In a day and age where smartphones, the internet, and space travel exist it is truly a wonder how horror has become so popular. There have been many writers of horror over the centuries but the want, if not need, for horror has never been greater than in today’s time. Because video games play such a prominent role in storytelling and are an engaging form of literature, it is important to understand how crucial the video game Bloodborne was in cementing our need for horror.
Though Bloodborne does borrow heavily from the Lovecraftian lore, it is important to analyze what specifically makes Bloodborne a good horror. Of the many elements in horror, there are 3 which are the foundation to most subgenres of horror that ensure a satisfied audience: the unknown, isolation, and the setting.
What exactly does the unknown mean? As I stated earlier, Bloodborne’s visuals and storytelling borrow from the Lovecraft universe. An important element in this version of horror is the concept that there is something “out there” that we are not aware of. Humans have always dreaded the unknown whether in unforeseen financial bills or from walking down a dark alley by yourself. Throughout Bloodborne, and from the beginning, the protagonist is unaware of the circumstances of his/her world. The world is torn apart, there is little information, and there is the constant creeping sense of doom nearing.
In traditional Lovecraft stories the unknown, as in Bloodborne, is represented by ambiguous amorphous creatures as representations of everyday struggles. H.P. Lovecraft himself did live in constant financial struggles which he transmuted through his work. We rarely see our tax collectors—but we know that they are there. This sense of the unknown constantly creeping around every corner of the game builds up fear…and fear is the most innate emotion known to humans.
Perhaps the single greatest representation of this can be found within the creatures known as ‘amygdalas’. These creatures are present all throughout the game but are invisible until the protagonist gains enough wisdom to the circumstances of their world. In a sense these creatures are very similar to the concept of the unknown during one’s own life. As we grow up, we tend to face greater and greater challenges not knowing where the next challenge may come from. But there comes a point in all our lives when we know that something will be waiting for us even if we can’t see it at first.
Living in a time where we have everything we could possibly want, it is difficult to know or even predict where society goes from here. Because we no longer have direction of our purpose that piece of our minds, notably fear, has come back. And similar to the feeling of the gamer playing Bloodborne, we don’t know why it’s there…but we remember the feeling all too well.
It’s difficult to say which of the 3 main foundations of horror has more weight than the others but seasoned horror movie and literature fans would say that it is isolation. What isolation does isn’t simply the act of taking you away from other human contact but also skewing your notion of what is good and evil as well as right and wrong. Without human contact, as well as others, a person tends to lose their notion of how they are supposed to “act” in the real world. Societal norms come from interaction with other people. Spend enough time alone and eventually black and white tend to look gray.
Bloodborne’s nameless protagonist is sent on a hunt throughout a world with very few people or creations to interact with for more than a few minutes. These other characters are not necessarily good or bad. They are like the player—searching for meaning in a world where few are there to provide guidance. As the game progresses and the story slowly unfolds it becomes apparent that as the player continues through the “hunt” of the game there are few people he/she can rely on for help.
What Bloodborne does beautifully with this pillar of horror is send our hero alone into the world and struggle to survive with little context of what is good or evil. Eventually the player and the hero find themselves much a like hunter who has forgotten why he is hunting. This sense of moving from different towns, graveyards, cells, without anyone to call for help is so imbedded within our human psyche that people will do almost anything to keep one ounce of human contact even if it isn’t positive.
A hero constantly searching through the unknown for someone he or she needs completely alone is already the perfect metaphor for the current state of modern human society. But there is one more element that shows why Bloodborne was the horror we needed—the setting. Traditionally, horror tends to take on a Victorian or Gothic era setting but Bloodborne goes above and beyond in this arena as well. Throughout the adventure the player witnesses well-built Victorian cities cast in darkness but with a somewhat modern twist.
The land of Bloodborne has developed a steampunk mechanical vibe that counter clashes with the old world still existing. This clash of old and new together is unsettling because there is no certainty where the world will go. Will the old way of swords remain? Or will the new era of mechanical fixation take hold? Much like our world today, we have old worlds and new worlds constantly colliding with one another. With technology now at the peak of human capacity there are other more subtle changes such as gender, entitlement, and even simple wording now changing altogether right before our eyes.
Darkness alone is not enough to bring out true horror. Bloodborne increases its mastery of setting by not only clashing the new and old world but also variation. The hero must travel not only through well-lit cities, but dungeons, prisons, sewers, forests, cathedrals, other worlds, and in some cases within their very own minds. Despite the advent of the internet and everything in the world being a button click away, the human mind has not adapted to rapid change as quickly.
All of this comes together to bring home an important point—the need for horror. People watch action movies because of a need for exhilaration. People read romantic literature to have their romantic appetite filled. Horror is no different. It is within us. “Fear is older than time”, as Lovecraft would say. It is the one emotion that all, regardless of intellectual capacity, race, religion, color, know deeply. Bloodborne is merely the expression of our current state of mind. We have experienced endless action movies, romantic stories, and fleeting fantasies. But now that we are uncertain of our future in a world where we have everything we need one mouse click away—Bloodborne has reminded us of our fear and reminded us not to be boastful.