Dark Souls is a game renowned for its innovative-and perhaps, controversial-multiplayer elements. Whether you think it's seamless or intrusive, it certainly shouldn't be ignored. The overwhelming odds and constant threat of danger are offset by the ability to lend a helping hand to other players in need by leaving messages and offering to help against a boss. One-on-one, that giant golem might seem like an implacable threat, but with one or two companions fighting by your side, victory is more tangible than it ever was. When you're bashing your head against the wall trying to beat a boss, it's comforting to know there's a community of stalwart players ready to fight by your side. The idea that human beings can overcome any obstacle when they're working together isn't an uncommon theme in literature and media. Mass Effect for example, presents the player with a conflict that becomes increasingly dire as the trilogy progresses. Through sound, dialogue, and other narrative elements, those games immerse players into a seemingly hopeless that can only be overcome by setting aside differences and working together.
The "Dark Souls community" isn't just great because of how supportive everyone is. The playerbase is full of all kinds of players who will both help and hinder you on your quest to do that thing that guy told you to do twenty hours ago. Whilst there are plenty of white knights willing to come to your aid, there's always going to be a few rouges lurking around the corner, waiting to take advantage of you. Believe it or not, Dark Souls does have morality system. Morality is a bit of a hot topic in video games, with most employing binary meters that tell you directly how good or evil you are. The land of Lordran however, is a dark and dangerous place. Much like in the real world, being a total scumbag tends to be much more profitable than white knighting. That being said, there's no actual morality mechanic outside of sinning, which is actually pretty straightforward. If you hurt NPCs, they deal with you. If you invade another player's game and murder them, you can be indicted. Sinning carries the risk of brining down the wrath of the Darkmoon covenant. So why do these things? Well, whilst most games have morality "points", Dark Souls has only currency. Much like in our world, these things are valuable, and sometimes, people will do dirty things to acquire them.
When you invade a player's world, you are essentially breaking into their home, murdering them, and robbing them. Maybe you just need souls, and you're not afraid to take it from someone who might be weaker than you. Maybe you just want a challenge, an honourable duel to the death. Either way, it remains a possibility that you are making someone's day worse for your own personal benefit. This frontier risk-reward system plays well to the games' dangerous atmosphere, where "good" and "evil" players contribute to create a dangerous environment that can actually reward griefers and murderers.
Let's take a look at some of the other covenants. On one side, you have noble do-gooders like the Way of the White, Warrior of Sunlight, and Princess's Guard. These covenants exist so straight-edge players are able to more easily assist up-and-comers. Through these factions, veterans can assist those who are in need of help. Of course, jolly cooperation is incentivised as well. Joining in on boss raids can earn you a fair share of souls and other valuables. On the seedier side of Lordran, you'll find the sinister Gravelord Servants and Dickwraiths.
These groups will actively antagonise players in order to gain their humanity, an uncommon and valuable resource coveted by many. Then of course, there are those who simply want to watch the world burn. By invading your world, infesting it with phantoms, and killing you, they get the thrill of overpowering an actual human being in a playing field that isn't always so level. PvP can be unfair at times, but even I will admit it does match the game's tone.
Then there's a the Forest Hunter covenant, a band of brigands that protect the Darkroot Garden from any intruder who enters its boundaries. This area of the game serves as an excellent example of the flexible and unseen morality system in Dark Souls, and how the community can come together to make the most of certain situations. For the uninitiated who enter the forest, they'll likely be torn to be pieces by what are essentially high-level highwayman preying on the unprepared traveller. When I first went into that forest, I was made a victim. It was the purest example of " you came to the wrong neighbourhood motherfucker." After being cut down, I decided to investigate. After making my way past the sentries, I joined the covenant to see what all the hoopla was about. As it turns out, joining sides with these bandits could be quite profitable. However, you aren't always going to get unwary scrubs. There are those who come prepared into the Darkroot Garden, and they don't come alone.
Whilst the Forest Hunter clan can attack an unwitting passers-by, that doesn't mean they lack the means to fight back. Whatever its original intended purpose, Darkroot Garden is more-or-less a PvP warzone. Crossing back over to the other side (and returning to my usual covenant, Warrior of Sunlight), I found plenty of comrades willing to fight by my side before entering the garden. I can't really say what the original developer intent was for the Darkroot Garden, but the community has taken this area protected by bandits-real players-and teamed up to fight back. There's plenty of hostility and treachery in the Dark Souls community, but that only leaves more opportunities for camaraderie and teamwork.
There are plenty of role-playing games out there that tote robust alignment systems and difficult moral decisions as the forefront of the experience. Dark Souls tackles morality in a different way. Instead of giving you specific routes, and outright telling you what's right and what's wrong, the game's approach to a moral system is simply how you interact with other people. Whether you're doing it just for kicks, or you want the material rewards invasion can bring, you have to hurt other players-actual people, to be "evil". Likewise, being a "good" guy constitutes helping real people along, making their experience a little easier, a little better. By giving you the opportunity to do real good and real harm to other actual people, Dark Souls creates a deeper, more realistic, and more mature approach to morality that other games can only hope to imitate with artificially contrived systems.
Let me give you one more anecdote. In most of the PvP matches I've played, it's customary to bow before fighting. Those who do are generally considered honourable people, even if they are here to kill you. Of course, there are those who will attack you mid-gesture, because you're wide open for an attack. This has happened to be before, and the result is me being punished for my idealistic nature, and someone else profiting from being dishonourable. Sounds a bit like our world, doesn't it?