Video Games and the Arts: Bloodborne

By Wesley Rossenrode

One of the first things I look for in a game is storytelling. That may sound odd, being that games are played, but I feel, like with all great works of art, it begins with a story.

Bloodborne was a title I was eager to get my hands on ever since I found out Hidetaka Miyazaki was at the helm. Miyazaki is the director of the Souls’ series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, etc.) a set of games known for their punishing yet balanced difficulty and games I thoroughly enjoyed. Miyazaki is a creative, intriguing and sadistic game developer.  The level at which he is able to toy with one’s emotions is thrilling. For the 60 odd hours it takes you to travel through these games, many, many times he beats you up, kills you, makes you question your worth and convinces you it was all your fault, all the while giving you tid-bits of a deeply rich story. Probably concocted while probably torturing small animals.

Bloodborne specifically, (though not as splintered as the Souls series) tells a tragic tale. I can give you the gist of the overarching events, but I cannot tell you the full story. The difficulty in retelling Bloodborne’s true story is in the way it is first given. When you begin the game all you know is that the character you control is in search of a cure for some bloodborne illness and that search has led them to the city of Yharnam. This city, with its claustrophobic Gothic architecture, is teeming with nightmare-inducing beasts and other vermin. The pandemic that concerns our main character also plagues this city and it’s turning its citizenry into horrific creatures.  You can soon learn, but only if you ask, the night you’ve unfortunately arrived is what the city folk call the “Hunt”, a night dedicated to curbing the spread of the disease by killing the inhabitants in the late stages of infection. And after dying it is revealed that you, beyond your will, have become one of the “Hunters”. That’s it, from here on major story points will only be given after key battles, but the details of the story are laid out for you to discover on your own.

After I completed the game, which took about two-and-a-half months, I was still puzzled as to what brought about the demise of this world. In fear of losing what little hair I have left, I went online to forums and fan-made wiki pages to see what I had missed regarding the lore.  The game had been out for more than 18 months which was plenty of time for players to string together the fragments of the story. One piece of writing I found was a 108 page essay shared on Google Docs, created by a fan who goes by the name Redgrave. There are many publications online regarding Bloodborne, but I felt Redgrave’s essay was the most thoughtful. I thoroughly enjoyed his take on what may have happened in the Bloodborne universe with only a few exceptions.

Bloodborne leaves many of the story details up to the player to interpret, but it’s not a flaw and it’s more than an electronic Choose Your Own Adventure book. Many respected authors leave story elements up to the reader to figure out. There are also fans of respected books that try to further the reading by giving their own take on how things may have continued only to be challenged by others who don’t see it the same way. During one of the many discussions my wife and I have around the dinner table we talked about her all-time favorite book, Gone With The Wind written by Margaret Mitchell. She noted on an interesting detail that was left unexplained. On two occasions in the book a bastard son is mentioned, alluding that he may be Rhett’s, but no more is written about it. The popular theory among fans is that Belle Watling, a whorehouse Madam, was the mother, but that will never be known for certain because Mitchell is no longer with us. The book Rhett’s People, written by Donald McCaig was supposed to be a prequel/sequel of sorts, and though it was well written, many refuse to accept it as a furthering of the original story. Seeing a community created by the pure desire to see the story continue is a testament to the author’s ability to spin a yarn and make it compelling and lasting. Though the mediums may differ Miyazaki’s Bloodborne is no different when it comes to great storytelling.

A good story can inspire and it can also leave you in a heap of tears. A complex story, if woven well leaves the reader searching for more. Video games are made by a team of talented people but they are driven by a singular vision and that vision starts with a good story.