The Existential Hero: Dark Souls through Kierkegaard, Camus, and Sartre

So, Dark Souls is a special game, a rare kind of game that is only released a few times a console generation. Past its ecstatic gameplay and thick aesthetic, though, its theme of the futility of physical identity particularly striking. There exists in the world of Dark Souls two opposing forces, the gods, the lords, who seek to keep the Age of Fire going, and those that oppose those gods, who seek to bring about an Age of Darkness, where, interestingly, man holds his destiny in his own hands. Beyond these two archetypal forces is a third, vague energy that persists over Lordran, a rotting, indifferent predetermination, which can be read as the developer’s hand in the game, but does not have to be. This is the force that kills players mercilessly, the force that fills every pool of water with poison and bones. It is also the force that dethrones the idiot gods, as even their control over nature is limited. Strangely, due to this third force, this cosmic weight, it would be curious to see how Lordran transforms if a godless age was brought about, as the gods themselves have nothing to do with the paradoxical cosmic indifference and free-will erasing predeterminism. Would man bring about a prosperous Lordran? The game seems to lead one to believe this.

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Dark Souls (PS3)

Being alive in Dark Souls is a weakness, and existing at all is a pretty awful, meaningless trial. It is a rampant landscape of existential and, in particular, moral nihilism. Søren Kierkegaard’s (1813-1855) ideas on nihilism, which he referred to as leveling (sort of ironic in the context of an RPG). Leveling, “at its maximum,” to Kierkegaard was the process of suppressing individuality to the point where individuality loses all meaning, and “is like the stillness of death” in his words. Interestingly, Kierkegaard uses similar language to that found in Dark Souls. The individuals of Lordran, the Solaires and the Knights of Astora, are punished for their wills, and turned into the Hollowed, a meaningless, violent existence. The player character can occasionally “save” one of these NPCs, but the obscure methods of doing so only emphasize the futility of the situation.

Relationships between characters are equally meaningless and violent, as the player character can kill any NPC whenever the player wills it, join any religious covenant which is not indicative of any real faith, and be attacked by a false friend at any moment. The religions of Lordran and the very gods themselves are meaningless and hold no real power as no such power or faith truly exists. PvP players act as unknown assassins, invading worlds they have never been to just to kill and purge.

Dark Souls is a world without sex and a world without love. Deep in the lore are buried lovers, yes, but love can never be depended on for tenderness or meaning. Upon death, players are forced to retrieve their bloodstains to retrieve their souls and humanity. Souls and humanity are not metaphysical notions but bodily ones, being represented by bloody pools on the ground marking death. Souls and humanity are reduced to items, currency, and hold little spiritual or existential value.

There have been a plethora of great heroes who have faced the materialist JRPG-hellworld, including the original JRPG hero, the legendary hero of Erdrick of Dragon Quest fame, but the player character in Dark Souls is a bit different. Erdrick, like the player character in Dark Souls, fought off mindless enemies full of gold and trudged through poisonous marshes and over beds of spikes. However, like most RPG heroes, Erdrick made little in the way of moral decisions. He was tasked with saving the kingdom and vanquishing evil, and that’s what he did. He used the King of Tentegel Castle’s save features, and other JRPG heroes used an inn’s save features, or a church’s. There are rules and roles in place, JRPG tropes.

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Dark Souls (PS3)

The story of the player character in Dark Souls is a much more vague affair, where every action is morally ambiguous, but not in the way of other open-world games. The player character is a shapeshifter, much like the protagonist in A Voyage to Arcturus, and a killer, who could kill the King of Tentegel Castle with no remorse just to get a rare drop, sacrificing the game’s save feature in the process. There is no karma system to guide players’ actions, nor are there any real cues to let players know what they are doing is immoral.

Since Lordran is a morally nihilistic nightmare, the player character emerges as something of an existential hero. For Camus, in his The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal values poses only one question: does the realization of the absurd require one to commit suicide? Such a hyperbolic question deserves an equally hyperbolic answer: “No. It requires revolt.”

It could be argued that the player character is the Chosen Undead, that he or she is destined for this quest as the prophecies in the lore dictate. The player character therefore has no free will as fate predestines he or she be the legendary hero despite whatever he or she may actually seek. From this reading of the lore, the player character then is nothing of an existential hero, but merely a pawn in the plot of Lordran’s history. But this is not the case. From a more accurate understanding of the metaphysics of Lordran, no fate willed the player character to do anything. Obviously, characters like Kingseeker Frampt try to guide the player characters’ actions, and characters like the Knight of Astora are catalysts for the player character’s adventure, but it is the player character who eventually stands up to the indifferent world of Lordran and its idiot gods, proclaiming himself free of their laws and the natural laws that plague existence. The player character never becomes fully Hollowed and is ultimately in charge of his own destiny.

For Sartre, since there is no Creator, there is no specific human nature or eternal truths imbued in humans, what he refers to as essence. His famous quote, “existence precedes essence,” means that people are fully responsible for their actions and that they have no inherent properties willed upon them. This can be seen in Dark Souls in the bloodstains left behind when players die. Their existence (blood, body, physicality and actions) is how they are measured and to be whole is to reclaim that. Their essence (soul, humanity) is important to the game, but it is merely a currency with no intrinsic value associated with it. There is nothing moral about holding onto souls and humanity, and their value is only measured in what they can buy. The gods of Lordran (the lords) are not true creators as there are none, save the game developers, the third force mentioned earlier.

Thus, the player character, faced with an absurd, meaningless existence, without essence in a world without justice, explores Lordran, amasses power by killing those the player deems worthy of killing, and eventually discovers an option to change Lordran, an option essentially devoid of morality.

The Existential Hero: Dark Souls through Kierkegaard, Camus, and Sartre

$400: The Price of Over 700,000 Police Accounts on the Dark Web

A hacker is selling hundreds of thousands of accounts that were allegedly used by police and federal agents on a hacked law enforcement forum. The database being sold in the dark web contains over 715,000 user accounts. The breached site, PoliceOne, is a news site and community reportedly used by verified police officers and investigators to discuss specialist topics.

Using this account information, “criminals may be able to access ‘private messages and posts,’ the hacker who goes by the handle Berkut” told Motherboard. is the #1 resource for up-to-the-minute law enforcement information online. More than 500,000 police professionals nationwide are registered PoliceOne members and trust us to provide them with the most timely, accurate and useful information available anywhere.

Berkut’s listing in the dark web marketplace claims that the forum was hacked in 2015 when this police data was stolen. “Emails from NSA, DHS, FBI and other law enforcement agencies as well as other US government agencies” is included in this database which is currently going for $400. The data includes usernames, email addresses, dates of birth, other forum data, and passwords stored in MD5, an encryption algorithm that is now considered relatively easier to crack.

The hacker responsible for the breach claimed that he breached the site using an exploit for vBulletin, a software widely known for its easily exploitable vulnerabilities, that has been leveraged in a number of forum breaches.

PoliceOne has confirmed the breach and is currently investigating the claim of stolen data. The site released the following statement:

We have confirmed the credibility of a purported breach of the PoliceOne forums in which hackers were potentially able to obtain usernames, emails and hashed passwords for a portion of our members. While we have not yet verified the claim, we are taking immediate steps to secure user accounts and our forums, which are currently offline while we investigate and gather more information.

While we store only limited user data and no payment information, we take any breach of data extremely seriously and are working aggressively to resolve the matter. We will be notifying potentially-affected users as a matter of priority and requiring them to change their passwords.


The Century of The Self

To many in both business and government, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power is truly moved into the hands of the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How is the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interest?


Part one documents the story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays who invented ‘Public Relations’ in the 1920s, being the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires. Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer manipulation, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement to outrageous PR stunts and to eroticising the motorcar. His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods, it was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

Part two explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud’s ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses. Politicians and planners came to believe Freud’s underlying premise that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany, and in response to this, they set out to find ways to control the masses so as to manage the ‘hidden enemy’ within the human mind. Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna, and his nephew, Edward Bernays, provided the centrepiece philosophy and the US government, big business, and the CIA used their ideas to develop techniques to manage and control the minds of the masses. However, this was not a ‘cynical exercise in manipulation’ according to those in power, as they really believed that the only way to make democracy work and have a stable society was to repress the ‘dangerous and irrational desires and fears’ of the people.

In the 1960s, a radical group of psychotherapists challenged the influence of Freudian ideas, which lead to the creation of a new political movement that sought to create ‘new people’, free of the psychological conformity that had been implanted in people’s minds by business and politics. This episode shows how this idea rapidly developed in America through “self-help movements”, into the irresistible rise of the expressive self: the Me Generation. Soon, American corporations realised that this new self was not a threat, but their greatest opportunity. It was in their interest to encourage people to feel they were unique individuals and then sell them ways to express that individuality. To do this, they turned to the techniques developed by Freudian psychoanalysts, to manipulate the inner desires of the new self.

This episode explains how politicians turned to the same techniques used by business in order to read and manipulate the inner desires of the masses. Both New Labour with Tony Blair and the Democrats led by Bill Clinton, used the focus group which had been invented by psychoanalysts in order to regain power. Both set out to mould their policies to manipulate people’s innermost desires and feelings, just as capitalism had learnt to do with products. Out of this grew a new culture of public relations and marketing in politics, business and journalism. One of its stars in Britain was Matthew Freud who followed in the footsteps of his relation, Edward Bernays, the inventor of public relations in the 1920s. The politicians believed they were creating a new and better form of democracy, one that truly responded to the inner feelings of individual. But what they perhaps didn’t realise was that the aim of those who had originally created these techniques had not been to liberate people, but to develop a new way of controlling them.

‘Welcome to hell’: The chilling case of a teen ‘horror’ blogger accused of killing her parents

Days before her parents’ grisly deaths, Ashlee Martinson purportedly posted a poem about torturing and killing people in the woods, “where the agonizing screams cannot be heard.”

“Walking into a small cabin,” the teen wrote on her “Nightmare” blog on March 2, 2015, according the Daily Mail. “Marveling at the sweet horrors of blood that I thirst for. I then take the next victim who is unconscious. I tightly bind them to a low table.”

Martinson described herself online as a “horror fanatic” and went by the pseudonym “Vampchick,” according to People.

“I clean the dry blood off my tools from a previous session,” she wrote in the chilling March 2015 post, called “Unworthy.”

“The last body has been disposed of just hours before, yet I have not been satisfied with the pain, agony and blood.

“I bend down as they start to wake.

“‘Welcome to hell.’ I whisper in her ear. ‘Never again will you see the light of day.’”

Five days later, Martinson’s parents were found dead at their home in the tiny town of Piehl, in northern Wisconsin.

Investigators immediately turned their attention to Martinson, who had fled to Indiana with her boyfriend.

She was arrested and charged after police said she shot and killed her stepfather and then fatally stabbed her mother more than 30 times.

Now 18, Martinson pleaded guilty last week to second-degree homicide.

On March 7, 2015, one day after her 17th birthday, Martinson got into an argument with her parents, she later told police.

Her younger sister told authorities that Martinson’s mother and stepfather had discovered that the teen had a 22-year-old boyfriend and sent him a message on Facebook telling him to stay away from their daughter, according to court documents.

“As her parents,” her parents wrote, “we can press charges.”

They took away Martinson’s keys and cellphone, according to the documents, and forbid her from seeing him again.

The three fought. Martinson left home on foot and her stepfather brought her back.

Then, she went to her room.

Martinson told police that she grabbed “one of the many loaded shotguns in the house” and prepared to commit suicide, according to the documents.

But when her stepfather started “loudly banging” on her bedroom door, she said she considered killing him instead.

Two gunshots rang out.

Martinson shot 37-year-old Thomas Ayers first in the neck, then took aim at his head, authorities said.

She told police the second shot was “to ensure that he was dead and could not hurt her,” according to court records.

She said she turned to her mother for comfort, but her mother ran to Ayers, yelling at her daughter for what she had done.

Martinson told police that her mother, 40-year-old Jennifer Ayers, grabbed a knife and came toward her, according to court records. The teen wrestled the weapon from her mother, then stabbed her “with considerable force” over and over and over.

“She was basically a good kid, a very decent girl, until this happened,” her friend, Jon Rasmussen, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year.

Accounts from Martinson and professionals who interviewed her after the incident portray a teenage girl who, after years of alleged abuse, suffered severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her online presence, it seems, revealed the darker side.

Martinson had put pictures on Pinterest that she said came from “the dark, haunted woods of Wisconsin,” according to People.

The blog entries painted more macabre scenes.

In January 2015, she posted a poem called “Murder Maddness,” which was republished by the Daily Mail; in it, she wrote that she could hear nothing “but their screaming souls.”

“Unlike the monster I am/That no one can see,” it said. “And what I have become/What I have done to some.

“Someone like me/That no one can see/A psychopath in the dark.”

Authorities confirmed last year that the “Nightmare” blog that had been linked to Martinson was indeed associated with her; but they did not know whether the content posted under the pseudonym “Vampchick” was her original work.

The blog has since been taken offline.

Martinson told police that she was subjected to years of mental, verbal, physical and sexual attacks from her mother’s boyfriends — one of whom, she claimed, burned her with a cigarette and once raped her when she was 9, according to the court documents.

“People didn’t know about the abuse she went through,” Rasmussen, her friend and neighbor, recently told People. “This is a tragedy for everybody involved.”

Martinson said her stepfather was no exception.

Over the years, Thomas Ayers had been accused of assault, kidnapping, child enticement and party to the crime of sexual assault of a child under 15, according to court documents, which noted that he “had numerous prior arrests and convictions.”

Two of Martinson’s sisters told authorities that Ayers would hit them “very hard” with “a thick belt and his hand” — on several occasions until “their buttocks nearly blistered,” according to the documents.

They said he had choked them and had punched one of the girls in the face, giving her a black eye.

One of the girls said Ayers told them he threw their puppy around and “shot and killed him, and fed him to a bear.”

He also abused Martinson’s mother, they said.

The teen told police that her stepfather once climbed on top of her mother, pinned her down, put a gun to head and pretended to sexually assault her, saying “just like your father,” according to court documents.

Court-appointed doctors said Martinson was neglected by her mother, who did not provide “a safe environment for her,” according to the documents.

“We all knew she was having a hard time,” another friend, Jacob Dietzler, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But news of the killings, he said, “came as a complete shell shock. It was bad.”

On Martinson’s 17th birthday, she texted her 22-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Sisco, to say that she had woken up as her mother was being beaten by her stepfather.

“I can’t take this s— anymore,” she wrote, according to the documents. “He’s gonna kill her if she doesn’t leave soon and I don’t want to be around.”

Martinson wrote in a text that she wanted to kill him.

“Just take one of his guns,” she wrote, “and blow his f—— brains out.”

The day after the double-homicide, Martinson’s three younger sisters were still inside the home with their slain parents.

One of the sisters later told authorities that Martinson had taken two showers to wash away the blood before telling the girls — then ages 9, 8 and 2 — that they were going to play a game, according to court documents.

She said Martinson gave them snacks and juice and then locked them in a bedroom, tying a cord around the door.

They managed to escape and call 911.

When police arrived, Martinson and her boyfriend, Sisco, had already fled.

After a nationwide manhunt, they were arrested outside Lebanon, Ind., according to news reports.

Martinson was charged with homicide and false imprisonment, for locking up her sisters, though the false imprisonment charge was dropped.

Sisco has not been charged in connection to the slayings.

Martinson first pleaded not guilty to first-degree homicide by reason of mental disease or defect, but recently took a plea deal for a lesser, second-degree charge.

The stepfather’s brother, Don Ayers, said he did not agree with the deal.

“The day before the murders, she wrote on Facebook that she wanted to kill them,” he recently told People. “To me, that’s premeditated. They should have left the charges at first-degree murder.”

Ayers said it’s not fair how his brother and sister-in-law have been portrayed.

“Thomas and Jennifer are being judged right now by what she is saying about them, but they aren’t here to defend themselves because she killed them,” he told People. “I think she stretched the truth to save her own neck.”

Martinson’s attorney, Amy Ferguson, declined to comment.

Martinson will be sentenced June 17 and faces a maximum of 120 years in prison.


The complete, terrifying history of ‘Slender Man,’ the Internet meme that compelled two 12-year-olds to stab their friend

“Kuso” Deemed “Grossest Movie Ever” Amid Mass Walk Outs at Sundance

Last week, we brought you the trailer (below) for Flying Lotus’s directorial debut, Kuso, which I noted was pretty much the most batshit thing I’ve seen in my life! To recap:

Kuso goes deep and vividly into the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that hits L.A. But that’s just where the fever dream movie from Steve Ellison and Brainfeeder Films starts. The lift-off is the real ride. Along with the Funkadelic leader [George Clinton], Kuso also stars comedian Hannibal Buress plus Iesha Coston, Zack Fox, The Buttress, and Tim Heidecker.



Apparently, Kuso isn’t just batshit. According to Variety, crowds abandoned the film in droves not long after it launched its midnight screening at Sundance this morning, it may just be the most disgusting movie ever made. The industry trade gives a description of some the film’s most shocking moments, but be warned: If you decide to read, you will be bombarded with seriously grotesque imagery.

Per Variety:

“I’ll start with the footage of an erect penis being stabbed. As with most footage of an erect penis being violently gored by a long steel rod, it’s certainly unexpected. A large chunk of the audience left my screening early, when a boil-covered woman choked a man with a strap until he covered half her face with semen that looked like a muted version of Nickelodeon slime. But the walk-outs continued in a consistent stream up to the final scene. Some gross-out films are one-note, but ‘Kuso’ finds new ways to test viewers’ fortitude. Some folks stuck around after a woman chewed on concrete until her teeth disintegrated, but still peaced out when an alien creature force-yanked a fetus from another woman’s womb (accompanied by a ‘Mortal Kombat’ sound clip: ‘Get over here!’), then smoked the tiny corpse.”

Please excuse me as I try to wash these mental pictures out of my head!

Of course, this kind of terrible review could actually be seen as a good thing for Horror Freaks, who appreciate filmmakers who push envelopes to dangerous extremes. It will clearly be a mainstream flop, but I’m willing to bet Kuso will go on to amass some kind of cult following. Heck, I’ll certainly give it a view (in spite of my better judgment, perhaps!).


How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power

Blame it on the smartphone, the technology that is bringing internetlike tracking and surveillance into brick-and-mortar stores.

In this revealing account, Turow (Communication/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth, 2012, etc.) describes how the same online personalization made possible on your computer by cookies has reared its head in the aisles and checkouts of supermarkets and department stores, where 90 percent of all retail purchases still occur. “Tying into the always-on smartphone carried by about 70 percent of Americans,” writes the author, “merchants, brand manufacturers, and their agents are exploiting cellular signals, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sound waves, light waves, and more to track customers and send them product messages before, during, and after their store visits.” This is the beginning of a “great transformation” in retailing: by 2028, half of all Americans are expected to have body implants that can communicate with retailers as they walk around stores, which will allow merchants to gather increasingly specific data on shoppers and redefine seller-customer relationships. In return for capturing data—generally without shoppers’ awareness—merchants offer loyalty programs, discount coupons, and other benefits. In effect, they are training consumers to “give up personal data willingly,” accept discriminations made between high- and low-value shoppers (with some getting better prices than others), and relinquish “the historical ideal of egalitarian treatment in the American marketplace.” Turow writes in a matter-of-fact manner that barely disguises his outrage at the invasiveness of the under-the-radar surveillance at Target, Wal-Mart, and elsewhere, which, he says, demands regulation and consumer education. While sometimes repetitious, his book offers invaluable insights about in-store data-gathering, including frank observations from unnamed industry sources. Most retailers, he writes, hope future generations will simply accept surveillance and tracking as part of the American shopping experience.

Valuable reading for shoppers and retailers alike.