“We are born of blood, made men by blood, undone by blood. Fear the old blood.” – Provost Wilhem’s adage
Bloodborne, a action-horror game developed by FromSoftware, has a reputation for its brutal difficulty and obscure storytelling, and many pass it off as a niche game for those with masochistic tendancies. However, those who truly imbibe in its secrets will discover the greatest modern re-imagination of Lovecraftian horror, as the game invites you into an uncaring, senseless world filled with monsters both grotesque and divine. In this world, both the players and the characters in the game attempt to understand the rules of the game and secrets about the world, only to be faced with events and creatures that become more and more incomprehensible. Whether you are driven mad to discover more, or sulk away defeated and forgotten is your choice to make – but again, the game will not care what you do.
The game takes place in a Victorian-esque city of Yharnam, renown for their use of ‘blood transfusions’ which can cure any and all ailments. Many visitors from around the world come to Yharnam seeking their miraculous cure and pay tribute to the Healing Church, which control the blood used in the transfusions. As one can imagine, this made the Healing Church and the city extremely rich, and pungent smell of blood became the norm in the streets.
What is the source of this divine blood? It is that of Ebrietas, Daughter of Cosmos, a Great One (kind of… not really, but that’s going into too much detail). Great Ones are hardly understood, but the priests of the Healing Church say that they are beings that exist in a great plane of existence, whose physical forms are merely projections to interact with our world. We don’t (and can’t) know their motives or reasoning, but taking their blood into our own seemed to cure every illness. They also look like this:
As scholars and priests of the Healing Church attempt to understand more about the Great Ones and try to enter the ‘greater plane’ of existence, they soon hear rumors… that turn into cases, that turn into an outbreak. It is soon discovered that those that have taken the blood transfusions eventually become addicted to it and turn into inhuman beasts, scouring the land for blood – of any type.
Some priests take up arms and become Hunters to kills these beasts, healing their wounds with more blood transfusions. Some capture healthy victims to conduct experiments in an attempt to try to find a solution (Ethics? What good are morals when people are dying?). Others use this opportunity to test their theories on the Great Ones’ truth, line their brain with eyes, and attempt to see beyond their own petty existence.
It is unknown how much time has passed since the madness began, but by the time the player reaches Yharnam to cure their own illness, the city is filled with Beasts and eldritch beings alike, and you are forced into a contract to become a Hunter. Becoming a hunter allows you to become immortal, as every time you die you reawaken in the Hunter’s Nightmare, a realm not quite real, but a place you visit so often that it becomes your home. Becoming a Hunter makes you powerful, far more powerful than any other person in the game by drinking the blood of those you defeat. Becoming a hunter makes you a prisoner, bound by duty to kill the beasts… but then again, the person who forced you into that contract dies immediately after. The only thing that drives you forward and deeper into the mad city is your own curiosity.
And if curiosity merely killed the cat, then that cat would be very lucky indeed.
Bloodborne is truly a great piece of literary work, primarily exploring the theme of knowledge. What is knowledge, really? Why do we attempt to gain it? Can we possibly know the consequences of knowledge? What about those who lack it? Almost like the Dream of Ding Village, everyone in Yharnam is blinded for a thirst, not of economic gain but of knowledge. Instead of drawing blood they consume it, and chase after the Great Ones regardless of consequences. People who try to help the sick are driven insane by the smell of blood. People who hunt down beasts become great beasts of their own. Higher-ups isolate themselves in safe havens, drinking ever more blood to gain more knowledge, only to become lose their touch of reality when they approach the Eldritch Truth. In a video game fashion, you are the hero of the story, gaining more and more knowledge and insight about the Eldritch and the Great Ones and the blood. Oh how sweat the smell of blood! Oh the eyes! Where is the next chalice and gems and hearts filled with the blood to consume!
Yes, you are the hero of the story.
In face of all this, what is the purpose of life? Camus’ existentialism discusses the notion that life is truly absurd, and men have to find some meaning to their life no matter how meaningless that is. Bloodborne’s absurdity is much more tangible and visceral – after all, no matter what you do there is some eldritch creature looking down at you. At some point, you wake up in the Hunter’s Nightmare and question why you play the game. Why not let this nightmare be over? Why continue to reawaken in this game world?
Well it’s simple. Because you have to.
Maybe you keep waking up in this world because it’s addictive too? We haven’t talked much about addiction as contagion but hey. This is a cool topic and the game certainly looks relevant. RE: your comment: “Yes, you are the hero of the story” — we might think about whether literature in general allows for vicarious experience, virtual reality, and whether that kind of imaginative identification produces empathy or even imitative behavior. Certainly critics of gaming pounce on the latter possibility. But in our context I think it gives us lots of room to think about contagion in multiple senses of the term.