The story in Dark Soul is subtle and deep. But I won’t go into details about the lore. What I want to do is explain the story from a philosophical perspective. After playing all three installments, I get the impression that Dark Souls series is explaining what it means to exist and most importantly the meaning of humanity by using the bonfire to illustrate its points.
Looking at the bonfire closely, it is not just a mere bonfire. A sword thrusts into the flames of human ashes. This implies the sexual interaction between man and woman–to procreate is to exist and thus succeed.
From Dark Souls prologue, we know that fire gives life, but what I found very interesting is the statement from the narrator:”from the dark they came and found the souls within the flame.” Whatever this darkness is, it causes something to ignite within, driven to succeed and conquer.
So this explains why the non-playable characters seem to have lost sight of their own purpose or why they are even existing at all. Cale the Cartographer points out that there is “something greatly comforting about the flame. It seems to fulfill something very precious, deep within the soul…something essential.” The Undead is naturally attracted to the flame that gives warmth. Therefore, time and again, the phrase: “May the Flames Guide Thee” is often used in the game. Just how important it is for the fire to remind the Undead of its humanity. By doing so, the bonfires are not just checkpoints to meet the final destination. The bonfires play a significant role in the story as they are “corporeal manifestation” of each Fire keepers’ soul (Dark Souls I item description). The Fire keepers tend to the bonfire and the Undead, protecting the flame. Think about it, when there’s no warmth, we are dead physically and mentally. And Lucatiel from Dark Souls II explains this very well:
“Undead gradually loses his humanity, until his wits degrade completely. Finally, he turns Hollow, and preys upon others. And a Hollow can never be human again.”
Another example that an Undead gradually loses his wit is the gaming mechanic in Dark Souls I. The more you kill, the more you increase your humanity. This implies that the player is stealing life from others in order to gain souls. After all, the Undead is cursed to become Hollow and “preys on men [and] feeds upon their souls (Dark Souls II prologue).”
So this brought me to the question: Am I evil for enjoying Dark Souls series? And the answer is no because Dark Souls series is not all dark and sinister. There is warmth in it. Because to acknowledge that we can go Hollow (mad) and acknowledge that human is neither good nor bad only reinforce the question what is humanity. To question our motives and realize our doings show that we are not entirely mad just yet and we ought to cling onto whatever warmth we have left to keep from going Hollow.
And if you ask me what defines humanity, I am not quite sure yet what it means in the game. I feel that I need to investigate more. But for now, I’d say civilization are built with an understanding and respect for the needs of every human beings. I think this is the reason why the Greek god Zeus, protector of guests, favors hosts that provide good hospitality. Civilized people acknowledge that other people feel the same hunger and coldness as they do. So without warmth, the flame, we are dead both physically and mentally. And according to the item description in Dark Souls I, “the soul is the source of life and whether Undead or even Hollow, one continues to seek them.” What are we without the soul? We cease to exit. So yes, the game is about dark souls.