I grew up in a very catholic household. I used to go to church several times per week, had the full formal catholic education, the whole shebang.
But I was also rebellious. I would often ask my religious teachers about evolution, where did the dinosaurs come from, what would happen if two people asked God for opposite things, etc. And I remember not being satisfied with the answers. Until, thanks to the internet, I discovered a revolutionary concept: we don’t actually know whether God exists or not, and there’s a group of people out there that think he doesn’t at all.
Atheism felt liberating, and the feeling that you “knew” something that other people didn’t made me feel special. Sure, I didn’t know any atheists in real life, but joining and participating in atheist forums was good enough for me. When I turned 14, I would read “The God Delusion”, by Richard Dawkins, and I remember feeling like everything in the book just made so much sense: religion is bad, God is the greatest lie humanity has ever come up with, and the world would be much better off giving up on all types of supernatural faith.
Fast forward a few years, and nowadays I think that, while there may not be an old man with a white beard listening to whatever you ask, there’s actual value in religion and faith. What made me change my mind? Certainly, meeting more religious and kind people helped, but I think I owe most of that to Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a 2011 cult classic videogame that most people know only as “one of the hardest games ever”. I, too, only knew that about it before playing it for the first time while on summer vacation, but I could never have expected the profound impact its world and lore would have on my own relationship with faith, religion and God.
The first time you play through Dark Souls, I’m sure you won’t understand pretty much any of the story (I certainly didn’t). While slaying demons and dragons is great fun and might be the only push you need to finish the game, Dark Souls also rewards more dedicated and attentive gamers with a huge amount of backstory and lore that ties together every single encounter. All of that is never explained in an immediately accessible manner, but instead through world design, item descriptions, and enemy design.
That said, the world of Lordran is consistently a world of loneliness and indifference. All of the characters you meet during your journey, either friendly or unfriendly, are susceptible to hollowing, an irreversible process when they lose all their humanity and just… mindlessly wander, until you eventually meet them again and seal their fate.
Hollowing is a clear metaphor for depression. As an anxious, introverted person, this mechanic resonates with me on oh so many levels. Very often, I feel like things just stop making sense. My projects fail more often than not, nobody seems to care about my problems anymore, and it feels like I pushed away everyone who did. On those days, when I just lay down after a long day of work and wonder if that’s really all that there is to it, I think about hollowing.
And I think about Solaire, one of the few friendly warriors you meet on your journey, and his obsession with finding his own sun. When you first meet him, he is standing in the edge of a bridge, praising the sun and inviting you to bask in its warmth. The last time you meet him, he is in a dark, hot cave, near a pool of magma. His obsession with finding his own sun had blinded him and ended up being his downfall, and you are forced to end his life with your sword.
In Dark Souls, faith is one of the many things that help people avoid the fate of Solaire. But the game always makes sure that we understand that it doesn’t have to be faith in God, but rather faith in principles. For example, one of the very few characters that never hollows out is Andre, a humble blacksmith that has dedicated his life to his craft. To finish the game, you, as the Chosen Unded, also needs to have faith, but on your own skills (and a lot of patience).
By empathizing with these characters, I can’t help but feel an immense connection to their real life counterparts: everyone is going through as much hardship and loneliness in an uncaring world as they are, and everyone is just hanging on to whatever helps keep them sane. And that’s why I’m sorry to say I disagree why Dawkins: there’s inherent value in traditional religion, even with its many downsides. Churches and other religious places have connected millions of people throughout history, people who otherwise might have “gone hollow” found meaning and lived fulfilling lives being guided by their faith, just as I do.
But my faith isn’t very much like theirs. I believe in God, but I don’t think there’s a bearded guy out there listening to my prayers. I believe in the Jesus, but not any more than I believe in Buddha. And just like every religion that has ever existed, my own personal religion has it’s interpretation of the bible, expanded with several thoughts from many other great writers and philosophers.
All in all, whatever it is that you believe in (or not), be safe, my friend. Don’t you dare go hollow.