An ode to the fog door mechanic

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O! Eerie Fog, how doth it compel me!  

If I stay, my mind might I lose.

If I traverse it, my life. 

You can’t help but want to traverse that darn fog! The fog door, peacefully stands there, barring your way to progress in these confounded ‘Souls-series’ games. When you first walk up to one like an innocent child, you don’t know what it is hiding. Could it just be another area of the game unexplored, treasure, death and destruction at the hands of an overwhelming force? Hearken back to the first time you met the Taurus demon in Dark Souls. You walked through, only to see there wasn’t a boss lying in wait. You might have experienced a mild sense of relief after walking though the fog door, but getting your bearings of the revealed area you might remember the feeling of anxiety slowly overcoming you as your gamer sense knows that this would be a perfect place for a boss battle. But where’s the boss? Of course, once you walk about halfway across the bridge you swiftly meet your maker. In this case, From. From made it. By the first boss in Lordran, they are already in your head,  creating and subverting your expectations.

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Or perhaps this guy, rings a bell for you… dun dun chshhhh!

The anxiety and excitement the fog door symbolizes is understated, and unfortunately, all too often, it is cast aside after one squeezes out the mystery of playing through a Miyazaki game. We are left only to scrutinize lore while the mechanics of the game, the gaminess of it, takes a seat. Yet, let’s continue to hearken! We were once all little peons scraping our way through an unforgiving, disorienting and at times terrifying world, wielding what looked like swords, but felt more like toothpicks in order to find refuge at the next bonfire. It’s the first play-through of a souls game, unspoiled, where the genius of the fog door mechanic shines the brightest. In fact, the game itself is one big fog door in a sense. There’s an experience worth every penny when you pop that disc in or load it up. Entering the world of Lordran will definitely test your mettle, make you curse, kick and shout. Hopefully, it will teach you something about yourself, and others. Unless, of course, you go Hollow. “Hee heeeh hehheehehehehehe…”

It’s important to note one thing about these doors. You enter them voluntarily, and that’s important. I remember how fear racked I was to enter, what turned out to be, the Capra Demon’s fog door. When I found it, I had already experienced a couple fog doors already. Three, I believe? The first was to a battle with a giant Demon that I had to plunge attack. The second was another part of the Undead Burg (no boss) and the third was to the Taurus Demon. I had no idea what was going to be behind the fourth, but I had a bad feeling about it.  I avoided going into it as much as I could. I knew that I had to go in there, but before I did, I explored as much of the area as I could. Perhaps there was another way around it? Nope. When I finally succumbed to my fate,  I got utterly crushed an embarrassing amount of times. I put the game down in total frustration. More like I threw the controller onto the sofa, cursing”fuck this game!”, appearing more like a teen-aged brat than a 31 year-old. When I came back to the game, compelled by its mystery and other bullshit (I was still a bit angry), I beat him on the first try. I don’t know what it was, but it just worked out, and it felt fantastic. That was my moment of knowing I was not going to stop until I beat it. If it were an involuntary choice, say the game just threw that bastard at me, I wouldn’t have had the same elation after beating him.

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Speaking of voluntary choices…how much does it cost to take both at the same time?

(I never tire of this joke)

On a symbolic level, the fog door is representative of potentially any challenge life has for us. Or it could mean a re-birthing process. If you think about it, the game is equally about dying as it is about being reborn. There is risk involved in that door. It could be dangerous. It could be our destiny! Insert cheesy phrase here. Life doesn’t seem to run out of fog doors, by the way. But can I really tell you that? Only life can tell you that. Games, like life, create experiences. They don’t tell  you jack which is another reason why video games have so much potential.

At the age of 36, looking back, life is much like a first playthrough of Dark Souls. We are born in a kind of fog, weak, helpless, without knowledge of theworld. Then life hands us a “sword” that we think will solve everything,… knowledge, logic, science, religion or whatever. “Boy am I powerful!”, one might think. Then we have to walk through all the fog gates of becoming an adult with our wimpy shields and dollar store fake light-sabers. Of course we think we are holding giant battle-axes or something, but life always carries the promise of putting the smack down on you. If life hasn’t humbled you yet, you haven’t walked through enough fog doors, Mr. Smarty Pants. There’s also this little thing called death. Yeah, that too happens. Now for me, everywhere is fog and it’s getting darker. There’s that “the more you know, the more you don’t know” line, but it is as appropriate here as it is a cliche. If you walk through it enough, you might even learn to enjoy the fog… probably not…

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We’re totally not vampires Mikey! JUMP!

What exists beyond the comfort of normal life, if we dare to learn something from Demon’s Souls and it’s progeny? No telling really. I suppose you know where your fog gates are. Pride notwithstanding, most adults dare not admit to them existing. When I was 20 years old, I flew to Japan with 80 bucks in my pocket. That wasn’t my first fog gate, but it was a big one. That experience was full of all sorts of trials and tribulations. After a foolish two month romp over there,  Japan spat me back out to the states. I totally cried like a baby at one point there. After coming back home, I had plenty of time to reflect on my experience during my graveyard shift job to pay back the money I had borrowed while there. I’ve been back to Japan a few times since, but I definitely went back wiser than before. There are more gates awaiting me, and I know they are coming whether I walk through them or not. It’s scary. It’s a fog door. If it isn’t scary, it isn’t a fog door. 

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Not sure why a vaginal looking thing is representative of humanity though…

Miyazaki and his team have managed to create a game that has such an emotionally charged experience that fog gates actually become daunting. Through getting us to identify with our character (through the character creation screen), through it’s punishing death mechanic, through it’s worry of loss of humanity upon death (the beacon of hope that is connection to other players it represents), through all these mechanics is created an exhilarating experience that compels us to look back at it on par with literature. Without the emotional gravity all of Dark Souls wields over us, the fog door would be meaningless, yet it racks us with anxiety and fills us with the elation of triumph when we are able to overcome their veiled obstacles. Dark Souls is as much about life as it is about death. 

 

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