Sit down, and let me tell you a tale. A tale of knights and sorcerors, of demons and monsters, in a strange and lonely land, far, far from here. A tale of one knight in particular, who stood apart from all the others, distinguished by his valour and selflessness.
I was playing the computer game Dark Souls a few years ago. It’s a notoriously difficult game in which you travel across a pseudo-medieval fantasy land battling various undead creatures.
It’s basically a single-player game, in which you face your enemies alone. However, it’s possible for other people playing online simultaneously to join you. They can do this in two ways. First by invading your game: basically by appearing nearby and fighting you. Or, they can leave a mark on the ground, visible to others playing the game, allowing them to be summoned as a phantom (who can’t kill you). This means that you can invite them into your game, and enjoy their help with some of the more difficult encounters.
I was never much of a fan of the online aspects of the game. I hated being invaded. I’d be enjoying the game, and then someone at a much higher level than my character, carrying a ridiculously large sword, would appear, kill me, and do a silly gesture over my body. Being killed by an invader also means losing points which effectively function as in-game currency, so it’s not just humiliating.
Players making themselves available to be summoned is obviously a much more positive constructive use of the game’s online connectivity. I never really took advantage of it though, mainly because I didn’t want to interrupt my game, and I didn’t want to feel like I owed other players if I accepted their help by summoning them. I also thought they try to talk to me through the game, and it’d be awkward, so it just seemed best to ignore that side of things entirely.
However, there are a pair of bosses, found in the heart of the ancient dead city Anor Londo, who are infamous for their difficulty. Many players have given up the game after finding it simply too hard to beat Ornstein and Smough. I’d heard about them, and when I finally came up against them, I immediately understood their notoriety. After a few attempts in which I was brutally and quickly slaughtered, I began to think I might not beat them on my own. Some boss fights allowed you to summon nearby phantoms controlled by the computer, but I couldn’t find any such summon spots near Ornstein and Smough (yes, I know now I can summon Solaire nearby, but I didn’t know that then!)
But then, shortly after dying and reincarnating at a bonfire nearby (bonfires in the game function like save points), I saw a summon sign. By its white, rather than gold outline I recognised it as another player, and not a computer-controlled character. I’d got that far without needing anyone’s help, and I didn’t want to start asking now. But then fighting those awful beasts Ornstein and Smough simultaneously seemed like far too great a task to manage alone. Dare I?…
I dared, and when I activated the summon sign, the game asked me to confirm if I wanted to accept the help of this person. This is when I learned who would be my companion during the greatest trial of my gaming life. A brave hero by the name of…
It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, to say the least, but how could I say no? I duly summoned iluv2spooj, and he appeared as the spectre of a knight in heavy plate armour, carrying a long halberd. He fought skilfully and fearlessly alongside me against the gargantuan metal knights on the path to Ornstein and Smough’s chamber. It was clear that iluv2spooj had put a lot of time and effort into the game, as he played better than me. I wondered when he found the time to spooj.
That first time we fought together, I still died pretty quickly, and felt a little embarrassed, as iluv2spooj had gone to the trouble of helping me. How pathetic I must have seemed to a mighty warrior like him, to die so quickly. I assumed that after I’d died, he’d gone quickly back to playing his own game, or helping better players.
Yet when I was revived once more at the bonfire, there was iluv2spooj’s summon sign once more. What a brave and honourable knight, to continue to fight for a lowly peasant like me! Three or four more times, we fought and died together. Well, I died, once even before we got to Ornstein and Smough. But still, iluv2spooj was there waiting for me each time I revived. Waiting patiently, I assume. I don’t really know how summoning works from the perspective of the summoned. Maybe he went back to playing his own game till I interrupted it by summoning him. Maybe he had time for a quick little spooj.
Wait, what’s the point of all this?
I was talking recently with someone about choosing a new name for oneself, and I thought this is probably quite a common fantasy, or daydream at least. I think most of us are fairly happy with our given name, but it is our given name. We don’t get to choose it, and I think simply for that reason, we all at some point think about what we’d do if we could choose our own name. Our name is such an important aspect of our identity that when we imagine choosing our own name, or at least having a different one, we’re imaging how we’d reinvent ourselves, how our lives might have gone down a different path if we’d been, for example, Cian instead of Niall (as was the original plan for me).
And then I realised that we now get to choose our own name all the time.
What else is choosing a username but a chance to choose our own name? A name that sums us up, gets to the very core of ourselves, and communicates that true self to the rest of the world. It’s an opportunity to live out that fantasy of our name reflecting and revealing our authentic inner self. So why are so many usernames so, well… crappy?
Mainly it’s the boring limitations of life. We’re usually not completely free to choose any name we want. Most systems allow a specific username to be used only once, so if your dream name is taken, you’ll have to settle for something else, or add a few numbers to the end of the name you wanted. And a lot of systems won’t allow you to use spaces, often for various technical reasons, so if you want a multi-word name, like I Love to Spooj, for example, you’ve got to compress it, and it loses some of its lustre. And you don’t want to have to hold the shift key to type in those capitals each time, do you? And it’s quite long, so why not abbreviate it to something like iluv2spooj?
Usernames are a lot like life itself. At first, they promise the fantasy of unlimited possibilities, but soon our initial elation fades as we’re faced with the increasing constraints and mundanity of reality.
Plus, when we feel like we have the power to choose any name we want to, it doesn’t seem so easy. When we have all possible combinations of numbers, symbols, and letters to choose from, where do we even start? Maybe we can think of something that we like to do that we can reference in our username. But then when we see that on screen, as our name, does it really sum us up? Sure, I bet iluv2spooj loves to spooj, but is that all there is to him? I’m sure apart from all the spoojing, he’s a deep, complex individual.
And if we try to define ourselves with our username, we’re always going to exaggerate, aren’t we? I mean, just how cool is SuperCoolGuy69B-), really? Doesn’t this exaggeration then just remind us of our sense of inadequacy, our own feelings that we’re not really living up to our potential?
From time to time, I still wonder what name I’d choose for myself, or what my life would’ve been like as Cian. But having had a few years’ experience of choosing usernames, I now know that those lives probably wouldn’t be very different from life as Niall.
One thing I do sometimes enjoy about usernames though is their incongruity. Just as iluv2spooj seemed an odd fit in the context of a proud knight fighting among the Gothic cathedrals and crumbling ruins of Lordran, so too do internet usernames seem odd when we see them on the news. This happens more and more often, as the news likes to show people’s reactions to news stories, though often the username will rob the situation of its intended gravity:
Gaz360 writes: I think hangings to good for them.
SalahIsTheKingLFC says: We need a hard brexit and now!!!
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what happened to iluv2spooj. We fought together a few more times, dealing a little more damage to Ornstein and Smough on each occasion. And then, we managed to kill one of them (Ornstein, I think), at which point his power was absorbed by Smough. We continued to battle fiercely against Smornstein, though we were both close to death on many occasions. It was nerve-wracking.
And then, iluv2spooj, battling ferociously the whole time, was cornered. This gave me the opportunity to deal a lot of damage to the distracted Smornstein, but after a cruel blow, iluv2spooj eventually fell. At the time I barely noticed, so caught up was I with my desperate struggle against Smorstein, who had now turned his focus solely to me. He reduced my health with stroke after merciless stroke, but iluv2spooj and I had done so much damage that, just at the point when one more hit would have killed me, I slashed at Smorstein, and his monstrous, massive body fell to the floor.
I was initially relieved, and elated, but after a moment, I remembered my fallen friend. iluv2spooj! I looked around, but there wasn’t even a body whose hand I could hold. After all we’d been through, he didn’t make it to see our success! He wouldn’t even know that I’d managed to defeat Ornstein and Smough, but only thanks to his help. I felt guilty that I had survived and he hadn’t had, after he’d put in most of the hard work (that big halberd did a lot of damage).
I went back to the bonfire, but his summon sign was gone. I couldn’t even thank him. Probably he’d gone to offer his services to other wanderers in need, and neither wanted nor needed my thanks. But still, I wanted him to know I appreciated his help (there probably was some way to send him some kind of text message, but I didn’t want to do that).
Throughout the rest of the game I never summoned anyone again. Partly that was because I never faced another challenge like Ornstein and Smough. But it was mainly because it just wouldn’t be the same. He or she wouldn’t be iluv2spooj, and we’d never have the same magic I had with him.
I think about him sometimes. I think about how selfless he was. About how he waited patiently for me to revive each time before we began our adventure anew. I wonder what he’s doing now. Is he still there in Anor Londo, helping people in need? Is he spoojing?
Wherever you are, if you’re reading this, thank you iluv2spooj. You were the truest knight I ever had the fortune to meet.