Elden Ring Raised Masochists, and They’re Back for More


Kai Cenat had died more than 430 times and was prepared to die again when one of the toughest adversaries in video game history, Malenia, Goddess of Rot, finally succumbed to his sword after a marathon battle in Elden Ring.

“I don’t think you understand what this means,” Cenat told his livestream after the 24-hour fight last month, which included a portion of his 10.8 million Twitch followers. One of the most popular gamers on the internet was panting. He had lost his breath playing a two-year-old game that sprouted a cottage industry of influencers capitalizing on its notorious difficulty.

Elden Ring became a phenomenon after it was released in February 2022. It was a breakout hit for the president of FromSoftware, Hidetaka Miyazaki, who enlisted the “Game of Thrones” author George R. R. Martin to sketch the gothic fantasy’s deep mythology about warring families and troubled gods. The game also benefited from the social media users who shared delightfully embarrassing videos of their avatars being slashed, staggered and stabbed by horrific monsters.

A similar hype cycle that helped the publisher Bandai Namco sell more than 24 million copies of the original game is being used to build anticipation for Elden Ring’s next chapter, Shadow of the Erdtree, which releases on June 21 for computers, PlayStation and Xbox.

This month, influencers were whisked to elaborately designed events.

In Los Angeles, a band played outside an exhibition hall where red curtains and fancy chandeliers hung above dozens of computer monitors. In Paris, officials cleared the pews of Chapelle Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc to install gaming stations underneath the church’s stained glass; a statue of the expansion’s villain, Messmer the Impaler, towered over the altar. (Organizers told some attendees the event was a homage to the gothic design of churches and castles within the game.)

Most game designers attempt to ease players into their worlds through tutorials and progressively harder chapters. Miyazaki — who has described himself in interviews as a masochist — began Elden Ring with a surprise attack from a monster that kills nearly everyone in its path. The game’s opening hours evoke a state of nature summarized by the Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

The many lore theorists who have spent years breaking down the symbolism of Elden Ring say there is considerable evidence that the developers examined the relationship between human nature and religion.

“Both George R. R. Martin and Miyazaki are big historical fiction people,” said Rachel Cherry, a YouTuber who creates lore videos under the name Quelaag. Her research into the game has unearthed references to Mesopotamian and Greek architecture. There is a statue of Charlemagne based on a sculpture in the Palace of Versailles.

Miyazaki became a cult figure because of his punishing Dark Souls trilogy, which twisted the iconography of medieval Europe into bloody parables about man’s doomed pursuit of immortality and power.

He and other FromSoftware designers were not available for comment about Elden Ring, said a representative for the studio. Martin, a creator of HBO’s “House of the Dragon,” declined to comment through his book publisher; the show’s second season premieres on Sunday.

There are many YouTubers like Cherry who have subsidized their income by creating Elden Ring videos. A young baker from Texas who goes by LetMeSoloHer has amassed more than 400,000 subscribers by doing one thing: battling Malenia, the hardest boss in the game, on behalf of other players.

“People love a good underdog story,” said the gamer, who estimates he has fought the katana-wielding boss more than 6,000 times. “I’m pretty shocked that I have gotten this far making meme videos.”

Maliyah Corridon, a model and livestreamer based in Toronto, cried when she finally beat one of the game’s first bosses, whose relentless attacks include a horde of minions swiping their swords.

“I bawled my eyes out,” she said in an interview. “The game is so punishing that it genuinely changed my mind-set in life. I was the type of person who would give up if something was hard. Elden Ring forced me to keep trying something until I could overcome it.”

Creators who have spent two years mining Elden Ring for content hope that Shadow of the Erdtree will bring new energy during a year with few major game releases on the calendar. The expansion invites players into a new area called the Land of Shadow to follow in the footsteps of a deity named Miquella, whose seemingly lifeless body was last seen inside a womb-like husk. It will include new weapons, enemies and lore.

Michael Currie’s popular YouTube guides for Elden Ring helped players navigate through its many challenges, and he plans to continue with Shadow of the Erdtree.

“Failure isn’t a stopping point, but where you should begin to alter your way of thinking,” said Currie, whose children are now playing Elden Ring.

“The 14-year-old does a good job of approaching challenges differently,” he said. “He learns when to block or strike, and then he bumps up the difficulty for a challenge. He wants to fail and work for his accomplishments.”



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