In recent decades, video game culture has become widely accepted in the public sphere. What was once a niche industry that was demonized by politicians has now become bigger than the movie and music industries. But with the rise in popularity of AAA titles, many different skews have been created for video game fans. Huge block buster titles like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are widely acknowledged outside the gaming world, but some skews have gone back to being considered a niche market. Although markets can be divided be country and region, the divide that seems to be referred to most is Western (Australia, US, UK, parts of Europe) and Eastern (Japan, parts of Asia, Russia). This has become even more prevalent for Asian video games, even though they once dominated the Asian and Western markets. Some game series like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda are marketed towards both Eastern and Western markets, but some Asian games still remain niche in the West despite not being marketed towards them. As a result, niche titles can develop a huge cult following, and are often praised as an alternative to run-of-the-mill Western games with similar concepts and gameplay.
One of these games is the Souls series. I know I blog about Dark Souls a lot. That’s because it’s so good! Despite only beginning in 2009 and having three titles, the souls games are some of the most beloved and defended series I have experienced. Fans discuss their experiences and shifts in meta game tactics on popular wiki forums. The latest news on the upcoming title is always one of the most popular topics on hardcore gaming forum NeoGAF. These games have also seen a revival in popularity due to speed runs. Players can live-stream their playthroughs of the Souls games on sites such as Twitch and try to complete the games as fast as possible. Because of the nature of these games, what is usually a 30+ hour single player experience can be completed in 1 hour if you know what you’re doing. Dark Souls is a particular favourite among speed runners, as its entertaining to watch a game with such a huge difficulty curve be overcome with ease.
I think the reason for the cult-like status of these games among Western audiences despite being made for Asian audiences is because it is so different. Gamers who consider themselves “hardcore” are always looking for a challenge, and Western games are becoming increasingly easier as the audience grows. Being able to complete an incredibly difficult game creates a sense of solidarity among other players who have also gone through it. Everyone who has played a Souls game has been evangelized by a friend who continually hassled them until they played it. If they made it through, they have probably done their fair share of evangelizing as well.