[This post contains heavy use of plot and lore spoilers for the game Bloodborne. You have been warned.]
If you are going to talk about a From Software game, surely you are here to talk about its graphic depictions of violence. No?.. Perhaps then the brutally addictive qualities of their games, afflicting innocent players? No?!…
There is a different affliction making its presence known in From Software’s latest title Bloodborne. An affliction of the mind. So potent is this illness that it affects close to the entire population of the city of Yharnam enticing delusions, madness and aggression. Under the light of the full moon this illness takes shape as ‘The Hunt’. It is the role of the Hero Character to become a Hunter and try, as many have done before, to purge Yharnam of the afflicted Beasts. As the latest Hunter to be invited to the Hunters Dream (a sanctuary for the Hunters alive and dead) you also embark on a descent into the affliction beset upon Yharnam.
The slow progression and brutal nature of the game is directly mimicked by the onset of madness that befalls the player. As the characters mental state becomes more questionable with each major encounter made within the game. Encounters which earn for the player Insight.
“The Insight stat represents the depth of inhuman knowledge.”
As the level of insight increases things within the game start to change. Things appear that weren’t there before. Yet because players die so frequently and replay areas so much, these changes stand out like a giant brain monster on a cathedral.
From Software is notorious for having very well concealed narratives, but because the player frequents the same actions over and over again they are consistently looking for something new. These actions of the player paired with the feedback from the emerging changes in the game hammers home Einstein’s definition of insanity, except this time they did encounter something different. The depiction of mental health within Bloodborne is explored by the player through meticulous repetition and understanding the mechanics.
A more direct motif that Bloodborne employs to suggest a case of psychosis is the presence of self-enucleation or oedipism; the act of destroying one or both eyes. You will notice there are many NPC’s throughout the game who have bandages or veils covering their eyes. More evidence of oedipism is seen in the Oeden Chapel, by which even the name suggests this form of self mutilation. Case studies suggest that oedipism is carried out after severe trauma or distress often by the acutely psychotic or schizophrenic (Pompili, M., 2006). The suspected trauma that the NPC’s suffered is the attainment of insight.
Gaining insight and seeing the Old Ones (refer to figure one) is what drove the citizens of Yharnam to mutilate their eyes as the sight of the creatures was too maddening to behold. While the reason for trauma is fantastical it is trauma none the less and the player feels the existence of insanity rather than being expressly told (Floyd, D., Portnow, J., 2014).
The theme of seeing madness is derived from Lovecraftian Horror, and is encapsulated in the legendary novel; Call of Cthulhu. The essence of Lovecraft is poured generously into the narrative of Bloodborne, and done so with no small amount of perfection. Cthulhu as an incomprehensible entity manipulates the minds of men through dreams and psychic ability driving the feeble minded to madness. Our own Hunter is thrust into the Hunters Dream, through the whims of an Old One known as the Moons Presence.
These parallels between Cthulhu and the Moons Presence suggest they spark the same kind of madness within the minds of men. While the mental state provoked by omnipotent beings is whimsical and that of fantasy, the end result is that men are mad with fear with what is unknown. The fear of unknown is what spans Lovecraft’s horror and what makes his works so engrossing to readers, as it excites the imagination into filling in the gaps. Drawing on this style of horror is what drove the vague narrative of Bloodborne to what I believe is greatness.They allow the player to derive their own conclusions and let their imagination run with the narrative. Activating the imagination of the player results in a more real, fearful and mad experience of mental illness within Bloodborne.
“If you find any sane survivors, tell ‘em to seek shelter at Oeden Chapel. Cause there’s nothing to fear here… ha, hah ha!“
– Oeden Chapel Dweller
The last and probably most obvious motif used to display mental illness in Bloodborne is the Moon. The Moon has long been associated with madness, granted it is a more archaic symbol but it is prevalent none the less. Especially when we include the fact that the vast majority of enemies in the game appear to be closely related to werewolves. Elongated limbs, excess hair around the face and arms, plus the appearance of actual werewolves all show that the Moon is the cause of the sickness and The Hunt all based on the will of the Moons Presence. It has been a superstition that has survived centuries that the full moon strikes rage, aggression and lunacy into humans. While none of the speculation around the Moon is proven to be true this is another avenue for the players imagination to wander and generate a more enriching glimpse of madness.
To conclude, mental illness may not the primary focus for most who play Bloodborne, we cannot ignore From Softwares attempts at including well researched ties to insanity. Even if the end result is not a realistic example of the mentally ill, the player can still be drawn into that world.
From Software delivers a narrative as sparse and tantalising as Lovecraft’s descriptions of the formless beasts beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Providing an omnipresent shiver, a feeling, not a form to the vast enemy spanning the game.
– Lovecraft, H.P. (1928). Call of Cthulhu.
– Floyd, D., Portnow, J. aka Extra Credits (2014). Why Games Do Cthulhu Wrong – The Problem With Horror Games
– Pompili, M., Lester, D., Tatarelli, R., Girardi, P. (2006). Incomplete Oedipism and Chronic Suicidality in Psychotic Depression with Paranoid Delusions related to Eyes.
– Radford, B. (2014). ‘Blood Moon’ Myths: Superstitions in the Skies.
– Perron, B. (2009). Horror Video Games: Essays on the Fusion of Fear and Play.
– Walker, A. (2015). A Burnt Torch: Darkest Dungeon, Mental Health and Lovecraftian Horror.
Thanks for reading!