Dark Souls: Humanity

Two of the central concepts in Dark Souls are Souls and Humanity. Souls, we’ve already covered: it’s a combination of XP and money which is also used to repair and upgrade your weapons and armor. Your basic unified limited resource. What, then, is Humanity?

According to the flavor text, Humanity is a “tiny black sprite found on corpses”. Boss monsters generally drop some, but its main source is rats. You find it in the form of useable Humanity objects, which, when crushed in your hand, increase your Humanity stat (and incidentally heal you). As well, sometimes my Humanity seems to just spontaneously increase for no obvious reason. Humanity in stat form increases both your defense against every type of damage and the rate of random item drops, and in addition can, to a limited extent, be sacrificed to stoke bonfires.

You might think that Humanity is linked to having a human appearance, but in fact they’re orthogonal. You can have a high Humanity while zombie-faced, and you can have a clean, unhollowed appearance while having no Humanity at all. The only connection is that you have to sacrifice a unit of Humanity to take the zombie face off — so choosing to look human means actually having less Humanity than you did before.

So basically it’s a weird grab-bag of effects with no clear unifying principle, and hanging it all on the peg of “Humanity” is just a way to make it all seem simpler than it is. “Souls” is similarly misleading, but at least it’s a misleading term for something conceptually unified. But there’s one way in which it kind of fits, and it has to do with its loss.

Your Humanity stat, along with your Souls, is left behind when you die, sitting in a pile waiting for you to pick it up. If you die again before you pick it up, it’s lost forever. But Souls are relatively easy to regain — you get some from every single kill. It’s possible to farm Humanity — there’s a bonfire in the sewers that’s nice and close to a rat colony, which is great for this purpose — but it’s tedious, and it requires breaking away from the interesting stuff for a while. Also, if you’re really afraid of losing the Souls you’ve accumulated, you can just spend it all before you do anything risky. When I’m exploring new territory and I realize that I have more Souls than I’d be comfortable losing, I usually go grinding somewhere safer until I have enough to level up. You don’t have options like that with Humanity. Humanity just sticks around providing passive benefits until suddenly it’s gone.

So consider what all this means for player motivations:

  • When you have Humanity, you’re afraid of losing it.
  • When you lose it, you’re desperate to get it back.
  • Once it’s truly gone, you have no reason to care if you die.

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