Friday, 5 September 2014

Universality and Death


'Human nature', sir?
We feel a loss more intensely  when it’s a friend.
But should not the feelings run just as deep, regardless of who has died?
Maybe they should, Data.


'Human nature', sir?
We feel a loss more intensely  when it’s a friend.
But should not the feelings run just as deep, regardless of who has died?
Maybe they should, Data.


'Human nature', sir?
We feel a loss more intensely  when it’s a friend.
But should not the feelings run just as deep, regardless of who has died?
Maybe they should, Data.
Images posted by Storybook Visitor



Should it be the case that despair at the loss of another living being run as deep, no matter whom has been lost? Should we feel the same sense of loss for the demise of a stranger as we do for a sibling, a parent or a romantic partner? True enough, we all seem to acknowledge that there is a certain feeling that this is an ideal that should be aspired to, though there is also an acknowledgement that this is not how things are.

At a first glance, it might seem, from a moral perspective, that this kind of ‘unbiased’ care is something to be strived for. Any moral approach to the world seemingly must, in the name of consistency, seek universality. By this, I mean that the moral theory must be consistent in the way in which relevantly similar cases are treated, preventing arbitrary application of moral concepts and ideas. 

By this argument, we could surmise that the death of a loved one is just that, a death and that all relevant situations, which would be all deaths, under this line of thinking, should be met with the same kind of deep, heartfelt emotional agony. True enough, if we cared for the lives of others as we do for those closest to us, then we would, as Riker suggests, be significantly less bloody and violent.

However, I think that this view of death and emotional responses to certain situations is overly simplistic and rather problematic. Firstly, it assumes that we can, as Commander Data does, consider all situations death to be relevantly similar to one another, in spite of the fact that death is a complicated ‘event’ (I use the term somewhat broadly) in both its physical happening (there are manifold ways for one’s life to end) and psychologically (in the impact it has on others). 

Skull | 40x30cm | Acrylics on board


Rehearse death! To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He is above, or at any rate, beyond the reach of, all political powers.



Seneca
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Discussed in my entry on the implications of the Jedi and Sith faiths is the idea of relationships of preference as well as an outline as to why I consider them to be fundamentally important for one’s moral nature. If we cannot, due to a requirement of morality, treat some individuals more favourably than others due to the existence of an emotional bond, then we forfeit an integral aspect of our humanity. Our emotions are a fundamental part of our lives and to have the concrete, reciprocated, reified elements of them (our relationships with others) taken away by a moral standard of universality is to take the moral away from the world as we live in it. It is an abstract theoretical idea, the implementation of which is inhuman. 

Under such relationships of preference, we owe those whom we love more of our emotional energy than those we do not love, in virtue of the fact that we love them. In fact, it is not so much a matter of owing anything to them, so much as it is a matter of the fact that loving someone involves devoting more emotional energy to them, without this one cannot truly be said to love them as they might claim. With this increased investment of emotional energy comes an expectation that the impact on one’s life will be greater and thus the vacuum created upon their loss will be greater. 

Though it should not be regarded as simple as ‘the greater an impact they had on my life, the worse I will feel when they are gone’ this principle can be used as a general standard, as a guide which can then be modified by more specific factors, depending upon the situation. Of course, the psychology of grief is exceptionally complicated and it is not a topic I have researched with any degree of depth. I intend only to use this general observation.

Fundamentally, if one cares equally about the death of a loved one and a stranger one is betraying the significance of their relationship of preference. As the name suggests, an integral and definitive part of these relationships is that those within them are granted special status. Simply, if they are not given precedent, if they are not cared for more deeply, then they cannot be said to exist within a relationship of preference. 

Thus, adopting the position of caring about all death equally serves to deconstruct and render impossible these relationships of preference which are integral to human existence, integral to the way in which we understand the world and morally interact within and with it. The result would certainly be a less bloody world, but also a less human world.

However, the impact of this does not end there, for death, though we attempt to hide ourselves from it through many devious tools (both on a personal and political / cultural level), is completely ubiquitous. People around us are dying every day and there is no way to escape this. If we cared about every single death we heard of as much as if it were someone very close to us, our lives would become filled with grief, filled with heartbreak. Imagine turning on the news and hearing yet another murder, another accident, but imagine that every victim was your closest friend, your mother, your father or your lover. You would experience so much grief that either life itself would become entirely consumed by it, or you would become so desensitised to death that the value of life would drop until it meant very little. Neither of these outcomes is in any way desirable. 

If we care about all deaths equally, each individual is forced to bear the pain and loss of the entire human race and that is far too much for any individual to handle. 

Thus, the idea about caring about all human deaths equally is, in my view, no position to be desired to sought for. However, whilst I consider this extreme standard to be somewhat absurd, I find it important to highlight that I am in no way saying that we should not attempt to strive towards being more compassionate to other individuals, or that we should attempt to curb our empathy. In truth, there is not enough empathy present in the world and more of it is to be celebrated, provided that it is does not then go beyond a reasonable standard and become this unrealistic expectation that we should attach the same significance to those important to us and those whom we do not know. 

We should each work to develop our compassion, to develop our care for other people, though we should not apply the same standards of care to all we meet, to do so is inhuman, impossible to achieve and comes with many less-than-desirable connotations.


'Human nature', sir?
We feel a loss more intensely  when it’s a friend.
But should not the feelings run just as deep, regardless of who has died?
Maybe they should, Data.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Dungeons, Dragons and Type Indicators

I adore Dungeons and Dragons. Sure enough, it has earned a particular place in history, with both avid fans and avid opponents, including some (I'll say it outright) misguided individuals who seem to think that it is some kind of cult. Regardless, D&D has become a great monolith within the Fantasy genre and has had a profound impact on a large number of people.

Furthermore, the nature of the game raises some interesting questions about identity. The way in which you play the game is to create and then inhabit a character, who is not you, and yet in many ways is. Given my fascination with D&D, Identity and MBTI more specifically, I began thinking about how they might interact.

Thus, I had an idea to take several of the 4th edition classes and look at the archetypes they represent and then analyse them in terms of MBTI, covering one class for each of the 16 types. I attempted to cover as many of the iconic classes as possible, and as I said I am looking at certain stereotypes within these classes, for as any D&D player will know, your character is not summarised by their class. 

One of the things I found most interesting about writing this was the fact that I felt absolutely no need to squeeze or manipulate, the types seemed to readily gel with the class to which I assigned them. 

So, without further ado, let us take a look at the classes.

Analysts

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INTJ (The Strategist) - The Monk

The primary function of the INTJ is Introverted Intuition, focusing on gathering understanding through overall patterns and symbols. In the same manner, the Monk is an intently introspective class, who increases their proficiency within their class through seeking inner truths within themselves. They use mantras, meditations and other kinds of symbology to guide them on their path, though also rely on their own inner visions and innate understandings. Furthermore, they seek to establish an organised system through which they can understand the world, though this is done in a personal manner, with the universal truths reached through an individual encounter. Monks also attempt to impose an organised structure of belief onto the external world, no matter how much chaos may surround them, able to rationalise even chaos. They are largely rational, though this does not render them unemotional, seeing reality as a project to be understood, thus matching the Extroverted Thinking element of this type. Monks are focused on the virtues and values which they seek to uphold, with these being internally balanced. They determine the worth of that which they encounter based on its underlying truth as it links to their introspective journey. Monks can often seem cold and distant, so ultimately devoted to their strict regime, which keeps them in their monasteries far from the “real” world. However, they do have depth of feeling, they simply fail to express it verbally or openly, though it can be seen in their actions. Finally, they are aware of their surroundings in such a way as they are able to respond quickly to stimuli, as demonstrable by their fighting ability and supreme reflexes.

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INTP (The Architect) - The Wizard

A Wizard is constantly seeking to understand the world in which they live, trying to comprehend the magical elements and organise them into an academic system. In this sense, they are primarily based in Introverted Thinking, for they are constantly examining small pieces of a much larger puzzle (each individual spell is one fragment of the whole of magic) and testing it to see just how it relates to the wider system. However, they do not always engage with magic in a strictly rational manner, sometimes having to relax their overt rationality and instead opt for a more relaxed and free-flowing interaction. Wizards need to be able to notice patterns and trends whilst examining the great complex problem that is magic, when attempting to uncover more, they need to be able to entertain multiple trains of thought. In this way, magic can also become a game. Every experience for a wizard is a chance to learn and they are constantly comparing the now to past experiences and allows them to begin forming an expectation of what is to happen in the future. This is largely empirical and is used by the wizard to conduct experiments and allow them to then plan how to continue with their arcane investigations. Their devotion to advancement and magical progression often leads wizards to hold in their emotions in order to allow a greater degree of progress. They wish to create an environment of good natured competition and harmony, to allow collaboration to produce increased understanding to be attained. However, this harmony also enables the wizard to retreat and then return to the group as needed. 

Assassin by shenfeic
Image posted by Little Dose of Inspiration

ENTJ (The Commander) - The Avenger

Avengers exist for a single reason: to hunt down the enemies of their God. They serve divine beings, ultimately beyond the ken of mortals who have their own plans for the moral world and they share this plan almost completely. Avengers see the world as being in a state in which it should not be. They see it as fallen away from the vision they have of it, the vision of their God. Thus, they seek to impose their ideas upon the outside world, through slaying one of heretical foes at a time. In order to see this plan reach fruition, the Avenger must be able to combine as many ideas and clues as possible in order to look into the future through their secondary function of Introverted Intuition. They must deal both in the abstract and in the practical if their holy vision is to be fulfilled. However, the Avenger cannot always deal with grand schemes and overarching plans, they must deal with immediate situations to overcome present obstacles. They are expected to defeat the enemies of their God, those who stand in their way, thus they require an awareness of the physical world. The emotions of the Avenger are rarely expressed outwardly, instead expressed in quiet gestures. Should one attempt to encourage them to verbally express their feelings, the Avenger would express great conviction, bordering on the melodramatic. Thus, they mostly keep to themselves, drawing strength enough from their convictions.

Image by Scrawny Squall

ENTP (The Inventor) - The Warlock

The Inventor is unique and focused on making connections, likewise the Warlock’s art is just that, an art. They do not master the arcane through discipline and academia, but instead through intuition and through force of will and personality. Their powers are individual in nature, granted by the relationships they form with beings and creatures beyond the ken of mortals. Existing outside of the usual norm, Warlocks challenge the status quo, they raise questions and are always able to argue against another’s view, serving as devils advocates (such a pun). Their precise ability to deconstruct an argument and turn it on its head is an indication of keen mental abilities, though it is often not used to further the creation of their own belief structures, as their spontaneous drive often overpowers it. The Warlock uses their emotions to channel their powers and thus they are able to express themselves and form emotional connections to others easily if they so choose. Though they deal with dark forces, it is not impossible for their more emotional and harmonious, good-natured side to bloom, especially in Warlock heroes. Finally, the Introverted Sensing element of the Inventor acts to counterbalance the Warlock’s desire to rebel, for whilst they consistently question the norms and proclamations given by society, they rarely chose to reject them all, often choosing to obey in many situations. 

Diplomats

It’s strong. It’s beautiful. It’s women’s armor done RIGHT. Thank you, Eva Widermann!
Artwork@Wizards of the Coast
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INFJ (The Counsellor) - The Cleric

More than any other type (excluding, perhaps, INTJs), Counsellors are aware of the unconscious processes and often unseen influences which go on inside of each individual. Clerics too require this kind of insight into others, this almost supernatural affinity for understanding and clarity when it comes to those around them. Though they work within a belief system, the Cleric’s potency for understanding allows them to deal with individuals, rather than with placeholders to be dealt with dogmatically. Each individual needs something slightly different and the Cleric understands this, led by their Introverted Intuition, which also deals with their faith, allowing them to interface with these complicated and theological concepts with greater ease than most. Clerics are emotionally aware people and they possess an exceptional depth of feeling, though they also consider others, with their emotional focus oriented outwards, thus creating a divide between the desire to express themselves and the willingness to allow others the freedom from their own expression. Clerics rarely express their own emotional difficulties, and if they do it is only to a select few. Instead, they are more concerned with the feelings of others. When engaged in thought, the Cleric is likely to retreat from others, allowing themselves the time and space to logically organise their inner world, which is largely formed from visions, convictions, ideas and feelings, all of which can lead to chaos if they are not somehow controlled. This Introverted Thinking is most clearly demonstrated in the Cleric’s need to meditate and pray. Though they ultimately live in a world of ideas and ideals, Clerics are able to appreciate the real and the pragmatic, though this is the area in which they perhaps least excel. They enjoy home comforts and have a great appreciation for the little things life is able to offer them. However, the Cleric is far more at home with the less defined areas of existence, in the realm of ideas and feelings, of people and faith.

PHoto by 
https://www.facebook.com/JukkaAlasaariPhotography
Image posted by Lady Mantheniel

INFP (The Idealist) - The Druid

Idealists are, fundamentally, pulled away from the world and towards the ideal and whilst some might consider this to put them at odds with a nature oriented class, one must recall that Druids act both as guardians of nature and emissaries to the spirit world. Ultimately, they see the power of nature as something deeply personal, which enhances their individual inner world, but which is also excellently expressed and thus communicable, which is exceptionally important for a Diplomatic type. Value for a Druid is something which is judged in comparison to their inner ideals, which are based around the virtues provided by nature, embracing both elements of harmony and competition. Druids are able to understand and express the complexity of the natural and spiritual worlds, able to embrace both the serenity and ferocity present within nature. Every facet of the spiritual leads into newer facets, for the spiritual explorations of the Druid are endless. When observing nature, the Druid does so in a very personal and intimate way, allowing them to use their senses as a route into memory, drawing them towards an inner harmony, often considered to be a central part of both the Idealist and the Druid. Finally, Druids do turn their attention to the outside world, especially when they need to protect their own environments and restore their inner vision of what the world should be like. More often than not, however, Druids are willing to let the world deal with its own problems, especially beyond their immediate environments. They prefer to guide than overpower.

Sands of the Soul by Raymond Swanland
Image posted by Swords And Sorcerers

ENFJ (The Giver) - The Ardent

The power of the Ardent is emotion and in the same way the Giver’s primary function is Extraverted Feeling. Their primary role is to bolster and empower those around them through acting as a supernatural caregiver, literally manipulating and uplifting the feelings of their comrades in order to lead them forwards. This emotional fluency is not solely positive however, for the Ardent is able to turn the emotions of their enemies against them, just as any ENFJ knows exactly what to say to upset somebody else, though they ultimately wish to spread positivity and promote harmony. Ardents can experience the emotions of others as well as express their own, they pull emotionally energy into themselves from external sources, finding great strength, but also weakness, in other people. When it comes to understanding, Ardents use emotion as a gateway to conceptual thought and process things within themselves, led by an inner vision, an ideal which they wish to see expressed in the world. Importantly, whilst an Ardent might live primarily in a world of feelings and abstract ideas, they remain grounded in the physical world and are able to tie their more conceptual side into the every day. Whilst they can be cold and logical, this style is only ever used if its implementation and results are supported by that which feeling produces. Rationality can be a useful tool, but Ardents deal with people, who they understand emotionally, rather than rationally.


Pulled myself out of my art slump with this portrait of my ranger, Idryd! I dunno what it is about the salads, but I love them so. :B

[Submitted by kisskicker]
Image posted by Guild Wars 2

ENFP (The Champion) - The Ranger

A ranger lives in a world of sensory information, the wild, this much is true, though their major focus is on upon that which is, but upon the abstract connections and potentials which exist within the natural world. All of nature is interlinked and the ranger understands this well enough and seeks to understand it further. They have a huge respect for the natural world but also know how to exploit it to their advantage in ways that those not native to it cannot even begin to fathom. Rangers seek understanding of themselves through the natural world and their connection to it, especially those who fight side-by-side with a beast companion. A Ranger’s convictions and ideals are often their own and whilst they are able to greatly connect with those who share them, they often do not seek to promote them in others, at least not with exceptional further. Mostly, Rangers are content to live the way they do, firm in their own beliefs. However, this general trend is coupled with a seemingly contradictory desire to promote respectful use and harmonious interaction with the natural world, thus there is an element of a desire to change the world in which they live and to be able to share their lifestyle with others. Being in the natural environment for so long, the Ranger is forced to learn by trial and error, comparing current experience to memories.

Sentinels

Goblin illustration for Tellest by PRDart

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Image posted by The Tygre

ISTJ (The Guardian) - The Fighter

Guardians are firm traditionalists and in the same vein, Fighters rely on discipline, practice and training in often ancient, or at least established, styles of fighting. They are hugely based within trial and error, only really able to learn and art like fighting through practice and training. It is hardly something that theoretical experience alone can teach. The fighter seeks to use their skills and their understandings in order to fight for something. Naturally, this leads to the imposition of their will and desire on the outer world through the promoting of a cause and lending their martial strength to it. For the Fighter, achieving a goal is often a case of progressing towards it, one clearly-defined step (or battle) at a time. Their power based in the physical world, Fighters are practically minded. Whilst able to feel deep and powerful emotions, just as any type, Fighters, who are often soldiers and thus deal with death more regularly than most, are able to contain those emotions within themselves and only express them through gestures and actions rather than with words. A Fighter may jest about his feelings, though honest expression is rarely through lengthy conversation, unless they are experiencing a period of great strength. Fighters love facts and, whilst they must be able to have at least some ability to deal with potentials and possibilities, especially when it comes to battle tactics, they often find it difficult to look beyond what is immediately present, though this does make them unfailingly practical.

Northern Cross Priestess by lasahido
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ISFJ (The Protector) - The Invoker

An Invoker may devote a great deal of their time to promoting a particular vision of what the world should be like, though much of the work towards this is done inside themselves, for they must first come to terms with their ideas about the world in which they live. They primarily deal in the general ideas, principles or platonic forms, the shape and nature of which are given to them by the Gods to whom they are sworn, allowing them to then develop codes and axioms through which they can approach the outer world. Their approach to this world is one of emotion, in which they use their own passion to ignite a fire within the hearts of those around them in order to promote their particular vision of the world. However, their promoting of this world view is not done without a constant questioning of the inner ideals they possess. Though their dedication to their Deity is great, for Protectors are extremely loyal, they do consistently question the best way in which to realise their will. To this goal, they are tireless. However, it is possible for the Invoker to become ungrounded by their devotion to their ideals and begin to slip away from the immediate situation, which is a snare they might seek to avoid.

Crusader by shenfeic
Image posted by Mere Recorder

ESTJ (The Enforcer) - The Paladin

The Paladin is often closely united with tradition and the established order, through the form of religious organisations and because of their involvement with these orders they have certain religious principles drilled into them. Through the implementation of these principles, the Paladin is able to make difficult and impersonal decisions quickly and remain dedicated to their conclusions. Their motivation is to seek truth and that which is right, able to clearly define their objectives (which are often prescribed by their Deity) and the steps which must be taken to work toward it. They deal with internal concepts in the form of virtues and religious principles, though this Introverted Sensing is held in check by the Extroverted Thinking which dominates the Enforcer type, yet it does give them a love for discipline. In spite of this discipline and typically black and white way of seeing the world, the Paladin is able to consider things beyond the immediate and think about possibilities, though this is a skill to which they do not automatically end themselves, for they are far more intently focused on matters of fact and how those facts and situations can be manipulated. Ever stoic, a Paladin does not lend themselves to expression of emotion, their feelings kept in check by their radical discipline.

Reclamation Sage by Clint Cearly
Image posted by Swords and Sorcerers

ESFJ (The Provider) - The Barbarian

Barbarians live in a world of raw feeling and sensation, ultimately driven by their emotions. They are drawn to the physical and express themselves with regard to the outer world and the people they find there. Often, they are warm and caring people, even if their sense of humour can be on the morbid side, on occasion. It is through harnessing these emotions that the Barbarian is able to make a difference in the world, through taming their inner fire and only allowing themselves to release control at the opportune moment: the Barbarian’s Rage is an archetypical example of Extroverted Feeling. All Barbarian interactions with the world seek to feed or quench this inner fire. They are certainly able to refract and stew on their experiences and, when feeling inevitably becomes involved, things can become blown out of proportion. Providers wear their hearts on their sleeve. Barbarians also display some of the more relaxed approaches of Extraverted Intuition, for one must remember that, as a primal class, Barbarians are tied to the spiritual and to the realm beyond the mortal. However, driven as they are by emotional responses to the physical world, the Barbarian’s ability to deal with the more abstract parts of their philosophy is perhaps not quite as deep as to allow them to fully grasp it. This is no real bother, however, for such systems need followers who are oriented more to the physical world, rather than the Druids, whose focus is on the spiritual. So focused on expression and emotion, nothing upsets the Barbarian more than the thought of having to deal with those whose systems are more rigid and who do not express themselves openly. 

Explorers

Halt Order
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ISTP (The Crafter) - The Artificer

Analysis and the ability to deconstruct and reconfigure the arrangement of an argument or an idea is key to the Crafter and, as inventors (in the non-technical sense) themselves, Artificers rely on their keen ability to interact with that which they are working on, precision and dedication being key. Their thinking is Introverted and thus centred on themselves, and the Artificer is a free spirit at heart, preferring to be left alone to get on with their own business, to create and invent in the privacy of their own laboratory. Sensory experience is also of great importance for the Artificer, for they need to look out at the world and see that which is lacking and how their inventions could perhaps fill that void. Artificers are prone to see their work as a puzzle, as a detective story and thus conduct themselves accordingly. Though their intuition is not the most developed of their capabilities, Artificers do possess the function of Introverted Intuition, which allows them to access their gut instincts, though this is not usually something over which they have much influence or control, instead allowing such instincts to come when they come, rather than seeking them out. Both rational and spontaneous, the Artificer has little trouble expressing their emotions, though their emotional part is almost entirely subservient to their more rational and sensing elements.

Stained Glass Monsters by Julie Dillon
Image posted by Swords and Sorcerers

ISFP (The Composer) - The Psion

Dominated by Introverted Feeling, the Composer’s focus is on the self, though this is ultimately not a selfish attitude, for they seek a clarity of emotional understanding the focus of which is largely independent of the outside world (though not entirely). Comparatively, Psions live very much within their own minds and their powers are stimulated largely from their inner values and understandings. It is no surprise that they match this type when one considers that the growth of a Psion is not the same as that of a Wizard, in that it is not abstract and academic but more of a personal journey within the self in order to unlock inner, psionic power. Both are thus dominated by Introverted Feeling. Their powers, however, are not so self-contained, for the very mark of a Psion is one who can take their inner power and express it into the physical world. This is not done emotionally however, though the Psion does possess a strong awareness of their environment, specifically oriented towards how they can manipulate it. Though their power comes from the mind and the inner world, they enjoy and take great pleasure in the outer world through Extroverted Sensing. At the back of their inner world are the wild and free concepts of psionic power, and whilst Psions possess the ability to take great advantage of their gut instinct, this instinct is relatively undeveloped and their ability to deal with the abstract can often become strained by the implications of their powers and abilities. Thus, many Psions must devote a great deal of time to developing this self-reflection. Finally, Psions do possess an ability to use Extroverted Thinking in an attempt to impose an organising structure upon the world. However, as their minor function, it is not always possible to do this with great precision, though this is not to suggest that a Psion is unable to deal with and seek to impose such structures.

Image posted by Daaud

ESTP (The Adventurer) -  The Rogue

Of all the classes, Rogues rely most on their sensory experiences and input in order to survive, though the means of Extroverted Sensing. They do not possess the strength of Fighters or the magical abilities of the Wizard and yet they are able to handle themselves in the vast majority of situations based solely upon their own wit and perception. A Rogue is entirely immersed in the moment and through the use of their senses, they come to understand their environment and manipulate it to their advantage. This ability does not begin and end with the physical environment, however, for the Rogue is also exceptionally adept at reading other people and noticing consistencies within behaviour patterns, as well as being able to monitor such things within themselves, giving them a cunning edge when it comes to deception. Though they rely on impulse and their senses, Rogues retain a strong analytic ability, able to focus on the details of a situation and how the details relate to the bigger picture. Through this Introverted Thinking function, the Rogue is able to formulate plans of action, though they do ultimately rely on their senses and thus their plans can change very quickly. The feelings of a rogue are often used for their own pleasure and, whilst this does not rule out their having deep relationships with others, the typical rogue is far more interested in hedonism and pleasure, this being due to their fluency in sensation. They are also able to use emotions in a manipulative manner, giving them the ability to influence others through their feelings. Rogues are, however, often not fluent with sincere feeling and thus this can be their undoing. The Rogue also retains the ability to deal with abstract concepts and ideas, which can help them in producing original ideas. Ultimately, however, they are more acquainted with the actual than the potential.

Bard by Clint Cearly
Image posted by Swords and Sorcerers

ESFP (The Performer) - The Bard

A type associated with those who live life to the full and who often see life as a constant celebration, it is appropriate to consider the Bard to be of the Performer type. The Bard is primarily focused on the here and now and this means that they can often become lost in their own performances, able to inhabit the music in a very immersive manner. They focus upon allowing others to share in their own experiences, and experience is fundamentally important for the Bard, for they consistently seek out that which they have not yet experienced and dream of feeling something truly novel. The Bard needs to experience new things, need to experience the now, for this is exactly how they find the material for their next composition. Bards are also exceptionally emotional, though they often struggle to express their feelings beyond their performances, which take solitude and introspection to organise and prepare for. A Bard will deal with their emotions in private, thus demonstrating Introverted Feeling, though this does not prevent them from expressing themselves indirectly, through their work. Bards are often viewed as being deeply poetic types, the kind of person one might be able to take advantage of and this can often be the case, though they do possess the ability to ward off such manipulations through transforming their inner expressions into a plan of action, though this is ability is not as strong as they might like. Finally, Bards deal with some complicated ideas within their works and they thus possess the ability to look out into the expanse of possibilities and observe the connections between various concepts. However, they are ultimately devoted to expression and thus often do not seek to develop this ability. 


I know this entry has been exceedingly long, so huge thanks for reading!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Feeling the Force – Emotion within the Religions of Star Wars

A topic covered extensively by many Star Wars enthusiasts concerns the links of the Jedi religion to that of various schools of Buddhism. I, for one, have definitely noticed (not so much when I first experienced the series as a child, more so now that I have done some peripheral research into various Buddhist topics) how readily certain ideas within the Jedi religion lend themselves to comparison with some ideas within the Buddhist belief structure. 

Of course, there are many who love the series who would argue that such comparisons are of no merit, as we are dealing with a fantasy world here. To those individuals I would say, fair enough, you can consider it to be pure escapism if you wish, but also that the world we live in is so amply called a world, as it is our entire realm of experience. Thus, it informs any attempt to escape it, it bleeds into the fantasies we create for ourselves and there are many of us who enjoy picking apart these fantasies, not with the intention to be critical of them (at least not all the time) but to use the ideas presented within it as a kind of thought experiment, as a projection of thought which might be able to reveal to us something about the world beyond the escapist fantasy.
Star Wars
S - Lpis
Image posted by Quark Master

My intention is not to replicate a post drawing such comparisons, for sources (which are far more informed than I) have already done so. However, to provide an illustration of the kinds of comparison I am discussing, one need only look at the concept of the Force. Within the Star Wars universe, the Force is a power which resonates throughout the whole of creation, a metaphysical power which is linked to life itself. This in itself can be compared to eastern ideas of the Chi, though the more interesting comparison comes with the examination of the idea that Jedi strive to become unified with the force after they die. Likewise, within Buddhist thought, the goal is to avoid rebirth through relinquishing attachment and achieve a unity with the rest of creation, ultimately relinquishing one’s individuality, which is, within Buddhism, often viewed as illusory. Of course, some of those who achieve such unity remain as force ghosts, though this in itself is comparable to the idea of certain figures within Buddhism who are able to return to this world in order to help guide those who have yet to attain Nirvana. 

Now that I have addressed such cavils, it is time to turn my attention to that which I wish to focus on in this entry: Emotions.

Jedi Catechisms

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Presented above is the Jedi Code, the central tenants of their religion, the principles which inform their actions, which guide them on how to behave. True enough, the code itself does not provide instruction in the same as, for example, the ten commandments of the Judeo-Christian faith. Instead, this code present a series of assertions which are phrased somewhat metaphysically. They are presented in pairs, denying one thing and affirming its opposite. On one reading, we could consider this to be actively denying the existence of certain things, though a more likely interpretation is that they are presenting certain ideas as undesirable. 

Emotion, ignorance, passion, chaos and death all exist. They are not things which can be denied, at least not in the same way that certain metaphysical concepts (with the exception of chaos, which is one such metaphysical concept) can be doubted, for they are each very real parts of the experience of life. 

Thus, I consider the code to be largely arguing against certain concepts, prescriptively instructing its adherents to move away from them and instead embrace certain other ideals, which are contrasted against those prohibited. 

Some of these contrasts, however, seem to be somewhat questionable. When someone is peaceful, they often say that they “feel” peaceful or they “feel” at peace. Likewise, we experience our emotions as a “feeling”. This does not entirely deconstruct or disregard the comparison which has been established here, but it allow us to contrast the two concepts without viewing them as being in complete opposition. Likewise, serenity and passion are by no means entirely opposed, for the former is a lack of trouble and the latter is simply and enthusiasm or desire. Naturally passion can often lead away from serenity, but, unless we understand serenity as opposed to excitement (which is possible), then there is no reason to see them as in direct opposition. Finally, chaos and harmony are by no means opposed. Chaos is opposed to orderly, whereas harmony means without opposition. I consider it possible for something to be without order yet without opposition. Of course, here chaos is characterised in its links to destruction, though we need not consider these two ideas wed. 

“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi's life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.” - Anakin

Fundamentally, the Jedi are against emotions, against attachments. On the surface, this seems relatively unproblematic, for it seeks to attain an ethical ideal in which one surrenders their ego, their self-centeredness and attempts to give themselves entirely to others generally, rather than to another individual. It seeks complete equality, to open up compassion to all with not conditions required. At first, it seems like this is a good thing, that this is something we should all try to work towards. Whilst I agree that a little more selflessness would be a good thing and that I would more than encourage others (and myself) to seek to act with greater depth of compassion, striving to undo attachments does cause a few problems.

First of all, this kind of extreme equality completely deconstructs and eliminates what we can term “Relationships of Preference”. By this I mean any kind of relationship which, by definition, requires preferential treatment. The most iconic of these would be marriage or committed romantic attachment. You save your loved one over a stranger because they are your loved one. In virtue of being your loved one, granting this kind of preferential treatment is, in a way, required. Of course, this has limits. It is more justifiable to save your loved one over one stranger, less so to save them over five strangers and almost completely non-justifiable to save them over one thousand strangers.

Of course, Jedi, like many members of religious orders, are discouraged from forming romantic attachments, engaging in sensual relations and producing children, so these love relations are openly forbidden by them, thus weakening the criticism. This is true, but romantic relationships are not the only Relationships of Preference. Another, more important one is friendship.

Friendship too is a relationship of preference, for you favour your friends over those you do not know. If you do not, then the integrity of the friendship is called into question. Obviously, friendships, as with all human relationships, are complex and vary infinitely based on the difference combinations of individuals and circumstances. Yet, underneath the specifics, the very concept of a friendship is one based on preference and attachment.

Yet, these two things are forbidden by the strict ethical aspirations of the Jedi, at least in theory. In practice, attachments are obviously going to develop between masters and padawan and between members of the order more generally. However, underneath this, their spiritual philosophy does not encourage them to embrace such attachment, but to attempt to transcend it.

I am not sure on my thoughts on this, at least not entirely, though I think it difficult to build a belief system based on compassion if, at its very centre, it conceptually forbids all preference and therefore the very idea of friendship. 

The Dark Side

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” - Yoda

Now, the Jedi have their reasons for this opposition to emotions, as they seek emotions themselves as a link to what they deem to be the evil, Dark Side of the Force. According to their believe system, anyone who attempts to wield the force and yet who embraces their emotions is doomed to fall from the light side of the force and become corrupted by a force of destruction, leading away from equality and peace and into rage, domination and passion.
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Presented above is the Sith Code, which presents itself more as a pathway than the code of the Jedi. It opens through establishing passion as truth, contrasting it to peace and then showing how this can lead one onwards into other, stronger concepts, with the ultimate goal being that of freedom.

If they Jedi seek unity with the force and to undo the bonds of individualism, the Sith seek to wholeheartedly bask in their ego, in their individual identity. This comes with a terrible narcissistic side effect, in turn leading to megalomania. Essentially, the Sith embrace what the Jedi try to escape: emotion, particularly the darker feelings of fear and hatred. In embracing these feelings and harnessing their strength, the Sith gains great power, but they do so at the expense of their own control, for ultimately they become slaves to their own unfettered emotions, which they are unable to impose control over, for fear of losing them and thus the source of their own power. 

Sith are powered on uncontrolled desire and there is a possible allusion to the philosophy of Nietzsche, more specifically the idea of the Will to Power, which is loosely considered to be the driving force behind all humanity: the desire for influence and power. Likewise, the Sith ultimately seek control, corrupted by their uncontrolled desires.

However, the Jedi have seemingly tarnished all emotion due to the threat of the Dark Side. Rather than acknowledging that darker emotions can bring a great amount of power and corruption and yet realising that this corruption is not only linked to darker emotions but also to the manner and degree with which they are embraced, they instead treat the very concept of emotion as the element of corruption. 

One possible argument, which I personally do not regard highly, is that the Jedi are not at all contra emotions, but instead they oppose themselves to uncontrolled emotions, to wild and unshackled passion, which, alongside the emotions involved, seems to be half of that which leads to one’s becoming a Sith. However, the very first line of the Jedi code “there is no emotion” defies this interpretation, as it sets their entire philosophy up in opposition to the very idea of emotion.

Fundamentally, I consider attachment and emotions as something which has an important role within the life of a human being. I sympathise with the Buddhist viewpoint, as a great deal of suffering lies within such things and I definitely contend that there is something important in their attitudes. Releasing yourself of some attachment and feeling can be excellent, but removing it entirely, seems to strip you of one of the most innately human aspects of being a person.
Maul
By:rashomike
Image posted by Tobuyaz


Of course, we cannot go the other way and wallow in our feelings all the time, as reason as an equally important part to play within the framework of being. A concept which is explored within the work of Plato is the idea that passion and desire are both important for the individual to be a complete person, yet must always be guided (not controlled, as some might think) by reason and rationality. 

Star Wars however, does not do this. Its narrative, especially within the film series, less so in the expanded universe (which is, in my opinion, the best part), very clearly establishes it as a fight between good and evil, with the Jedi and their “emotionless” philosophy firmly presented as good with any alternative presented as wrong or associated with the Dark Side. Ultimately, Star Wars seems to hold a strange message that emotions cannot be trusted, that those with power (shown within as the force) must always strive to abstract away from the emotions which make us fully fleshed out individuals.

My attitude it simple: both sides are wrong in their approach to emotions and this is why neither of them ultimately manage to succeed, as even though the films conclude with the fall of the Dark Side, one glance at the expanded universe reveals that light and dark have struggled and overcome one another cyclically throughout history. 

Therefore, I consider neither the Jedi nor the Sith to have the ultimate philosophy due to their inability to deal with emotions in an understandable manner. Emotions are fundamentally important to us both as indicators of identity, and also as elements of morality (those moral systems which attempt to abstract away from emotion seem to ultimately prove hollowly impractical) and thus cannot be expunged, as the Jedi would have it. However, they cannot be allowed to run riot, otherwise we result in an inability to exist within plurality. Uncontrolled emotions allow the ego to swell, make an individual truly that, individual with no ability to recognise the full humanity of another person. Only through tempering emotion with empathy and compassion can this be achieved. 

Thanks for reading :)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Javik - Beneath the Surface

Though it was included in my first MBTI series, I have not written extensively on characters from Mass Effect outside of this initial series and have decided that, seeing as it is such a supremely rich narrative, that this would definitely have to change. Thus, I have been thinking about which character should receive the 'honour' of being the first Mass Effect character to undergo deep analysis. After some discussion, and a little bit of coercion, I have come to the conclusion that the subject of this entry is to be Javik.

Image posted by Madame de Fer

Remnant of a Fallen People

Devised by the Intelligence (one billion years, or so, before the plot of Mass Effect begins), an advanced race of synthetic beings known as the Reapers are created to preserve organic life and solve the recurring problem that organic life will always seek to create synthetic life which will in turn attempt to eradicate and overthrow those who made them. These Reapers proceeded to create a cosmic cycle in which they arrive and tear down civilisation, harvesting the races to create new Reapers and then attempting to hide all trace of their presence once they have gone, clearing the way for new species to develop until it is their turn to be harvested. 

In the cycle immediately prior to that which is featured in Mass Effect (fifty thousand years before the narrative begins), the ruling people were the Protheans. This term exists in two senses, for there was a biological species of Protheans, from whom the name came, but it was also applied to members of many other races who were forced into becoming part of the Prothean empire, which pleaced the Prothean species at its head. The empire was formed in response to an encounter with a threatening machine intelligence (not the Reapers). In uniting the other races beneath them, and crushing those peoples who did not join with them, the Prothean people were victorious in what came to be known as the Metacon War. 

"Vengeance is the goal, suicide is not."

However, when the Reapers arrived, their first act was the retaking of the Citadel, which was the centre of Protehan government. With access to all their records, the Reapers turned the unification which the Protheans had forced on all of the races, which had been their greatest strength, into their greatest weakness. Their Empire was shattered and over the next few centuries, the remaining Protheans were found and destroyed. 

Yet, the Protheans were set on survival and a plan was set in motion. A Protehan Avatar, an individual selected to embody one of their societal virtues, of Vengeance, Javik, was selected to enter status on the remote planet of Eden Prime, alone with one million warriors. Their task was to sleep out the Reapers and awaken once the danger had passed in order to rebuild the empire. 

Their plan failed. Betrayed to indoctrinated spies, Eden Prime was attacked and where one million Protheans should have been preserved, only one endured. Javik. 

Legacy of a Primordial Empire

In the previous section, I have attempted to present Javik's story as concisely yet fully as possible, though in doing so I have perhaps done some disservice to the narrative employed within Mass Effect itself. The Protheans are mentioned from the very first level of the very first game and yet the few answers which are given as to who they were (some of which have been mentioned above) are not revealed until the end of the third game.


Importantly, the Protheans have had a profound impact upon the peoples of the follow cycle, including humanity. Thus, in order to understand Javik, it is important to discuss and illuminate the ways in which the Protheans are considered and presented prior to his appearance. 

Images posted by Mythic Beast

From the offset of the series, we are given a certain picture of the Protheans as this exceptionally advanced, progenitor race who possessed exceptional technology yet who are shrouded in mystery, for they are known to have vanished, though nobody knows exactly why. 

Prothean technology is able to do things which that of the species cannot. 

Though they are wrongly credited with the creation of the Mass Relay network and the Citadel (both of which are, in fact, Reaper tools to manipulate development and allow a more streamlined harvest) the Protheans' expansive empire has lead to discovery of Prothean ruins and technology across the Galaxy. Most importantly, the Prothean cache on Mars is responsible for giving humanity a technological leap, allowing them to join the galactic community two hundred years earlier than they would have done otherwise, before the coming of the Reapers. The discover of a Prothean beacon in an important Asari temple, as well as Prothean-like figures appearing in Asari mythology, may indicate that the technological prowess of the Asari can also be attributed to the use of Prothean technology.

Thus, the image of the Protheans which is established from the outset of the series is that of an exceptionally advanced race and much of our early impressions of them is established through the character of Dr. Liara T'soni, who has spent half a century researching the Protheans and is considered to be an authority on them. Liara is evidently highly respectful of the Protheans, somewhat regarding them as having set a cultural and technological standard to which she appears to aspire.

Before discussing how Javik himself relates to these expectations, there is one final aspect of the Prothean legacy to discuss: the Hanar. This betentacled race view the Protheans as Gods, referring to them as the Enkindlers, giving them the responsibility for having given them speech and uplifting them. Therefore, whilst the Protheans seem largely responsible for enabling technological advancement for most of the races, they are also viewed, by some, as deities akin to the extraterrestrial figures present in Ancient Astronaut theories.

 

But how does this relate to Javik himself?

Primarily, Javik defies the majority of these expectations and he does so by both serving to enlighten us as to what the Protheans were truly like, but also by not being, in and of himself, the best representative for his entire species.

As Javik is the only Protehan remaining and thus the only one which is encountered (there are a few virtual intelligences modelled after Protheans, though these are computer simulations, not individuals in their own right) he is the de facto representative of his entire race. When Javik speaks, he speaks with the only remaining, 'pure' Prothean voice. There are no other examples to which we can point, he alone remains and thus we, rightly or wrongly, judge his race by the standards which he presents.

This in itself allows us to form a very narrow opinion. One can illustrate this by pointing to the real world. Those who have only ever met one person from a certain part of the world inevitable shape our opinions based around this individual. This is only lightly linked to cultural manifestations such as stereotyping, and it certainly should not be considered to be, in and of itself, racist, as it is not something which is chosen, it is simply a natural, mental faculty to base your expectations off your experiences. The narrower your experiences, the more limited of an understanding one can possess. Of course, this can lead to discrimination and other kinds of poor behaviour, though this is not a necessity.

Images posted by Vertigos

In our considerations of the Protheans, we are given this picture of an advanced culture, a place where both art and science flourished and things we could not even dream of were considered to be part of the everyday. Upon finding Javik, Liara is elated at the thought of conversing with one of the greatest scientific minds of the Prothean race, of debating philosophy and learning all she can of the Prothean culture.

But Javik is a warrior, not a scientist. He was for all intents and purposes bred to embody the very virtue of vengeance, created to fight and kill Reapers. He does not understand how the advanced technology of his people functioned, though he is certainly vocal about his dislike for current technology, which he views as clunky.

Furthermore, Javik never saw the great Prothean empire in its prime. He was born after the coming of the Reapers, his entire life has been one of struggle and confrontation. This fact is an exceptionally important one when it comes to understand Javik, for it is at odds with the purpose for which he was created. His mission was to hide in stasis, emerge with his soldiers and rebuild the Prothean empire, yet how can he rebuild that which he never truly knew? True enough, Prothean memory shards and their ability to share information and memories through touch (which will be discussed later) has allowed him to learn and experience much, he has only been able to know that to which he was created to aspire through such means, he has never truly experienced it for himself.


Yet, he has had Prothean ideas and values instilled within him. Understandably then, upon his awakening it takes some time for him to exhibit any warmth. Not only is he dealing with the loss of his people, which is to him as fresh as if it had happened moments ago, rather than 50,000 years, he is surrounded by the evolved forms of races all of his given memories and ideas tell him are underdeveloped, they are his lessers. This is where his arrogance comes from, his superior attitude. It is not because he is a terrible individual, but his very life was created to preserve a culture which tells him that we are beneath him and he is loathe to allow the viewpoints of his people (as vastly outdated as they may be) to be eroded, for as they are weakened so too is his purpose.

Furthermore, Javik reveals to us the Cosmic Imperative, which he, at least, considers to be a central concept with Prothean philosophy. Effectively, this is simply an understanding of the cosmos in which evolution is considered to be the fundamental driving force and is given greater importance than other methods of understanding. This belief sets Javik at odds with other individuals, notably Liara, and also serves to highlight that Javik is an exceedingly pragmatic individual. He is not the idea-oriented thinker Liara and many others might suspect a Prothean to be, he is a soldier and a firm believer, for it is his role to preserve them, in the Prothean Imperial attitudes. It is also suggested that the Prothean empire was exceptionally strict with heavy emphasis on discipline, thus these ideas will have been drilled into him further.

Therefore, Javik is the last representative of a culture he himself never really knew, yet one which, if her were able, he would restore. The failure of his plan has meant that his mission has failed, for he is the last of his kind and his empire is little more than somebody else's memory within his own head. He has only one goal remaining, though this is his goal only because there is nothing else he can do: ending the cycle and defeating the reapers.

Images posted by Oerbayun

Uneasy Intimacy

As a Prothean, Javik possesses a physiological ability similar to psychometry, which allows him to recall the experiences of others through physical touch, also allowing them to glean similar information from objects. Furthermore, this ability allows the communication of complicated ideas, with a single touch enough to attain complete fluency in another language or reach a competent level with a complicated skill. One might think that which such an ability, Javik would have little ability assimilating into a new world. However, this ability is as much a hindrance as a help.

True enough, Javik adapts must faster than most to his new environment, though he has come from a world in which everyone he knows is able to communicate entirely through the medium of touch, which, I assume, meant that Protheans were a far more open people (more so considering that they can pick-up memories from objects as well). 

In a society in which all members (or at least the majority) are able to access this ability, it would allow individuals to become exceptionally close in a very short space of time, both able to reach the same level of understanding of the other. However, when Javik uses such an ability, the other individual cannot reciprocate in the same way, and though he is able to transfer some of himself to them, this side of his ability appears to be more limited and thus there remains an inequality. Thus, he is able to discover and "get to know" others much faster than they are able to get to know him, which other individuals find alienating and intimidating, thus creating a gap between him and they. 

Image posted by Renegade Paladin

Much of this stems from the fact that the way in which he can reach such intimate understanding is through memory, which he is able to view without the consent of another person, who is usually required to actively share their own memories. Thus, with a single touch, he crosses lines which our culture considers to be unacceptable, though he cannot switch off this ability, at least not easily.

Furthermore, whilst he can learn from others and view their memories, he is doing so through a Prothean lens, without a full comprehension of the cultural cues and concepts which others possess. Thus, he can view as many memories as he wishes, but these alone do not allow him to fully understand their significance and often serve to further confuse him. 

Identity is something that is, even at a very fundamental level, shaped by one's connections to other people. Cultural, social, dialectical constructions of identity all rely upon such connections and whilst it is possible, to some degree, to consider the mind of an individual independently of the external, such solipsistic attempts at understanding personality are less comprehensive that others (though there are some merits to them). Javik's links to others are fragmented and damaged, for he truly comes from a completely different world, and is thus unable to understand where he has found himself. However, he never truly knew the world which he was created to recreated and has lost all of his comrades and fellow Protheans. Javik is caught between two worlds and is kept in the middle of them entirely alone. The world of the past is forever lost and can never return and yet, it is so heavily present within him that he cannot fully embrace the present into which he has been hurtled. 

Conclusion

Javik's role within Mass Effect is more than just a representative for the Prothean race, though he is certainly used in this way, being the only living Prothean encountered in the game. He additionally serves as a reminder that, whilst the devastation caused by the Reapers is horrific in this cycle, that there exists infinite worlds and peoples outside of those known of by humanity. In Javik, the Protheans and countless other beings find one to speak for their loss, find an individual who fights for them more directly than Shepherd, who has huge stakes in defeating the Reapers in this cycle. Javik too, wishes the cycle to end, but it is not his race on the line, for his people have already fallen.

In many ways, one can consider Javik to be a ghost, little more than a remnant of the past, though he has a spirit in and of himself. Whilst much of that which defines him is his being Prothean, he should not be considered as typical, but rather as what the Protheans became when their empire was in ruins and they were desperate to survive. In many ways, he represents the darker aspects of the Protheans, just as the savage children in The Lord of the Flies represent the darker aspects of humanity. When civilisation falls, a Hobbesian conception of "rationality" begins to grow, though at least in Javik it never achieves full fruition.

Image posted by Mahariela
From an MBTI perspective, I would likely consider Javik to be a ISTJ, sharing this typology with Samara. This is due to his focus and reliance on using his senses, increased due to his ability to essentially see across time into the past, as well as his strong identification with a strict hierarchy, based in cultural tradition, which he adamantly defends. This is further enhanced by his disregard for abstract ideas and focus on facts and statistics. His enneagram personality type would likely by Type 8, the Challenger, for he seeks protection and safety, though at great risk to himself, yet draws close to losing himself to vengeance.

Though I doubt that Javik will make an appearance in Mass Effect 4, I think that BioWare did an excellent job with his character in Mass Effect 3. The idea of introducing a living Prothean could have destroyed many of their plotlines had it been done badly and yet I certainly consider Javik to be an interesting and compelling character who is a welcome addition to the crew.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Chosen Undead - Beneath the Surface

Welcome to my 101st entry and the second in my Beneath the Surface series. Today's character is going to be somewhat non-standard, as they are not a character in the traditional understanding of the term. Rather than being a thinking, speaking individual in their own right, the object of this entry never speaks and serves as little beyond the avatar of the player. Yet, I feel that there are several things we can say about him.

Due to the nature of this game and this character, some of what is said in this entry will be my own interpretation of things from the game, so I expect and encourage you to challenge me on some of what is written here. 

Without further ado, I introduce our subject of discussion: The Chosen Undead of Dark Souls.

Image posted by Retro Time Attack

In The Beginning

When one begins playing Dark Souls, one quickly realises that the game gives you nothing easily and this works on two levels. Yes, the game is significantly harder than most others (at least for someone like me who plays games for the story whilst usually being absolutely awful at the mechanics (especially when those mechanics involve the possession of actual reflexes)) and it makes you work in order to progress, turning death into a mechanic for learning. However, secondarily, the story itself, the characters you meet and the lore of the world is never given to you in an information dump such as is evident in other roleplaying games like Skyrim (nothing against Skyrim, it is an amazing game, but the storytelling is rather straight forwards). Dark Souls is an incredibly rich game, leaving a huge amount of stuff open to interpretation by the player, leaving tiny little hints and facts, rather than presenting you with a single, complete narrative. 

So, you load up the game and create your character and then you are met with this...


After watching this introduction (which I personally think sets up the atmosphere perfectly) one immediately notes that your character only appears at the end, and is not mentioned in the voice-over. Aside from knowing that you have been led to the Undead Asylum, no history is given to your character. 

All that is known is that you are a human who has been branded by the Darksign, which has appeared on your flesh, marking you as undead. As an undead, you cannot truly die, instead awakening after each death by a bonfire, which is a piece of the First Flame, whence came the four Lord Souls, as stated by the introductory video. With each such resurrection, the undead begins to Hollow, a lengthy process in which the individual loses themselves, eventually passing a point of no return, when the undead is a mindless creature. Only once fully hollow can the undead be permanently killed. Hollowing can be postponed, however, if the undead acquires humanity, a black sprite (presumably part of the original Dark Soul found by the Furtive Pygmy) which represents human ambition, drive and purpose. In offering humanity to the bonfires, thus fueling the flames, an undead an reverse their hollowing. Thus, the undead have great incentive to gather as much humanity as they are able. 

The Silent Treatment

Apparently, the Chosen Undead was given no voice, save for the occasional grunt when wounded or slain, in order to allow them to become an "Everyman" character. Such characters have been used throughout literary traditions, especially when the story itself is being used as a kind of allegory. Commonly, everyman characters have little in terms of personality and background, allowing them to be equally empathised with by everybody and serve as placeholders for nobody in particular. Notable examples of this can be found in the work of H.P. Lovecraft, who uses such characters to represent humanity in general, which cannot begin to comprehend the Old Ones and various other creatures he presents in his Cthulhu Mythos.

I certainly think that we can read the plot of Dark Souls as allegorical to human experience, especially when it comes to the concept of the undead. The Undead are given, practically, eternal life and yet this is a curse to them, for it leads to their eventual Hollowing, losing themselves before they die. In order to prevent themselves from going Hollow, they must gather humanity, which can be understood as the spirit of determination. Furthermore, Hollowing is slowed, if not reversed, in those who have a strong purpose, who live for some cause.

Image posted by Lovelife-Bepositive

Likewise, in our lives, continuing to survive is, on its own, not enough. We need to live and that involves giving our lives some kind of purpose, even if that purpose is simply to seek comfort and pleasure. Indeed, some purposes are more noble than others, one could argue and one could argue that a whole branch of moral philosophy and ethics is devoted to analysing which purposes are worthy of devoting one's life to. 

Dark Souls provides a series of purposes your character can devote themselves to, though it does not attempt to evaluate them for you, instead allowing you, the player, to weigh the benefits of each. The end you devote your character to is what ultimately defines the Chosen Undead. 

We shall now devote some time to each such purpose in turn. 

Part of the Prophecy

During your flight from the Undead Asylum, the protagonist will encounter Oscar, a knight of Astora, the individual who throws the hollow corpse into your cell, granting you the key and a chance at freedom. Originally intended to play a greater part in the story, Oscar's role changed during development, leading to his death during your attempt to leave the Asylum. However, before he dies, he says something important to your character.
"Thou who art Undead, art chosen...In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords...When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know"
Oscar introduces this to the player as a saying that has been passed down through his family, though it does not take a keen eye to note that this mere 'saying' has prophetic undertones. So begins your journey and several of the characters you shall meet seek to encourage you to follow this prophecy.

The general gist of the prophecy is that the Chosen Undead shall make pilgrimage to Lordran (the land of ancient Lords) and ring the bells of awakening and thus open their way to Anor Londo, the City of the Gods, where the Chosen Undead can receive the Lordvessel from Gwynevere, Queen of Sunlight. This Lordvessel can be filled with power souls, notably those of the Witch of Izalith and Gravelord Nito, to open the way to Lord Gwyn, who has given himself to the First Flame in order to preserve it for a little longer. Ultimately, the prophecy declares the Chosen Undead to be the one who will defeat Gwyn, who has become Hollowed, and who will then, in turn, give themselves to the First Flame, linking it and allowing the Age of Fire to endure a little longer.

I bequeath the Lordvessel to thee.And beseech thee. Succeed Lord Gwyn, and inheriteth the Fire of our world.Thou shall endeth this eternal twilight, and avert further Undead sacrifices.

Thus, we could read the Chosen Undead as simply that, an individual who is destined to fulfill the prophecy and sustain the Age of Fire. If so, your quest is a righteous one, your intentions pure. On this reading of the Chosen Undead, they are seen as a paragon of what is expected of them, devoted to others, stereotypically (one might say) good. Naturally, it ties with religion, as linking the First Flame empowers those Gods who have fled from Anor Londo, possibly allowing their return, as well as playing into the hands of Gwyndolin, the great manipulator, God of Moonlight.

Furthermore, in linking the First Flame, the player gives up their very life, dying for the world. An act one could quite easily compare to a certain Messiah from Christian theology.

Oscar, Knight of Astora
Oscar gave his own life trying to serve as a catalyst for Prophecy.

One could view that Chosen Undead who pursues this purpose as a champion of the status quo, or as one who restores the world to a state of Light and prosperity, even if there exists this rigid hierarchy in which the Gods rule over humanity. They can be seen as an individual who stands against the corruption of the Abyss and of uncontrolled humanity and darkness.

Or, one could view them as the pawn of prophecy.

The Liberator / Scion of the Dark

The prophecy states that the Chosen Undead shall defeat Gwyn and link the First Flame, allowing the Age of Fire to continue and the power of the Gods to endure. Yet, all this talk of Prophecy and Pilgrimage and setting oneself aflame, all of it could quite easily be propaganda, a tool the Gods (in particular Gwyndolin) are using to trick a powerful undead into sacrificing themselves in order to restore their power, allowing them to retain their dominance over humanity.

"Your ancestor claimed the Dark Soul and waited for Fire to subside.And soon, the flames did fade, and only Dark remained.Thus began the age of men, the Age of Dark."

Certainly, Darkstalker Kaathe thinks so, encouraging the Chosen Undead (should they meet) to defeat Gwyn and like the First Flame die, ending the Age of Fire and ushering in the Age of Darkness (which is interestingly called the Age of Man). It is argued that this is the natural course that the world must take, that all fires must die and that all lights must go out, so why prolong the wait for the inevitable? Why defy the course of nature?

You must destroy the fading Lord Gwyn, who has coddled Fire and resisted nature,and become the Fourth Lord, so that you may usher in the Age of Dark!

Thus, the Chosen Undead can be responsible for ending the Age of Fire, allowing the power of the Gods to die, allowing the world, as we know it, to come to an end.

Perhaps we should read this Chosen Undead as the true hero, for they liberated us from the influence of the Gods, freed us from their tyranny, evened out the playing-field by removing their power and allowing us all to become equals. 

And yet, we can see clearly from Oolacile what becomes of humans afflicted by the unchecked corruption of the Abyss. They are no longer people, but monsters, twisted and abused. So overwhelmed are they by their own humanity that their bodies become hideously altered and warped, more monster than human. Without the light of the First Flame to keep the darkness of the Abyss in check, what is to stop the same fate befalling all of us?

Bloathead Sorcerer
This is what becomes of those humans who fall into the Abyss.

Thus, perhaps we should consider such a Chosen Undead to be the ultimate nihilist, rather than a hero. 

The Explorer

Perhaps the Chosen Undead does not devote themselves to prophecy, yet does not take the approach of staunchly opposing it. Instead, they simply seek answers, searching everywhere, killing those which get in their way if they have to, yet otherwise sowing no unnecessary harm. Through gathering the pieces of the puzzle and assembling them into a picture of the world, the Explorer is able to understand what is going on and ultimately discover what their place in this world can be.

I would consider all players to exist as Explorers at one point or another. Starting a game with little context and without much to guide you beyond the cryptic hints given to you by strange NPCs tends to leave one very much in the dark. All this talk of prophecy and of being Chosen can seem to ring very hollow (no pun intended) when one knows nothing of the world, nothing of who you are and how you link to that which is going on outside of Lordran. 

One must understand the world before one decides whether or not it is worth saving. 

With no context given, the character thus begins the game with no external ties, and thus nothing to define them beyond those options selected at character creation. Your gender, appearance and general skill-set is yours to chose, but as for where you came from, who you are, nothing is provided, thus you must chose who you are solely through your actions in the game.

A character who becomes a true explorer, one who passess through the world on a never-ending quest to amass as much lore as possible will eventually have to kill to get it, thus tying them to the fourth and final kind of Chosen Undead. 

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The Egoist

Caring little for prophecy or lore, the Egoist is the Chosen Undead who quickly realises and embraces that the more things they kill and defeat, the more power they gain for themselves. Thus, this is the purpose they strive for: bettering themselves at the expense of others. They strike down all they encounter, as soon as they have no more use for them, gorging themselves on souls in order to augment their own powers. 

In truth, there is little difference between such characters and the Hollows and Demons they encounter, for all are but seeking to increase their own strength without any great end in sight (one could argue that the demons indeed to have some further end (the protection of the Chaos Flame which birthed them)). 

Such Chosen Undead are a bane to everything they meet, for they consider all things to be a means to their own end. Their morality is severely lacking, for they have not a shred of empathy with those they encounter, rarely stopping to consider the implications of what they are doing beyond whether or not they could be more effective at that which they are doing. 

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Thus, we have the four archetypal identities of the Chosen Undead.

Thanks for reading!