Elden Ring and How I Learned to Let Go And Love the Pleasure of Difficulty

By Dylan B. Altman

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Now, I say that,  but… I have died in the same way probably hundreds of times playing Elden Ring.

In the style of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Elden Ring is a game that requires a gamer with perseverance. This is not a game for those with fragile egos. This is not for those who rage quit. To this humble gamer and constant reader, this is a game that tears you down to the bare bones and forces you to rise to the occasion… one death at a time.  While the difficulty of a video game and the difficulty of success in the classroom seem completely unrelated, the lessons of resiliency, critical thinking, and innovation are one in the same. The lessons I’ve learned while playing are lessons that I’ve been teaching my students… resilience and difficulty can forge us into better versions of ourselves, whether it be as a gamer, a writer, or a human being.

What do we do when we fall/fail?

In most RPGs, I don’t follow the typical path. I start off and run the opposite direction from the main quest markers. I play to explore and to find random things. Now, as a Dad and an educator, my gaming time is more limited, but my need to explore still compels me to go off the beaten path and get lost.

That’s how I stared with Elden Ring. I decided to immediately go off the path and explore. I didn’t level up. I didn’t look for new weapons. I just went out into the world, as noob as I could be. Of course, I did get lost. And of course, I died… a lot. But eventually, I found my first Big Baddie, a Cleanrot Knight, and I was ready for battle.

I died. And I died. And I died again. But I’m no quitter. And I can be stubborn as hell, so I just clenched my jaw, tried again, and just kept dying.

For three evenings, I started up my PlayStation and died on repeat for an hour, but I wasn’t going to let this game beat me. I was going win! Hell, I am smarter than a NPC!

But every night, I’d sigh defeatedly, watch video playthroughs by expert gamers, die again, turn off the PlayStation, and finally go to bed dreaming of trying to dodge.

I thought I was doing everything I could to win. I was watching samples of how better gamers were killing the Cleanrot Knight! I was trying my best! I tried and tried again, but I wasn’t understanding how to move forward.  I was watching how people were killing the Cleanrot Knight, but at the end of the day I, the “old” and tired player, wasn’t quick enough to beat him. I wasn’t prepared to meet the difficulty.

In The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty, the authors, Mariolina Salvatori and Patricia Donahue, use the idea of “natural athletes” to conceptualize how an expert’s difficulty is often masked for the observer:

“Tennis Players who, at the peak of their form, hit a serve and return a volley (seemingly) effortlessly, are often called ‘natural,’ as if they did not have to work to reach that level. And when it comes to the classroom, the good student is supposed to be one who has no difficulty learning quickly, doing work rapidly, and comprehending everything”(3).

This misconception of “natural” ability being the driving force to success, rather than hard work and constant failure is a detriment to our students and to ourselves as gamers and lifelong-learners. Because I didn’t actually level up before running into a Cleanrot Knight, and because I had barely played the game, I kept dying. I was woefully under-prepared and unable to win because I hadn’t even mastered the basics of the game, such as dodging and blocking. Like many of my students, I was trying to complete an assignment or objective, without actually reading the prompt or even doing the work that led up to it.

Growth, as a gamer, as a student, or even as a human being isn’t about giving up; it’s also not about doing the EXACT same thing every time. It is about seeing your mistakes and making sure to try to change them next time.

I was trying to win without trying to get better. I was trying to skip to the the essay without doing the prep work. Elden Ring teaches you that winning and success is not just about getting back up again, it’s about choosing a new path and trying something new.

“A typical death” Bandai Namco Entertainment

Look At Things From A Different Perspective

If you’re stuck, take a step back! Of course failure, both in a classroom and a video game, is disheartening! I know how devastating seeing Red on a paper can be, and I know how infuriating losing to a NPC can be! However, by learning from one’s mistakes, a person can do the same thing over and over again and then finally make a breakthrough. Repetition isn’t insanity if your goal is progress and you are willing to change.

Whenever I fail and whenever I fall, whether it be as an educator, a gamer, or even a human being, I reflect on my failures and try to see it from another perspective. How could I have done it differently? Why did I fail? These questions, no matter the subject medium, cause introspection and eventual growth.  

Mariolina Salvatori and Patricia Donahue go on to claim that “Readers[Or Gamers] who engage, rather than avoid, a text’s difficulties can deepen their understanding of what they read and how they read. If they move away from those difficulties, or opt for somebody solving this issue for them, chances are that they will never know the causes of those difficulties and the means to control them”(3). When I learned this lesson as a gamer in Elden Ring, I grew.

I realized that there was no way I would be able to beat the Cleanrot Knight at my current level and skill. I didn’t have good enough items, but more importantly I wasn’t good enough yet. I needed to complete other tasks before I could tackle the Big Boss. I could watch what professional gamers could do in the game, but I wasn’t ready enough to do it. I needed to take a step back and do some smaller assignments, or kill some smaller bad guys, so I could master the necessary pace and the hand movements needed in the game. I needed to “practice my writing skills” to improve as a student.

“Knight from Elden Ring” Bandai Namco Entertainment

Learn to Love Failure

One thing that I wish I was taught as a kid would be to learn to love failure. Both as a gamer and as a student, you need to learn to laugh at your own failures and learn to grow from that experience. You won’t be successful all of the time. In fact, you WILL fail most the time both in life and in gaming. But that’s ok! Failure is an opportunity for growth and for understanding. Sometimes, we need to fail 100 times playing a game before we succeed! Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when trying to pass a hard-to-pass class or beat an impossible-to-beat bad guy, but failure is just simply an opportunity for you grow and  succeed.

And no I haven’t beat Elden Ring yet. In fact, I’ve barely cracked the surface. However, I know that I’m not just going to get frustrated and Rage Quit. I am going to play again and try it in a new way.

Resilience isn’t the ability to just keep banging your head against the wall; it’s the ability to meet a challenge, change something, and start again. Resilience is about failure, and so is Elden Ring, and that’s a good thing.

-Dylan

References

Salvatori, M. R. & Donahue, P.A.(2004).The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty. Pearson.

Author’s Bio

The Author lives in almost perpetual sunshine in Tarzana, CA with his wife and two kids. He teaches English, and whenever he can, he plays video games, paints, and writes.

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