
The other thing that happened was MegaCon. It was absolutely incredible. I was not that nervous this time around to be on a panel. I was excited, but I feel like I was preparing myself for talking to our friends. In the last panel we did, there were a couple of people that joined the audience, but it was not as many. This time around, I believe it is because it is a direct result of the title of our panel. It included Final Fantasy XIV in our title. We had so many people in the audience and it was so exciting. It was a great panel. It went very well. We had so much engagement from the audience. The audience was awesome.
I got to meet Wes’ wife. I told Wes before we started recording that I have a present for him and I am going to send it to him. It was great. I was so excited as soon as I saw that they were in the audience. I freaked out. After the panel, I saw that she was about to leave and I jumped off the stage and ran to her. I was like, “Can I please have a picture?”
The cosplayers in our audience also included Noctis from Final Fantasy XV and also a very well done samurai. Our audience not only was there, which is the most important thing, but they were super cool. It is not surprising because Final Fantasy XIV is such a cool game. The fans of it tend to be very creative and inspired. It is okay if you are not creative and inspired, you can still enjoy the game, but it was cool looking out into the audience for our panel.
As soon as I saw her, I was like, “It is Estella. I need a picture for Wes.”
I remember a good number of episodes ago, you are inviting me to come in publicly.
It is funny because I listened to that episode in preparation for our panel because, in that episode, we talked about character creation and the ideal self. I was like, “Is that not funny? Wes is coming to the show.”
It is cool that we had that particular member in the audience. It is the Black Mage. I had so much fun being in public wearing my black mage hat and walking around with my staff all day. It was so much fun to partially cosplay that role. MegaCon was so great. I got to meet Travis Langley. He is the author of all of the pop psychology books, like Batman, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. I had him sign a copy of Doctor Who in Psychology.
I had a fifteen-minute conversation with him about what his work has done for me and how he retreated my dissertation years ago. He helped me get about 50 extra participants that day from Twitter. It is an awesome experience all around. The psychology of Pokémon panel went well too. I feel like the work we did on the Final Fantasy I did the game justice and showed off what our show is about.
It felt like doing a live episode. I would love to do a live episode at MegaCon one day.
That would be a lot of fun. I tend to look at goals and say, “One day, I am going to do them.” A lot quicker than I was thinking, when I said that, these things are happening. I see that as a very possible hop, skip, and jump for our show. In other news, not related to MegaCon, Jenny, I became a one-time over Elden Ward because I beat Elden Ring on my first playthrough. I also did defeat Malenia, which is a terror.The world of Elden Ring is the greatest storyteller. Click To Tweet
Every time she says her name, she is always like, “I am Malenia, Blade of Miquella.”
I defeated her. She is evil because every time she hits you, she gets more health. That is such a sucky way to fight me. I learned a lot about how the game works by not giving up on that fight. That is one of the coolest game achievements that I have ever had.
I have not fought her on my 2nd and 3rd playthrough. I skipped over her because I did not want to deal with her. When I beat her on my first playthrough, she was bugged at the time. It would heal regardless if she hits you or not. She just had to swing and it would heal her. Having to go through that much more health in that fight was hard.
That sounds like a nightmare. I am so glad you are here, Wes, because this game is so beyond me.
Wes, what have you been up to in your ordinary world? That is the part of the show where we talk about things that we are working on in our day-to-day life, especially if it relates to video games.
Most of it has been actual work. I have had several deadlines. I have been taking every chance that I get to escape from that and try to get into gaming worlds. Mostly, staying up way too late playing with Jess until 5:00 in the morning.
A friend of the show is Jessica. You are starting to see our group of people that come together to fight through dungeons.
Other chances I have gotten have been working on progressing to my fourth time at Elden Ward. I beat the game the first time the way I wanted it to beat it, and then I beat it two more times for the other two ending achievements so that I could get all of the achievements for the game. With my fourth playthrough, I am thinking it is going to be my final playthrough, but I am just trying to recreate my first one again as a send-off for my character and get everything story-wise how I want it.
I cannot wait to talk about this game because I feel like it is a choose-your-own-adventure thing. I always liked those books.
That sounds like a good entry for our Call to Adventure where we get into our topic for the week. Everyone who is reading, Elden Ring is a game that came out in February 2022. It is a soul-style game by FromSoftware and it is extremely difficult unlike Dark Souls, it is a completely open world. Instead of things being walked into segmented dungeons that you teleport to, everything links together by traveling oftentimes on horseback through one of the coolest open-world maps I have ever been able to walk through in a video game.
I do not know that I would say that it is the biggest because I do not know for a fact that that is true, but it is beautiful. Even the terrifying parts of it are beautiful. The question that prompted our idea for this episode is, “What would positive and successful mental health be like for a person in The Lands Between?” Most FromSoftware games, this world has fallen from its previous glory. The forces that govern its existence are fading or corrupted. Everyone has given up and accepted that 27 score on the PHQ-9 which is a depression tool. There are 9 questions, 3 is the highest score. They are fully depressed is what I am saying.
That is some analysis you can only get on the show to describe what the world of Elden Ring is like. Jenny, I gave you the intro video as the not-Elden Ring player, getting ready for the episode. I am the middle-of-the-road Elden Ring player. Wes, you get to represent the person who understands what is going on. You are much closer to all-knowing than I am so I will let you have that title. When I was playing in the morning before work started, I never talked to Sir Gideon in the main hall because I burned the tree. My first playthrough is old.
In my first playthrough, I burned the tree and then returned thereafter a very long time, not being there. I had no idea that his door gets unlocked and you can talk to him and learn information. For my first playthrough, he is an enemy that I came across and had to defeat. I got this whole helpful conversation from him. I was like, “I was a jerk during playthrough one.”
It is just a tool for him to become the Elden Lord. He is using you as much as you are.
I was right to kill him with no introduction the first time?
You can be nice to him if you want.
Is that not the message of life? You can be nice to anyone if you want. One of the cool things is you cannot do this in the round table area because there is no combat swinging allowed, but there are NPCs that you can murder and take their stuff.
In fact, you can even attack major NPCs and completely shut out storylines. I always did this several times because I would Alt + Tab out to check something on my other monitor. I would click back in and attack and I would be like, “What have I done?” One time, I accidentally attacked a blind. It was like, “Are we cool?” Fortunately, they put a fail-safe in that you have to attack the NPC multiple times for them to flag it as hostile. Every time I would do that, that freaks me out. There is one particular very important NPC that you can only attack once and she will react to you, which is Ronin. Fortunately, they also put in the whole absolution system at the Church of Vows. Did you ever meet the turtle pope?
I did meet the turtle pope on both playthroughs. It is very interesting because he sells you both sorceries and incantations.
Including the heretical ones.
The turtle pope would sell you they are heretical ones because when you are the pope, you control the distinction of what heresy is. That means you have to understand it. It is like that Palpatine quote, “If one is to understand the great mystery, they must learn all of its aspects, not just the dogmatic view of the Jedi.” One of the things that we talk about in this show from a psychological perspective is a purpose and how video games help us to explore that concept inside each of us and how the hero’s journey happens because the character that you are controlling has a grand quest that they are called to or forced into.
They find meaning inside accepting that fight. For us in Elden Ring, we are a very unique Tarnished according to the opening scene. From what I understand as a person who does not pay enough attention to cutscenes, the Elden Ring sends out shards of itself into people and ordains certain individuals to be of meaning or significance to the world’s existence. You get that final spark. It flies through the entire map and rests inside your hand as you become awakened as a Tarnished. That right there is a calling. It is the Call to Adventure.
It is the opportunity to say, “You are one of the characters who have a stake in this big battle. You are the least powerful one, so you are going to need to level up because everyone else can go ahead and lay out their claim and fight for it. You are pathetic. You might want to work on that.” Jenny, as the person that I am dragging into The Lands Between, you know this from some of the game footage that you have seen and what it is like to try to have good mental health while existing in this space.
From what I know about the Souls games, they are dark. Death is an important part of the game in a way that is different than other games. Because they are so challenging, it happens all the time. There are also things that you can do when you are dead. Is that correct?
You can decide where you teleport back to, but if you die, it is very important for you to make that correctly. If you want to keep moving forward in your player level and your collection of runes, you have to get back to the spot where you died and claim the power that you have lost by dying there.
Even that is intense. I imagine this is difficult to be cheerful and happy in this world. I imagine, as person in the real world playing the game, that stuff might translate over.
Especially since the first guy you meet five minutes after you start the game is like, “You are meaningless.”
That is what the game tells you.
I am the one who is the noob. I did read an article about what the story is. I still do not understand, but I do know that in this particular game, what you do, where you go in the game, who you talk to, and what you do when you interact with the different NPCs completely change your direction and change can change the story for you. I think it is awesome.
There is the main path and there are hundreds of areas in the game that you do not have to go to if that is all you are concerned with, but by not going to any of those places, you are going to be a weakling as you follow the path towards the Erdtree.
I imagine that is a similar parallel. In real life, if you want to do the bare minimum, you can. You can also take on different challenges, learn more about yourself, grow, and get to the end game at max level.
Max level is a very high number in this game because every stat can go up to 99 and there are 8 stats. That is 792.We do not have a society that looks at games like they are an important part of the culture. Click To Tweet
792, but you start with 10 of every stat, so 712.
It is a high number. It is the next level in an MMO. Also, in an MMO, you can die all you want to a boss, you do not lose your EXP.
That is a whole other level to this game. It is so intimidating.
It makes you understand the gambling mentality. If you have that lack of logical relationship between what you are holding in your possession and the fact that you might lose it, as you would see in reckless gambling addiction, you will walk into the forest withholding 2 million runes and then a yellow bolt of lightning just hits you for no reason because something is 300 meters away that can see you that has that power.
The Runebear is one of the most dreaded enemies ever.
It is a giant size bear. I had a moment where two of them attacked me at once. I was doing a good job of dodge rolling and holding my own against the first one. The second one jumped on me and ate my face off, so I was dead.
Another thing I will preface with, Elden Ring was my first FromSoftware game. I had watched a playthrough of some other games, but I had never considered myself good enough to be able to play these.
Wes, you are so good at games.
You think that, but if I had not been able to like run around in the open world, I would not have gotten through Elden Ring.
Wes, you did jump in last minute to Pandemonium Savage One in Final Fantasy XIV, and you tanked us through that fight our second time clearing it. Maybe it was even our first, I do not remember the order, but that takes an ability to understand games and execute a strategy. Elden Ring is because it is open world and it is not instant spaced or an MMO where you can rely on other people, it all relies on you to play the game that way with skill and with solid execution.
What this gave me was a whole new type of skills that I had to learn. That was definitely an interesting experience. I still have no master of it. In fact, I catch myself doing the complete opposite things like the aforementioned Runebear. I am new to the Souls games, I instinctively dodged backwards. As a Runebear, you have to dodge into them or else they are going to hit you on anyway. Mentally, it does not match up because you see this ginormous, beefy, buff bear lunging at you and you want to run away, but you have to roll into it.
My progression with this developer in these kinds of games is different. I was playing Demon’s Souls on my PS3 as a grad student in my Master’s program. Jenny and I have talked on the show many times about how the games that I was playing at that point in time in my life, I intended to play all of them on the highest difficulty. The messages of the games were having this neat merging with the knowledge I was gaining as a clinical mental health counseling student. As a result, years later, my first fan convention panel was at PAX West talking about the psychology of FromSoftware games. I think it is interesting to see how far they have come because, in an open world, that is such a massive task.
There is so much content we could talk about in our show, but I do think we need to keep moving forward. I want to start us off on the Road of Trials where we face our challenges and discover our strengths. We are going to keep some of the things that are listed earlier in the episode and talk about them here. Wes, you talked about what it is you tend to like in games and how you see yourself as a game player. You took the motivation for the gaming assessment that we give all of our guests. We have your data here. First off, congratulations on using big numbers in the assessment. Your numbers are not like the highest is 12%. You have some solid scores here. Your creativity score is the highest one. What are some gaming experiences in Elden Ring that also other games where comes out and shines through in the way you play games?
It is surprising that no one here on the show that played games with me in the past. Character customization and characteristic are ridiculously important to me to the point where I should not have to think about how much money I have spent on game cosmetics in the past. Creativity was broken down into two categories, discovery and design. Design, as I said, is ridiculously important. Games like Elder Ring is where I found the discovery because the first playthrough when I had no idea where anything was and everything was brand new to me, every time go around the corner or trip over a rock, I would find something new. It was like, “This is so cool.” I was trying to create other characters to try out different builds. I would get bored within ten minutes because I was weak again. I did not have that sense of discovery anymore.
It was breaking your flow too.
That is why I ultimately decided to keep doing New Game Plus on my main character. It gets to the point where if I want to try out a different build, I am at such a high level that I have all the skill points to do that anyway.
I want to compare the way that I got to the part of the game where I started to flow. One of the elements of flow is that we have a balance between the challenge and the skill that we have. It took me a long time to get to the point where I was enjoying Elden Ring because I was so bad early on. I wanted to play as a magic caster.
The spells I had were not making it seem like I had any business challenging the enemies in front of me. Once I got a couple of weapons that connected to my intelligence stat, which is the stat we choose for casting sorcery. Once I got a few better spells and I could mix those spells with having a shield in my left hand and then I could start using my wizard staff as the melee weapon, everything changed. I got a giant wizard hat and now, I am my character.
The hat is everything, but I never played the game in terms of treating it as an open world that I could discover because that is not my motivation at all, Wes. I will share what it is that helped me get into the game in the first place. I found a website where they list all the bosses, put them on the map, and put a number on them based on what they think you should fight them in order.
Not only does that show you where all the dungeons are, it created a checklist. This game is something that I can get into. Now I have something I want to swing the magic wizard staff sword at. I found some bigger magic wizard staff swords. Now I am wielding a wizard katana and a wizard staff. It is the most fun game I have played in years.
I needed to create a checklist. It would be because I do not like open-world games that much. I love looking at them and realizing, “This is beautiful. People created this. This is not real. This is only limited by the bounds of their imaginations.” The world of Elden Ring is the greatest storyteller. Jenny, I talked with you about this and how the storytelling in the game does not happen by 30-minute cutscenes.
Some games by Square Enix, which I love, by the way, manage to do it with 2-minute cinematics that happens 4 or 5 times throughout the game. The way rooms look and where you find people is such a revelation in terms of who they are and what they are about. They might say two lines of dialogue to you a few times over and then you just, “That connects to this thing all the way on the other side of the map. I saw that person.” You have to think about the characters in Elden Ring the way you think about people that you meet at a professional conference.
That is an interesting way to look at it. When you told me there were no quests lists, I was like, “How do you MSQ? I do not get it.”
Wes, can you tell Jenny how the MSQ generally works?
In terms of the MSQ, the Main Scenario Quest, the very baseline story of the game, you said earlier about how you have the map here of the “speed run.” There are 15 or 16 bosses that you have to kill for a baseline of the game out of the 100-plus that is in the actual entire game. The game gives you context clues about what you needed to do, or specifically, Gideon mentions about, “You need two of these great runes to get to the Capitol.” You go into feet to shardbearers to get their great runes. You go to the Capitol and then it tells you to go to the mountains, so you go to the mountains and you burn the Erdtree, and then you end up in Kansas. You fight your way through Kansas.
It burns the tree down more. It drops you right at the tree, you go up to the tree, and then you beat the game. For example, I did not do this in any type of speed run strategy. It was a, “How fast can I beat the game?” This was my third playthrough. I was just going for the base finish or base ending to get the achievement. From start to finish, it took me a little about two hours to beat the game.
That is after you are already at a certain level?
I was high level because this was New Game Plus 2. When I first saw this, I am like, “Daniel is going to love this.” You were continuing the journey when you start the New Game Plus. Two hours in comparison to my first playthrough, which took me about 100 on the nose. There are so many various different side quests ranging from 1 to 2 tasks to Ronin’s questline.
There are so extra bosses that are hard that I did not even need to fight because I screwed up the ending.
One of these bosses, including the Glintstone Dragon Adula is interesting when you are playing a mage because as a Glintstone Dragon, your magic is Glintstone sorcery, it is ridiculously resistant to magic damage. It is much easier to fight with physical weapons, but if you are playing a mage and do not have any physical prowess, you are screwed. Funnily enough, the first time on my first playthrough to kill Adula, I sat inside the church on top of the hill and chucked out this magic mist. It could not attack me because I was inside the church and then it just stood in the midst and died.
That is a tactic. I did not know you could do that. I went and leveled up and got my strength up past 40 or 45, even though that is not something that I was using that way. That gave me access to more weapons and then I came back and just tried to be a melee fighter. That was a very big detour in my life.
This whole idea of not having a main quest line, explore, do side quests, and figure out your way, I would have a hard time with this.It is always cool talking to other people about how they look at the same experiences that you have gone through and comparing those things. Click To Tweet
Jenny, I want to point out something on the map then. If you were to zoom in, you see how there are little yellow lights floating out from the yellow circles sometimes. That is the flow of life from the Erdtree. That indicates where the main story goes from there. If you only follow that flow from beginning to the end, you will finish Elden Ring. You might not go to things in the right order and you might die a lot, but it would work theoretically.
Even when I play Final Fantasy, I do not do side quests, unless it is something where the group wants to go far mounts or we are going to do this chain of duties.
I do the Alliance raids. You got to go talk to a lot of people.
I do not do them. They do not even register in my brain and those other things.
Jenny, can you also imagine trying to find where you are going in a game like Final Fantasy where there is no mini-map. There is no mini-map in Elden Ring.
This map is intense and huge.
That is only the bottom center portion of it. I am looking at a different one. I did give you a full map, but that is incredibly zoomed out too. There are four levels of zooming in on that map so that you can see what is there.
That is only the surface level.
There is an underneath. It is a beautiful game, Jenny. Here is my secret to being able to make progress in this game. I do not have the time to sit down and play this game in a focused way, but I do grade papers for about 25 hours a week. What I have started doing is while I am reading the papers, I will go to places where I have to run forward and swing weapons. There is a very low risk of me dying and then I will turn in those runes and gain a level. I will finish the final comments on the paper that are not clicky things. We will bounce back and forth on the monitors.
It has become a background task to just get runes and then when I have time to play, that is when I go after bosses and the dungeon parts of the game. I have been thinking that I feel over-leveled for my second playthrough. I might stream my third playthrough. I think it would be fun to hang out with you while I do that. The reason I stopped the first playthrough is I got utterly stuck and I was not enjoying being the streamer in that instance. Now that I understand how the game works, I think that would be fun.
I would love to watch this game. It does look beautiful in the videos that I have watched. Unlike the other Souls games, they are a bit too gory for me. It’s not my thing, but this world looks awesome.
Gore is not much of a factor in this game. There are times when I survive something tragic and I am covered in blood.
There is Mohg, the Lord of blood and his region.
That is just swapping out water for blood though.
Is not like Bloodborne where you yank someone’s heart out and blood splatters.
It is tasteful fantasy gore, Jenny.
That is something I can deal with.
It is nowhere near as terrifying as your favorite game Phasmophobia.
There is no gore in that game. That game is very tame. Wes, we have talked about some of the stuff that makes up your gamer profile. We have talked about your interest in creativity. I feel like there is another part to who you are as a gamer that this game is exciting for you.
Your ability to recall lore and characters in Final Fantasy XIV has always stood out as a defining thing that you bring to our friendly interactions because I do not remember who virtual characters are. That is a problem in a game where the meaningfulness of the moment relies on you knowing who this character is and why they are significant to your hero’s journey. Whether it is Final Fantasy XIV or Elden Ring, I instantly thought of bringing you on to help us sort all of this out. It is so much fun mixing what I am as a gamer, but me listening to what you are as a gamer.
My brain gets jammed over the whole bunch of details that I get super obsessed over. This is a reason why you have a Doctorate degree and I do not because your brain is full of smart stuff. Mine is just like, “This one obscure character in this video game did this thing.”
It is so cool to talk to you about this stuff.
The interesting thing about how memory works is that what you are saying a key difference is maybe I am filtering out things and labeling them as unimportant whereas you are not giving up on the potential for the importance of that information. Maybe in academics that works for me, but in video games, it works for you because I lament all the time that I do not know the story of Final Fantasy XIV the way I wish I did. Someday I will, but not right now.
It is like a superpower, honestly, Wes. I know that if I have a question in game, you will know the answer.
When I was playing Shadowbringers, I had no concept that Emet Selch was important. He is just an extra character that showed up in all my cutscenes that I skipped most of. You made a comment about Emet Selch one day when we were playing that made me hang in there and watch the next cutscene, and because of that, he comes back and snaps. I am not even going to say which time or when. It made me cry because of what you did to me as my friend made me realize what Emet Selch was. When Jenny says it is a superpower, it is not just a superpower. It is a way to identify meaningfulness in these grand narratives.
We do not have a society that looks at these games like they are an important part of a culture like the alien or the Odyssey. That is such a shame because both of these games we are talking about are built on the love of stories like that. They are the 21st Century version of saying, “Let’s make that for people a thing that we can think about now.” You brought that out for me with a small comment about how cool Emet Selch is.
You proceeded to skip the next cutscene.
I still skip a lot of cutscenes. That is because grades are due. There is a PhD reason. Time efficiency is a big thing. I cannot play Elden Ring, but I can grind runes while I am grading and reading hundreds of pages of Master’s level papers. That is just who I am. I am not going to sit down and watch a friend’s episode starring each Y’shtola and Thancred at the Central Perk. Although I would watch that ironically if they made it.
Speaking of playing games or grading papers, you cannot grade papers during MSQ roulette anymore because Praetorian is shorter now.
I have not been able to do that since they updated that. I have been playing Last Final Fantasy as a result.
You do not have an hour and twenty minutes of cutscenes.
My white mage is getting there. We had a lot of fun with that at the MegaCon panel talking about how Jenny put in her two weeks’ notice and just quit on healing because Reaper came out. Now I am playing a white mage.Video games create a shared space for our experiences. Click To Tweet
You were alluded to, Wes, because someone asked me when I was playing white mage if I ever rescued him into death. I was like, “I have not. I would never.”
I did this to Jess in the Susanna fight.
That was a good guest question, by the way. I had a lot of fun.
It was another testament to the Final Fantasy community. I know we are supposed to be talking about The Lands Between.
It is all the same. It is the games we play. It is time to go on The Ascent where we elevate the topic. We have already elevated this one so much. I want to talk about the ability to look at that map, look at the way rooms are set up, feel the story, and what that does for us as players. One of the things that have always fascinated me about modern video games, for example, BioShock and The Last of Us also do this incredibly well, is storytelling that is not done via cutscene or readable text. It is done by being in the environment.
You might walk into a room and there is something scribbled on the wall in blood. It sounds violent, but video games tend to feature violence and problems we need to overcome. You might walk into a library like in Elden Ring, there is one set of shelves that has no books on it. You might want to swing a sword at it and walk through the wall. If you did not know that that is the thing, you are welcome. The thing about all those things is these are things that tell you about the characters that were there, their motivations, and the problems that happen to them.
Now that you are there, you know that you have something to figure out. A lot of the quest lines in Elden Ring are you have to rely on context because the game is a world. There are not just people standing around to do a play for you every time you enter a new room. I think that that is interesting. What kinds of games have both of you played that do a good job of environmental storytelling?
Aside from video games, this is how I experienced D&D. I do not know if this is a term, Daniel, but I know you have a little emote on your channel, RPG brain, or at least you did. You have to have that mindset when you are playing D&D to explore and look at this shiny object a little closer. There might be something you find or do a perception check on this random thing that was mentioned and see if you can get even deeper into the story.
That is a good point. The RPG brain idea came to me when I was playing the Final Fantasy VII remake on my stream. Square Enix would put random paths that go left when all the characters in your party are talking to you and saying, “Don’t you want to go right?” I would never go right first. I would just call that the RPG brain. I created an emote that I still use. Jenny, RPG brain screwed me so completely in Elden Ring. The way that I think about the story of the game, you burn the Erdtree, which allows you to progress to the final battles.
You go to the Capital City and it is covered in ash because you just burned this gigantic tree that connects humanity with all of existence. Ashes are everywhere at the base of the tree. You have a different version of that city to run through now until you finish the game. All I had to do, Jenny, was follow the path up the stairs into the building. I would have started fighting the enemies that lead to the end. What did I do? I found a sewer.
I started fighting through a sewer, an incredibly hard one. I died 80 or 90 times in this sewer trying to progress. I unlocked the door that led me back to the main hallway of the sewer. I thought, “That is so weird, but look, there is another hole to fall down in this main hallway.” I will fall down that one too and then you fight and then you die and then you fall down the hole again, and then you fight and then you make it to unlock another door.
You start running in circles and over in the main hallway again. I had to look up on the internet because I do not have Sir Whatever to talk to me. I was like, “Where is the end of this game?” The arrows on the little map point to the building to the left of where I could have gone if I had never gone inside the sewer. I just walked in and instantly found the thing I am supposed to fight next within 100 yards of walking. I looked at my entire 2 or 3 morning’s worth of struggle and was like, “What?”
Do you remember that game that we played? I cannot remember the game, but it was like a movie, a choose your own adventure game that we played.
I do, but I do not remember the name of it right off the top of my head. I can find it though.
We played a different game where it is not a video game. I am a visual learner so I created the story in my brain. I think it was a tabletop game now that I am thinking about it where we had to go into this house. Before the house, there was a maze on one side and some statues on the other side, and then you had to choose.
That was a card game. It was a Choose Your Own Adventure.
Was that the name of the game?
As a subtitle, but that is it.
I remember playing that game, there were a couple of choices that we made and things that we explored that killed us.
That is very accurate for Elden Ring. There are lots of things that will kill you.
Wes, what about games for you that have done a good job of environmental storytelling or convincing you to go the wrong way with your RPG brain?
Surprisingly enough, all the games I have played do not do a very good job of environmental storytelling. The one particular example and this was not even intentional on the developer is part and my friend, Taylor, who you both know, has got me dabbling with Guild Wars 2 again. There is some environmental storytelling to Guild Wars 2. It takes place 250 years after Guild Wars 1.
A lot has changed in the world, but it is cool going back to these places that you were in Guild Wars 1 and seeing the similarities or the differences and the stuff that you recognize and remember. Guild Wars 2 came out at the end of 2012. I forget when I was playing Guild Wars, it has been so long. It was the 2006-ish. Coming back to play in Guild Wars 2 and then going into these regions that I had played in a different game and seeing the similarities is cool on multiple levels.
One of my favorite things to do is find Easter eggs in video games.
It also makes sense that the world, even though it is virtual as created by game developers, is consistent within itself.
That continuity is very important.
It creates a sense of belonging too, for the player like, “I am a part of this world because I recognize the basic elements of this world.” The study that I found for our Ascent into the topic of Elden Ring did a little bit of interpretation in terms of what they call archaeological gaming or archeo gaming. It is a new topic that I have never heard or thought about until reading this study. It talked about the use of messages and bloodstains in the early areas of the game to create a meta-conversation about Elden Ring. I thought that was interesting.
I would love to see someone have absolutely no life and scientifically do this for the entire map. I recognize that doing it just for the first two opening areas is quite a task in and of itself. Player messages in their exploration of, “What rooms are these messages in? Where are they placed? Where are their contexts? What words were selected? What NPCs are being talked about? Which ones are jokes or trolls?” It is like the all-famous Try Finger But Hole.
The audience for Elden Ring is an incredibly mature group of people that leave messages all over the floor, but you cannot type a message. You have to use standard word sets that the game gives you. Fingers are very important in the world of Elden Ring. I do not understand war-wise is exactly why, but it seems to connect you to your destiny. You read fingers the way that we read palms in our world. It does not work, but they believe in it. For them, it works. It is subjective. Believing is experiencing. You have the word “Try,” which you can use. You have the word “Finger,” which you can use, you have the word “But,” which you can use. You can fall into holes, which you would want to warn people, “There is a hole here, do not fall in it.” You can use the word “Hole.”
I noticed there is a lot of that, especially early in the game. Also, you have bloodstains on the ground, which are incredibly useful because those are warnings that you are about to die because somebody already died here. If you linger, you can see a real bloody ghost of them in their final moments running around and you know they are going to die because they are a bloodstain. It can give you a hint of what is coming up and what direction it comes from. It is interesting social gaming.
What they did is they analyzed the placement of these things and the creation of social discourse about the game. What came up interestingly is even in the early game areas, there are lots of messages, statistically prominent amounts of messages about Ranni. That is interesting to me because I think Ranni is one of the most interesting characters in the game. It is time for my anecdote. Ranni’s questline is the one where you are endorsing her claim to the order of the moon.
Ranni is the daughter of Marika through the fact that Marika is also a Radagon, which gets into paradoxical definitions of the term Oder and whatnot. You will hear the characters of Marika in Radagon. They are two characters, but they are the same person.Everything about society treats the experience of a failure as a dreaded thing that comments on your lack of effort. Click To Tweet
We do not have anyone who believes in things that are that complicated to understand.
As the daughter of the goddess Marika, she is, therefore, a demigod and can ascend to take Marika’s place as the head of an order that runs the entire universe of Elden Ring. Therefore, by being her consort, you can become Elden Lord because you wrote the consort of the ruling goddess.
I did that entire questline except on the topic of not falling into holes. I did not fall into a hole that I should have fallen into where I would have taken out my torch, walk down a very long cave hallway with no threat at all and find her body right there. I do not know if she is alive when you find her or if you reawaken her, but you put this ring on her finger and then she starts talking to you. She says something very nice like, “Go become Elden Lord and help me reclaim to what is rightfully mine.”
Because I did not do that, my first playthrough did not end with me getting to restore her. It ended with me just recycling the whole sequence of events just I am the Elden Lord now. The default boring ending. I earned her ending, except I did not go and talk to her, which is such a Dr. Gameology thing to do. I did the gameplay. I just did not do the conversation. I did not fall into the hole. Wes and I have been trying to figure out for about a week where it is that I failed to complete this quest. I completed the quest on my second playthrough. I seriously did not fall into the hole.
That stuff would frustrate me.
It has created a new passion for my second playthrough because I am just trying to get the ending that was rightfully mine.
Not only the ending that was rightfully yours, but in my opinion, also the best ending in the game.
I might be able to earn it, but we will see. We have done a good job of exploring this. Let’s go on The Return and go back to our daily lives taking our next step forward. Jenny and Wes, what of the conversation about all the cool games, Final Fantasy XIV and Elden Ring, do you think you can take with you into your day-to-day?
I like the idea of the RPG brain. I feel like this could be something that can be studied, but having an RPG brain in my day-to-day life would translate into just being curious. Leading with curiosity, I am not always right about things and it is cool, especially when things get so busy in my day-to-day life. Take time to open that door or discover. That is something that I want to focus on. It is experiencing my life rather than going through the day and letting things happen, which feels like what I have been doing.
We got to break the cycle.
It is a busy week. It is not a bad thing. I have a lot of responsibilities and things going on. It is not all work-related so a lot of it is some personal stuff that is fun. June and July are more work heavy for me. I am going to start trying to enjoy things a little more.
What about you, Wes?
It is always cool talking to other people about how they look at the same experiences that I have gone through in comparing those things. We have mentioned it several times throughout the episode. In talking to you about how even specifically you and I are very different in our approach to video games. I get invested in the characters in the story and try to explore the world through that aspect whereas to you, having a checklist to get through is how you explore through a game. Being able to talk and discuss that and try to find other aspects. A lot of the time I get caught up in my own brain sometimes and be like, “This is how this thing is because this is how I see it,”
Learning that like, “There are other ways to look at this.” Not only can like help me early create conversation or even discover new things on my own because I am looking at it from a different perspective that I am not used to. I understand other people’s perspectives, but then I can now have that experience of that other perspective can apply that from my own perspective, and see things in multiple ways that I would not have seen before.
One of the things that I try to bring to people when I am talking about video games is that it creates a shared space for our experiences. The two of us have played Elden Ring and because we strong-arm Jenny into studying the story of Elden Ring, we now have this deep world with its own ideologies and struggles that we can make references to when we are communicating with each other. It becomes a part of who we are. I can now make metaphors about different bosses and what it is like to get destroyed by them, but eventually, conquer them myself. Grit and resilience and looking at failure, not like it is a part of you as a person, but that it is a process that can be welcomed into our experience instead of fail like, “You are no good. You are never going to get anywhere.” It could be formed through actions in learning.
That failure is a part of learning now. It is not a dreaded thing that is commenting on your value as a person. I think games like Elden Ring are glowing examples of that paradigm shift. Unfortunately, society does not force people to do activities that embrace that particular paradigm. Everything about society does treat failure. At least in our culture of the United States, it treats the experience of a failure as a dreaded thing that comments on your lack of effort. What is even the first real boss in Elden Ring? What is their name?
Technically, Godrick is, but Margit was the first big boss.
To defeat Margit or Godrick and to endure what it takes to get through them is a huge triumph. The way that people see themselves is deflating for many people to try something 20 times or like me, it seemed like over 40 times to be able to get through that fight. Looking at the opportunity to, “What do I know is psychological flow? This is too hard for me. Let’s level up.” Now I have leveled up a little bit, “Am I there yet?” Now I can start to believe because of where that boss’s health bar went and how well I performed. If I perform better, I can do this now. There is a point, Wes, unless you are the “let me solo her” running around in their underwear, swinging a sword, and dodging perfectly. Let’s give Jenny context. There is meme player that joins other people’s games and just tells them, “Do not fight this boss. Let me solo her.”
It is Malenia, the hardest boss in the game.
This person can do it. That is the whole point of the meme.
It was practiced for hours and hours. In fact, I saw he got his 1,000th kill on her. He can do this boss without getting hit a single time.
That, right there, you have an interesting relationship with the psychological flow when Malenia becomes too boring for you. Formed actions in learning are a much better way of looking at yourself in a tough experience than labeling yourself as a failure. That is one of the biggest takeaways for me in Elden Ring. One of the reasons why it is one of the gaming accomplishments I am most proud of and in the future, I will still be wanting to talk about this game on the show or at conventions because it does give you an understanding of some of the best things you can do in life do not come easy. Sometimes video games are the best place to get that message. I have one last quest for everyone to write down in their notebook. Tarnished move forward always and continue the journey.
See you next week.
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- Elden Ring
- Final Fantasy
- It Takes Two
- Travis Langley
- Dark Souls
- Demon’s Souls
- The Last of Us
- Guild Wars 2