We kicked off the week with a For Our Consideration op-ed from Jake Muncy tackling Bloodborne’s use of Christian concepts and imagery to craft its dense Lovecraftian nightmare. As with all things Souls related, the story’s ambiguity means there’s a lot of room for interpretation and commentary, and we got plenty of fascinating takes in the comments. WELCOME_THRILLHO pulled all of Bloodborne’s inspirations together to sum up its sad irony:
So much of what’s good about Bloodborne’s themes come from fusing the Gothic-horror idea of fearing one’s self and one’s urges, which gave rise to the werewolf and vampire mythologies, with the Lovecraftian horror of fearing the unknowable and sublime. The Healing Church takes our human need to find ourselves in the divine—to see a perfected form of ourselves and to know that we’re part of a grand plan—and turns it on its ear. They pursue that which is completely inhuman and unknowable and seek to transcend the baseness of their animalistic human existence, but drinking the blood of the Old Ones only turns them into beasts. They seek the divine in order to better themselves, but only become a worse version of themselves.
The Greeks and Romans are most famous for depicting the gods in perfected human form, yet Abrahamic religions make it a point to never give God a form—though Christianity skirts this by having Christ to walk among us, depicted visually as his Father’s surrogate. The Healing Church in some ways combines these tendencies creating icons of inhuman forms depicted in all of their maddening splendor. In Yharnam itself, the statues seen everywhere have their features hidden (maybe so as not to stir the populace) and are draped in chains. It’s only on the stairs to the Grand Cathedral and in Yahar’ghul where the omnipresent statuary becomes truly and horribly accurate.
This fellow right here points us to another of the stories ironies:
I’m of the opinion that the hidden irony of Bloodborne’s plot is how it turns out the hyper-dimensional alien beings known as The Great Ones are relatively well-intentioned (however the results of those good intentions were less than okay) while most of the humans in the game are deliberately cruel.
The various Great Ones have individual motivations, and they’re all generally benevolent to mankind: protecting us from threats, offering us power and wisdom, guiding us toward a higher plane of existence, just staying out of everyone’s way. Meanwhile, the humans given power and wisdom misuse it, act in xenophobic ways, kill other humans, scheme, lie, go mad, act unwisely, etc. The Great Ones are ignorant; humanity is evil.
And as Drinking_with_Skeletons points out, the issue in Bloodborne might not be that the Great Ones don’t love those who worship them; it might be that they love them too much:
The scarier thing might be the implication that the Great Ones do love humanity. The Moon Presence embraces your character in two of the three endings. The prostitute is forcibly, immaculately impregnated—a perversion at every level of the Virgin Mary—yet the inhuman baby that she births seems to pose no threat to her. (It’s kind of cute!) Indeed, the Great Ones’ motivation is to have children, which they cannot do without using humans as vessels, and the human antagonists of the game—a secret splinter group of the Healing Church—sacrifice untold numbers of people and begin the endless Night Of The Hunt seemingly to offer up a precious Great One baby in exchange for knowledge. Based on the Great One babies roaming the upper levels of the Great Cathedral, I’d guess that Ebrietas was offering her blood in exchange for the ability to finally have children.
If the great horror of every religious person is, “What if there is no God?” the horror of Bloodborne could be seen as deriving from, “What if there is?”
Our current Special Topics In Gameology series on commerce in games rolled on this week. Nick Wanserski dropped by to talk all about the art gallery feature in Assassin’s Creed II, and how by turning priceless paintings into baubles, the game accidentally asks questions about the vale of art. Why collect these things at all? For The Space Pope, the value of Ezio’s virtual art collection was the same as it was for his real-world Renaissance counterparts:
I really loved collecting all the art in these games, but I didn’t care much about the boost to income (except in that more money let me buy more art). I looked at it like a proper Renaissance collector would have: Every painting I buy provides one more piece of evidence of how awesome I am. You Templars can have your conspiracies and empires and whatnot. I have the Mona Goddamn Lisa hanging in my foyer, so y’all can go fuck yourselves. Especially you, Land Pope!
DustBowlOkapi pointed out a similar situation in a very different game:
What do I get beyond the satisfaction of outsmarting a black-market art dealer in Animal Crossing, especially when I can collect multiple copies of the “legitimate” pieces from the only seller of these goods? Am I the real fool for buying each piece, week after week, knowing they are nothing but lies imitating my own reality? How can I walk through the hallowed halls of my town’s museum knowing there are no originals? This in the same culture where excess fossils are sold for pennies on the bell? What is art worth, indeed.
I can always dig up another Ankylo skull, but can I really donate Manet’s The Fifer to the museum and buy another copy to sell? My donation was no longer a sacrifice for the community good, just an arbitrary, trivial delay in my ability to collect bells and another check on an interminably long checklist. It further diminished the illusions of my town being more than a set of computer code, the art being a copy of bits the same as the game itself.
The arbitrary value is much of what we find in Humble Bundle and Steam sale discussions; once the copy becomes trivial in space and cost, it becomes practically undesirable, like Ezio’s masterworks become checks on an otherwise unwanted list.
For Binky, upgrading your in-game décor is reward enough:
I have enjoyed strolling around open worlds from time to time, and the only pleasure I ever get is aesthetic. I’ve never had the slightest interest in plots or scores or unlocking this or that.
For instance, I really enjoyed decorating my Imperial City brownstone in Oblivion. I cleared out everything from the house before starting. My whole point in playing afterward was to find interesting objects for this shelf or that. The only things I collected to completion were dinnerware and that was only so I could set a proper table. I acknowledged the quest-based mechanics of the game only so far as was necessary to find or to pay for objects for my elaborate decorating project. It was all aesthetics! If that game had a plot, I have no idea what it was or what I was expected to do in respect of it. Something to do with fire holes? The point is, I won Oblivion as well as anyone could be expected to, except I did it with feng shui.
And with that, dear Gameologerinos, another week draws to a close. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll be back next week!