The Joy of Player Generated Messages in Elden Ring

I remember a time before I had regular access to the internet, and the frustration that would arise when I got stuck in a game. I miss that feeling. It’s not because I enjoyed it, but rather because of how I overcame it. None of the kids on the playground had access to the internet either, so we’d have to collaborate, and help one another past our blockades. For example, it took an entire group of us to figure out the optimal path through the Whirlpool Islands in Pokémon. There was something uniquely satisfying in both trying to explain what you’d found, and absorb what other’s had to share so you could incorporate it into that night’s expedition.

The only problem with helping in this way was that our information sometimes got miscommunicated. What made perfect sense in our heads, didn’t always translate. You’d know exactly what you were talking about, but if the other person couldn’t picture it in their mind’s eye then they’d be completely lost. However, you could never be sure when it’d finally click, and the advice would make perfect sense. Perhaps you just needed to find that exact frame of reference your friends was using when relaying their advice. And boy did it feel good when you finally worked things out.

It was only recently that I was reminded of all of this while I was playing through Elden Ring. That’s because of my favourite feature from the game: player generated messages. Players are able to leave cryptic messages scattered across the game world that rival the ambiguity of the help we used to offer one another as kids. Despite there opaque nature, I really dig the system. We’re always a Google search away from finding an easy answer to any question we have, so it was refreshing to utilize an in-game system that offered far less intrusive hints for solving Elden Ring’s many mysteries.

I have to imagine some of you are wondering why the messages themselves are cryptic. Is this another instance of the Souls community being elitist? Thankfully no. Elden Ring doesn’t allow full customization of what you say in the messages players can leave, which is a stark departure from how many other games handle player communication. There’s a list of what I’d guess to be around 200 unique words, and phrases alongside maybe 2 dozen templates. The idea is that you choose a template such as “be wary of ****”, and then you select which word you’d like to fill the blank. The system is rudimentary, but it prevents slur based harassment from occurring while still allowing players to speak to one another.

Players aren’t just limited to one template, however, as they can also add a conjunction to their message. This allows for the use of a second template for those times when a single template wouldn’t suffice. There’s also the option to have an emote appear while players read your message. I’m not sure if it was intended, but several industrious players have made use of the pointing icon to provide additional direction to players reading their messages. In fact, some of the best hints I received were complete nonsense until I looked where the writer was pointing.

Elden Ring messages system

While it’s an incredibly limited system, I think that works to Elden Ring’s benefit. When you’re limited to a small selection of words, you’re forced to become creative with how you convey your intended message. Just like my old schoolyard days, players have come up with shorthand terms to refer to specific entities. While this will be completely alien at first, but the more messages a player reads, the more familiar they’ll become with the language used throughout the game. This will drastically increase how useful the messages become, while also allowing for them to leave anecdotes from their own journey.

Before I close this one out I wanted to go through a concrete example of how player messages helped me solve a puzzle. Obviously this will be a spoilerino for Elden Ring. Consider yourself warned.

I was wandering around one of the numerous a mountain regions in the game world, and happened upon a steeple. These were usually locked with magic, and this one was no different. Per usual, there was a riddle carved into a goblin statue just outside the entrance, so I approached it, and was greeted by complete gibberish. I was able to gather that I needed to find something invisible, but you can imagine it’d prove quite difficult to find something you can’t see. However, as I turned around, I saw a message sitting behind me. I decided to give it a read hoping it could orient me. “Seek bridge, in short try here,” it read, while the writer pointed behind the steeple. I peered over in the direction they were pointing and noticed the shattered remains of a bridge.

Seeking the entrance to the steeple

Upon reaching the cliffside opposite the steeple, I nervously stepped out onto the bridge. I had no way of verifying that the message I’d just read wasn’t a ruse, but I boldly stepped out into the vast nothing. Much to my surprise, I didn’t immediately fall to my death. As I continued to trundle forward I noticed numerous messages littered the invisible bridge. There was so many, in fact, that they made an outline to help guide me across. Turns out the invisible bridge wasn’t straight, so these additional spots of assistance were a big help. Huzzah!

While this example was fairly straightforward, I couldn’t tell you the number of times that other players helped me across my time with Elden Ring. Sometimes it was solving more obscure puzzles, or warning about a foe lying in ambush ahead. These hints amounted to Elden Ring being a much more positive experience for me, as I could get a subtle boop in the right direction throughout my adventure. I don’t think I’d have had as much fun were I constantly running Google searches every 5 minutes. Plus, there’s something wholesome about players trying to support one another in an otherwise oppressive game. It truly warms my cold, dead heart.

8 thoughts on “The Joy of Player Generated Messages in Elden Ring

  1. I don’t know if we already talked about this, but here it goes anyway:

    From what I’ve heard, the creator of the DS series loved comic books as a child, but they were not translated into Japanese, and he did not speak much English. So he and his friends had to translate what little they could together and fill in the rest with their imagination and the pictures. Over time, they understood more and more, until they finally “cracked” it.

    This is the reason that DS’s story is so “hidden”, and not explained at all. I can only assume that he intentionally put a barrier to communication for a similar reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t believe we had, but that’s a nice bit of context. If nothing else, it creates an experience that is wholly unique to video games – even if not everyone is totally onboard with it.

      Though I will say – I found the messages across Elden Ring waaaaaaaaaay more useful than I ever found the ones I encountered in Dark Souls. I feel like the open design of the environments kind of invited it more. Stuff pointing out where to go, or to keep an eye out for things in the distance. Still tho – love what this system adds to the experience of playing these games.

      Like

  2. I agree that the hints can be helpful while also providing insights on how others play the game. At the same time, though, I find it even more fascinating how people manage to “juke” the system and entering troll messages that are very much in the vein of Bloodhound Gang’s humour.

    “Try Finger But Hole” is one of those messages that is just so obscene and amazing in its ideology and values. What could it mean? What did the author intend with this message? I’m sure that scholars in the future will spend eons thinking about this wisdom.

    More than anything, though, I’ve seen this clip of some stream a while back of a guy seeing “big chest ahead” as a message, followed by them stumbling into another room with a huge lady… and it was great.

    When messages are helpful, that’s neat and all… but I like the trolling a lot.

    And I definitely resonate with the “trying to figure out strategies in this one game” thing. I remember doing that with some Xbox games and N64 titles. My siblings and I would spend hours trying to figure out how to make it past a certain area or boss… and friends of mine would often share with me strategies they found out about in Pokémon Red, Emerald or Silver. It was pretty fun… but nowadays people just google everything, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In a similar vein: apparently, earlier on in the game’s life a bunch of Japanese players were confused because a bunch of English speaking players kept leaving messages saying “fort night”. They thought it there was a fort they had to go to at night to find something. But it was just a bunch of jabrons making a Fortnite reference. Gotta love it lol

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like all the other times this have been a thing in games, waste of time, space and money.

    Too limited to be of real use, a gimmick that is showing it’s age.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice, I like this feature. I haven’t played Elden Ring yet (ever? Not sure about that) but I remember there was something like this in Nier Automata as well, where you could leave strange messages for other players from long lists of set phrases after you died, the idea being they’d come across your body and be able to get some experience and a few other benefits along with your message. The biggest difference is that that system couldn’t really be used to warn players of anything, and since the game wasn’t all that hard anyway (not compared to Elden Ring from what I’ve heard of it, or a Souls game or something like it) it wouldn’t have been that necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s