First I'll discuss perhaps the largest rule of Dark Souls, the fact that when the player dies, they are sent back to the last bonfire rested at, and all souls and humanity are lost, but are recoverable if the player can make it back to the point of death and recover their power. This outlines one of the main mechanics, as well as one of the reasons why it’s deemed a difficult game.
This rule confines the player from achieving the goal of the game because dying is generally a massive setback for players. It means all the souls and humanity they spent time gathering is now potentially lost. Because souls are used to level up, lost souls means lost levels. Leveling up is so crucial in Dark Souls because it's the only way the player can continue to grow progress and face new challenges. With these thoughts in mind, players must spend time getting back to their death point to attempt soul retrieval, which takes even more time. It essentially prolongs the time it takes to complete an area and the game itself in general, especially if the player continually dies from trying to retrieve souls. If the player is unsuccessful in soul recovery, they must spend additional time gathering even more souls to compensate for the loss. Being sent back to the bonfire is generally a large setback as well, as it usually means re-travelling long distances, redoing difficult tasks, or fighting tough enemies again.
In terms of behaviors this rule prevents/enables, players are much less likely to act recklessly when attempting to complete a level or defeat a boss, as the consequence of being hasty is significant. Being patient is truly a virtue in Dark Souls, as it can save the trouble of re-traversing long distances or losing souls, and therefore levels. Personally, as I went through the game, I was always very careful whenever I reached a new area. I was aware the game was keen on throwing in traps, ambushes and other sorts of surprises around every corner, so I knew to be cautious. Rather than dashing through an area, I would take slow and methodical steps forward, shield up at all times. And being a mage-based character, I even threw up a homing soulmass at times so that I would be “notified” if enemies were hiding nearby. It was only when I knew a particular area very well when I felt comfortable traveling at a more brisk pace.
Depending on how the rule is changed, Dark Souls could completely change. What keeps the player in a near-constant state of tension comes from the knowledge that any slip up or small mistake could mean death. Whether that be falling off a tall ledge, being smashed to bits by a larger foe, or being shot by lethally poisoned darts, almost everything is a hazard to the player. What adds to this tension is knowing that everything will be lost upon death. Even though it is possible to recover every last bit of the souls dropped, there’s still the matter of making it all the way back to the point of death without dying a second time, while also dealing with enemies fought previously. So this overall concept of having everything on the line, and all the time, is part of what makes this game experientially unique. Say we changed this rule though. Let’s say instead of losing all souls upon death, you lost only half. Suddenly, a lot of pressure is taken away, because the player knows that even if they die, not all is lost. Conversely, if the rule had even more restrictions on it, the level of tension and difficulty might be too much for players to handle. If souls and humanity were not recoverable, Dark Souls would suddenly become a very different game. So because of the nature of this rule, changing it could very well create a completely different game.
I discussed a very much written rule, but now I'd like to discuss an unwritten one, specifically about the PvP elements of the game. As Stephen Sniderman asserts in his piece, essentially all games in culture have the idea of good sportsmanship attached to them. Much like many games with PvP elements, it is an unwritten rule to be respectful towards opponents in Dark Souls, and to give everyone a fair fight. That being said, players have the option to not be respectful, as everyone has the freedom to act however they want. However, again as Sniderman points out, people aren’t very fond of disrespectful behavior, and will equally not be fond of such players.
I definitely wouldn't say that this rule keeps the player from meeting the goals of the game because being polite and respectful to fellow players hardly seems like it would hinder the ability to complete the game. However, it definitely affects the way people act toward one another. Being respectful implies that players don’t make use of cheap tactics, or unsportsmanlike behavior in general. When I say “cheap tactics”, I mean using gimmicks or tricks to take down opponents. For example, a friend and I were playing together in Blighttown, only to be invaded along the way. We were traveling along a bridge that overlooked a very long drop, and suddenly the invader was behind us. He got right up to my friend, and used emit force, a miracle that sends people flying backward. Unfortunately, my friend was a bit too close to the edge, so he went flying off to his demise. Needless to say we were frustrated. This is what I would classify as a cheap tactic. From what I observed, it seemed like this individual was specifically camping out this particular part of the game solely to use that miracle to easily defeat his/her opponents. Now, though I admit it was rather funny to watch my friend soar to his inevitable demise, this was not a fair fight. We were frustrated because we felt cheated, like there was nothing we could have done to prevent what happened. We would have preferred a “real” fight, where the measure of our skill would be put to the test, something I feel most players want, especially in a game like Dark Souls. This rule does however encourage players to act with proper conduct towards opponents, and optionally to bow to one another, which is a sign of mutual respect.
If this rule was altered, so say being respectful wasn’t necessarily important, I imagine it wouldn’t actually change the game very much. Though there will always be rude people who will play according only to their own unique rule set, this can also be said of well-mannered people. Some people place value in honesty and fairness, and many of these people would continue to play respectfully, regardless if the rule changed. They would do this simply because that is what they stand for as a human being, which takes a sort of Kantian approach of being good just for the sake of itself.
Sniderman, S. (2006). Unwritten Rules. In The game design reader: A Rules of play anthology (1st ed., Vol. 1, p. 478, 481). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.