In this series of blog posts I’d like to explore the importance of religion, and especially faith, to the inhabitants of the dark souls world. Initially I will be focusing on Dark Souls III as the most recent game, but I would like to go back and examine the other games in this series too. This post will serve as an introduction and overview of faith in Lothric.
In Dark Souls lore I have often heard it said that Miyazaki must be skeptical of organised religion due to the number of corrupt or dark faith groups in the Souls universe. I would argue that this may not be the case, or that there is no clear evidence that what Miyazaki creates in his world directly reflects his personal feelings on our own world. In fact, to dismiss the portrayal of faith and religion in Dark Souls through this argument prevents a deeper understanding of the feelings of everyday citizens, Undead or not, in this world.
I was inspired to consider faith when I came across this Miyazaki quote on how faith functions in the in-game world. The following quote is quite lengthy, but I feel it gives good insight into the world building, and so should be included in full:
The reason for including the symbolic items that are present in Dark Souls – crosses, kneeling, churches, demons – is to stay true to the world and the emotions that we’re trying to express within the game. I’ve used the analogy of trying to grow seeds in dead ground. Whatever situation the player is in, I feel strongly about this uncontrollable power, this miracle, the act of praying – whether it be to a god, or something you believe in – there’s this power or miracle, something that cannot be controlled by how you act, how you train. And that element is probably something that is very important to somebody that is in this devastating state, this hopeless, lonely, cold state. Trying to stay true to the concept and ideology is something that is important for the game.
I tell my designers that the weapons and items are not an image of power of strength. They’re an image of something that is your last hope, something you grasp onto in order to live, in order to achieve your goal. Having that desperation within the actions and visuals is important in helping players understand what is involved in being able to feel the sense of satisfaction when you overcome these difficulties. the religious symbols evoke that uncontrollable element.
This quote really sums up a lot of my feelings towards faith in the games. Note that Miyazaki links faith with belief, which does not exclusively have to be in a god or gods. I have titled this piece on faith and religion because the two do often go hand in hand, in our world and the Souls one. But faith is something which can exist outside of religion as well.
For example I was raised in a Catholic household but I have now left the Church. For me, the catalyst was a tragedy that broke my faith in a god. However, I would not say that I am without faith. I believe there are no gods, no higher being to judge or assist me, no afterlife – and these believes are actually a comfort to me. In the face of terrible events, I know, in my heart, that this is just part of the random chaos of life, and not the act or negligence of a supreme being. For my mother, it’s the exact opposite. When tragedy strikes she turns to her Catholic faith for reassurance and strength. She believes that everything happens for a reason, and bad things occur because God knows she is strong enough, with His help, to push through. Both of us have very different believes on how the world works, but both of us turn to our faiths for comfort.
The Undead of Dark Souls are not different. They live in a bleak, dying world. It’s easy to see why many would turn to one of the many religions, cults or covenants offered to them. Even the more sinister groups could offer solace to the confused and lost. In a changing world that cannot be escaped even by death, a belief in a higher purpose could easily help a lonely undead. The only way for the Undead to prevent their hollowing is to have some kind of purpose or meaning. Religion or faith can offer this, whether it is for the greater good or a darker purpose.
Lastly I would like to note that the inclusion of religious or faith based spaces contributes to the atmosphere of Lothric. While the churches themselves may contain dangers, they invoke the feeling of safety and calm. I feel this in real life when visiting historic churches – the familiar smell of wood and incense, the hushed quiet, echoing footsteps, the sense of overwhelming awe at the art or architecture. Perhaps this is due to my childhood years as a Catholic, but in the chaotic, dark world of the games I understand the draw of these places and the creed they offer to the Undead.
In the next post of this series I want to look at the religions, covenants and faith groups of Dark Souls III in more detail. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on how these believes function in the world of Dark Souls.
Hidetaka Miyazaki quote taken from You Died by Keza MacDonald and Jason Killingsworth.