Since Elden Ring’s release, there’s been no shortage of critical praise for its intricately crafted yet expansive open world, its complex combat, and the level of detail found in every corner. But Elden Ring isn’t just a superb video game in the many obvious ways to analyze it. It’s also an entire social media platform unto itself.
FromSoftware has been including a messaging system akin to a social media platform within its games for years now, as anyone who’s been Soulsing since the dawn of Demon’s Souls can tell you. Every game since has included the option for players connected online to leave messages on the ground anywhere in the world. Players can’t just write anything they want, though. They compose messages out of pre-existing templates and word sets that are (mostly) related to gameplay, with the option to add a conjunction between two sets of phrases, or a “gesture” – basically a character emote – again out of a preexisting set. Once a message is posted, it will show up in the games of other online players, and they can opt to interact with it by rating it Good or Bad. Rating it either way gives the player who composed it a little in-game health boost, and visibly adds to the message’s rating count – though the count doesn’t reveal whether ratings given were good or bad.
Elden Ring’s version of this isn’t significantly different from its predecessors, but it has been magnified considerably by the sheer scale of the game it’s placed in and the applications those messages can thus have, not to mention Elden Ring’s tremendous popularity. That means thousands (if not millions) more people are participating in it than ever dipped into Dark Souls or its brethren, and the immediate sales success of Elden Ring would certainly suggest that, too. So what makes the FromSoftware social network so good, even on this scale?
Well, Elden Ring includes all of the aspects one looks for in a social media platform, but it also does so without opening itself up to the dangers of harassment, bigotry, spam, and hateful behavior that exist on just about every other social media platform in existence. It does struggle, as so many other platforms do, with a bit of a misinformation problem, and there’s no shortage of trolling. But both of these issues result in minimal harm done to Elden Ring’s users – losing runes can sting, but outside of a boss arena it’s typically easy to retrieve them – and the overwhelming positive aspects of the messaging system combined make it one of the most fascinating and effective social media platforms in existence right now.
News You Can Use
Probably the most obvious positive use of Elden Ring’s messaging system is its ability to convey useful, relevant, accurate, immediate information about its world to its users. “Trap ahead.” “behind!” “Be wary of left.” “group ahead; therefore, try summoning.”
Like every other message in Elden Ring, there’s a certain amount of deciphering needed due to the limited nature of the game’s communications. “Ambush ahead” is easy enough, but “Be wary of up” sounds a little funny the first time you hear it, before a little goblin drops on your head and you realize that phrasing is warning you about danger in a particular direction.
Every message in Elden Ring has the potential to be its own two-sentence micro-guide for the game – no Google searches required. For instance, a developer-placed message next to a statue in Liurna suggests use of the gesture “Erudition” in order to unlock a magic door nearby. But just using the erudition gesture doesn’t work and players might be confused, were it not for a handy player message nearby reading “Try head” that attached the erudition gesture to the message so players could see the ghostly form of the player who had left it, wearing one of the glintstone crown helms. Players who have already been to Raya Lucaria likely already learned “head” is Elden Ring shorthand for the enemies wearing those exact hats, leading to the logical conclusion that the puzzle required the erudition gesture be done with a glintstone crown helm on.
What’s so wholesome about this is that players leave these messages almost entirely out of altruism. The benefits to having others rate a message well or poorly are miniscule – there’s no way to directly comment on a message, nor any guarantee anyone else will see it or care. Every message warning of danger is, presumably, left by someone who themselves died or was otherwise inconvenienced by the very problem they’re warning about, and in that frustration opted to take the time and energy to circle back and help others avoid the same fate for little to no reward.
Elden Ring’s system isn’t troll-proof, though. The Lands Between is rife with “Try jumping” messages right next to bottomless chasms that will instantly kill anyone who drops down, or “Try attacking” next to completely solid walls. But part of the brilliance of Elden Ring’s limited player interactions is they ensure tricking someone into throwing themselves off a cliff is about the worst thing anyone can do to anyone else. If they succeed in sending a player to their demise, or wasting five seconds of their time hitting a wall, there’s no positive feedback beyond the quiet assumption that someone, somewhere, fell for it. Alternatively, someone may post a “liar ahead” message next to false information after being fooled by it once, oddly adding an almost message board-like element to an otherwise one-way messaging system.
There’s no way to directly insult other players, spam them, or send any message less appropriate than “try finger, but hole” placed next to basically anything related to fingers or a creature’s rear end. Outside of being a nuisance to someone’s day via opt-in PvP invading – the only other real social element to Elden Ring beyond co-op – a tricky message, and a perhaps momentary bit of frustration is the worst that can happen. With a community dedicated to earnest, altruistic information exchange, a lack of feedback for misinformation and trolling, and no real direct way to bother other players who don’t want to be bothered, Elden Ring has established an information system that can, by and large, be trusted. What other social network can say that in 2022?
The Meme Machine
Elden Ring’s player messaging system is hardly just informative; it’s also wildly entertaining. It’s stuffed with great jokes and memes, much of which rely on the limited nature of the conversation that can be had as well as the sheer goofiness and frequent slapstick nature of the world itself. For instance, any visit to Volcano Manor’s dungeon segment will immediately surface numerous variations on “First off, Elden Ring. And then, try throwing” – basically one giant Lord of the Rings Mordor joke from top to bottom. Another elevated joke is “Could tihs be bird?” underneath a patch of butterflies – an adaptation of a popular internet meme. If you’re after more lewd humor, just pay a visit to Fia’s chamber in the Roundtable Hold, or check the messages behind the donkeys that accompany various merchants all over the world.
But, in the true spirit of any worthy meme, those in Elden Ring will start, be adopted by mainstream, and morph over time into variations until it perhaps becomes inscrutable to anyone who wasn’t in on the joke in the first place. Take the ever-popular “dog” meme, likely incomprehensible to players just walking out of the Chapel of Anticipation, but hilarious and understandable immediately to anyone who’s been in the community for a bit. The joke spawned organically out of the messaging system’s lack of nouns to adequately describe the numerous animals, such as donkeys and tortoises in the game. Though it’s unclear where the meme first started, early in Elden Ring’s existence players referred to any four-legged animal as “dog” in a joking context. That joke eventually evolved to be more informative, especially regarding multiple in-game puzzles where players must seek out hidden tortoises. “Dog” acted as a close enough shorthand for a four-legged, relatively peaceful animal, so it stuck, and morphed into a game-spanning joke where any animal that defies messaging description is called a dog.
There are other forms of entertainment in Elden Ring’s social discussions, though, beyond outright jokes. With the built-in gesture system, players can effectively act out brief scenes for other players. Many of these are, unsurprisingly, implied to be sexual in nature – just check the messages next to any bed with a body on it. Others are a bit more elegant, though, such as the scenes of players taking the throne in Stormveil Castle after a grueling fight with Godrick the Grafted. Or the many people seated on a cliff’s edge, admiring gorgeous views of the land beneath them and inviting others to partake in a moment of peace as well: “Ahh, tranquility.”
Occasionally, messages that perhaps aren’t intended to be funny become so thanks to the tone of Elden Ring’s limited messaging system. Such as a “Didn’t expect weak foe…” left after a particularly difficult boss. Here, the humor is dependent on an individual’s own experience – if they had a tough time themselves, it feels like a snarky joke. Some jokes just don’t translate into other languages as well, such as “Fort, night” confusing some players into thinking there was some nighttime-only event occurring at an in-game fort.
Of course, where there’s entertainment, you’ll always find those who want to be celebrities. Most of the messages in Elden Ring don’t come with a heaping helping of clout chasing, but occasionally you’ll run across one that cleverly uses the conjunction message format to say something helpful, funny, or glib in the first half, followed by “and then, praise the message!” It’s an invitation for readers to rate the message and give the poster a little health boost in their own game – the in-universe equivalent of a streamer’s plea to “like, comment, and subscribe!”
One of the more potentially overlooked features of Elden Ring is its player grouping system, which effectively works like a private group chat for you and your buddies to share your experiences even when you’re not actively online. A password-protected group will allow messages to be surfaced specifically to other players in that group, which offers a nice bit of direct communication in a system otherwise predicated on randomness. But these messages still won’t name the player who wrote it, so you’re left to go off any gestures they left and character appearance to tell who’s saying what.
With the group password system, Elden Ring gets an entire new layer compared to past Souls games that basically functions like a group DM or message on Twitter or Facebook. It allows players to effectively get updates on where their friends have been and what they were doing there, alongside earnest commentary on how they felt while it was happening or advice for how others should proceed. As an added bonus, while friends certainly can troll one another, generally messages from friends can be considered more reliable and trustworthy, and less likely to lead you directly into a spike trap or a skeleton ambush.
Outside of explicit, known friend connections, one of Elden Ring’s other successes as a social platform is how it allows us to empathize with and connect with total strangers. Beyond just sharing information and laughter, players will frequently post messages that express genuine, earnest feeling. In a maze-like catacomb, for instance, you might find repeated messages from lost players along the lines of “First off, confusion. And then, confusion!” More joyfully, difficult areas such as invisible bridges across treacherous chasms, or long stretches of dungeon without a resting place will be full of players encouraging one another to “don’t give up!” and “ahead!” And beating any difficult boss reveals dozens of messages celebrating victory both as individuals (“I did it!”) and as a community (“Well done!”). Even worlds apart, there’s something beautiful about celebrating a hard won victory with others.
That’s not to mention how this all ties in with Elden Ring’s PvP and cooperative elements. Though summon signs certainly take Elden Ring beyond a social network and into a proper virtual space, the manner in which cooperative summon signs specifically work is a fascinating juxtaposition between a social network and a matchmaking system. Players can leave summon signs for other online players in certain areas, which when approached reveal an image of the player who left them. The result is that players who want help with a task are offered a visual buffet of other people to choose from, but little other information to go off of – a minimalistic Tinder, almost. Do they want to bring a woman dressed like a wolf into their next battle? Or a fellow wearing an enormous pointy hat? Or a totally naked person? With so little information, a brief social contract is formed, lasting only until one player dies or the enemy is defeated. The most efficient speed date ever.
Elden Ring’s achievements as a game are well documented, but the internal social media platform FromSoftware has been cultivating since Demon’s Souls in 2009 is an under-celebrated triumph, and perhaps in its best form yet throughout Elden Ring. It’s expressly relevant to its own audience, entertaining, connective, and miraculously almost entirely devoid of any real, meaningful trolling or antagonism. We may never see Facebook or Twitter limit its users to communicating only in a preset roster of gestures and esoteric or predetermined phrases, but at the very least, we can count on FromSoftware to continue offering its own, surprisingly more positive take on the social media experience.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.