Sunday Poems 49: Feeling hollow

Most of the thinking I do about art comes from comparing different media. Swimming in different perspectives and methods. To aid this, I try to balance reading with film, games, music, and conceptual art. One can’t keep up on everything, but meandering through a couple fields gets us somewhere.

Lately, I’ve been playing a extremely challenging video game called Dark Souls 2. This game has a traditional swords and sorcery setting with castles, dragons, and knights, but there’s an undead twist: yourself and almost everyone you meet is in a state the game refers to as hollowing. Every time you die you wake up a little bit weaker at the last bonfire you rested at. While it never happens to the character you inhabit, the game implies that the minor human enemies you face are also hollows, who have died enough times that enough sentience has faded. They can’t tell friend from foe, and mindlessly attack everyone they can. The landscape is lonely, solemn, and beautiful. It’s a place I like to spend time.

What draws me most to the game are the multiplayer interactions baked into its lonely world, in the form of cryptic and strangely poetic messages left by other players using a sort of mad-lib system, designed to prevent specificity, which leads to vaguenesses of communication both frustrating and hilarious. Players can also interact more directly, in the form of aggressive invasions, or more cooperative summoning. When you approach the signal left by a player who wishes to be summoned, you are shown just their portrait and their name to judge their character by. From these clues, you must judge if they will help you survive in this harsh world, or if they are a prankster who will lead you astray.

While you get to auditioning a collaborator by their head shots, an invader will enter your world at their own whim. A message appears on your screen: ‘so-and-so has invaded.’ Impassible walls of fog trap you into a large area, the bonfires you can normally take refuge at become unusable, and your invader enters at an unknown location. Cat and mouse inevitably turns into a duel, and those I duel are ineviably better at it than I am. Neither friend nor foe can directly communicate outside of running, swinging their weapons, and performing simple gestures like pointing, bowing, or shaking their head. When communication fails, at least a sword provides an incontrovertible expression.

While competitors usually don’t need to communicate much that a weapon can’t manage, for collaborators, this limited vocabulary can stunt offering each other strategies, signalling secrets, or in some cases, the way forward. This lack of communication between players expresses nicely the breakdown of the humanity of those hollowing. As a person who is generally optimistic about strangers, this game functions as a kindness-of-strangers simulator, where I can be matched up with someone who I can barely communicate with to attempt challenges I can’t manage on my own.

Sunday is a nice day to do the dishes, and then take out the garbage. The sun is falling as you leave the door, heavy plastic bag in hand. The setting sun looks almost exactly like the rising sun from twelve hours before. The house next door is set to be demolished. Whenever a notice is put up about a rezoning or demolition, the sign sits for an eternity. The neighbourhood must know. It can’t go unmissed. Eventually the event the sign was warning of happens, and you never seem to be there when the building is pulled apart or bashed in. But it doesn’t come as a surprise. You’ve had a long time to prepare for it. Below is a poem. If you enjoy it, consider sharing it with a friend. As always, I’m here if you need to talk. Have a great week, everybody.


tossing each limb over your shoulder,
looking for the right joint,
will you take me apart?

hot instant coffee
a mist of vapour in the air,
words to use with each other.

watering the plants,
every morning sounds like
how we tie our arms together.

Originally published October 23, 2016.

Theodore Fox is a poet living on Treaty Six land in Canada.
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