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Now that I’m no longer in university, I am reading for fun for the first time in years. I started with The Gunslinger by Stephen King, the first book of his Dark Tower series. I’ve now read through The Drawing of Three and have begun The Wastelands. On the other hand, I have been playing Darkest Dungeon, and while both the novels and the game are great so far individually, pairing these things together has been an even greater experience.
Without Going into Detail
On the surface the main reason these experiences pair well together is due to there similar premises and morbid atmosphere. Without spoiling too much of Darkest Dungeon’s early game and the first two Dark Tower books they both focus on a vague and dangerous journey. In both cases, the main characters know that the Darkest Dungeon or The Dark Tower is their target destination, but in the beginning, very little is said about what awaits them in each case. All that is obvious is that there will be loss, pain, and misery along the way. Despite this, both worlds do a remarkable job at making the reader or player keep going further. Now that the basics are covered, the more I read and the more I play, the better these series work together. If you haven’t read The Dark Tower series, I highly recommend it. If you have, keep reading as I discuss why Darkest Dungeon compliments it so well.
Guilt and Persistence
I was hesitant to jump into Darkest Dungeon at first as I thought the mechanic of permanently losing characters could make the game feel overbearing. Yet when you play as you're reading through The Dark Tower series, it makes your defeats a little less bitter, as it becomes natural to adopt Roland Deschain’s demeanour. Just as Roland will sacrifice anything and anyone to get to the Dark Tower, so will the player to finish the Darkest Dungeon. But in both cases, there is guilt or at the very least regret. In The Gunslinger, Roland knows if he has to he’ll let Jake die to catch the Man in Black and doing so genuinely fills him with guilt, yet in The Drawing of Three, it is apparent that he’d do the same with Eddie and Suzannah Dean. As far as I am in the story, I’m still not sure if Roland is a hero or not but I hope his willingness to give up anything to get to the Tower means that what he will do when he gets there will be noble enough to justify his actions. Losing a character in Darkest Dungeon is not nearly as emotional as the death of Jake in The Gunslinger, but it’s frustrating and as the player, it’s your fault for pushing your party too hard or making some sort of tactical error. Like Roland in The Dark Tower, you have to live with losing a party member. As mentioned before, it’s probably not as emotional as in the books but it’s frustrating losing a party member and considering how that loss will slow down your overall progress. Still, this won’t stop you from occasionally pushing too far and losing another member of your team.
Aside from standing up for video games arguing that entertainment media reflects violence in the world instead of causing it, Stephen King states a disinterest in video games. Despite this, the way Roland adds to his Ka-tet or group in The Gunslinger and especially The Drawing of Three is very reminiscent of party building in a lot of RPG games. In The Gunslinger, Roland befriends Jake at the way station which is normal enough, but to collect Suzannah and Eddie it’s sort of like the “Prisoner” and “Lady of Shadow” doors are levels Roland must beat to unlock new characters. Party building a very common concept in video games but it’s rare that games let you build a party full of characters as flawed as the ones in The Dark Tower. As mentioned earlier, it’s unclear if Roland truly is a hero, as he’s so obsessed with getting to the Tower he’ll sacrifice anyone. Plus along the way he loses fingers, hindering his ability to shoot right handed, becomes dependant on medication to battle a brutal infection and at times he has no idea if his bullets are dry enough to fire. So far Jake is just child-traumatized by the death that sent him into a harsh and unfamiliar world. Eddie had to battle a debilitating heroin addiction and must cope with seeing his brother's severed head. Suzannah is probably the most stable, but it took great effort to rid her of her horrible split personality. No game I’ve played has been able to match this notion of a flawed party like Darkest Dungeon. Sure, you can recruit powerful ranged units, healers, swordsman, and monsters but they all come with some sort of baggage beyond the strengths and weaknesses these archetypes usually have in games. Compulsive behaviours, stress-induced attitudes, diseases, and specific healing criteria can make your party a handful to manage.
Glimmers of Hope
Despite all the doom and gloom Darkest Dungeon offers, it can ease up and reward you when you least expect it in surprising ways. I’m still learning as I play so maybe some concepts are going over my head but every once in a while there’s an extra reward after a mission. It can be an archery competition that levels up idle arbalests that round, a removal of level restrictions so you steamroll a boss your weaker units were stuck on, or most excitingly the chance to revive a dead party member you thought was long gone. Similarly, The Dark Tower has breadcrumbs of hope throughout its pages as well but one stands out as the most emotionally rewarding. The realization that “The Pusher” is not an allusion to Eddie’s addiction but instead references Jack Mort was very clever. Furthermore, Roland killing him, simultaneously curing Suzannah’s split personality and most likely undoing Jake's deaths is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read.