Bloodborne Will Always Be My Game Of The Year

Bloodborne Will Always Be My Game Of The Year

A Bloodborne character holds a torch to a werewolf.

Image: FromSoftware

“Hello, good hunter,” the doll told me after accidentally visiting Bloodborne’s first optional boss, the howling Cleric Beast, and getting some of the metaphysical currency, Insight. “I am a doll, here in this dream to take care of you.”

I could tell before she said anything. I’m used to dolls staring at me, giving off that milk glass shine, a certain satiny femininity. They freak me out. Bloodborne, FromSoftware’s rpg battered by decay and twisted blood, knows this. A realistic doll is a silver hairbrush with burnt horsehair bristles, a mildly evil take on what girls want. It fits comfortably in the creepy palm of the game. But Bloodborne settles into discomfort without endorsing it, and that’s why no matter how hard I try to branch out, Bloodborne is my perpetual game of year.

The porcelain dolls in my room had green eyes, I remember. I didn’t know if their cups were satin, because I didn’t know that word yet. But I did notice their muted glow, coin-sized glass irises that I found both easy on the eye and frightening. Scary, because I recognized the dolls as a pulseless version of myself – we were both small, unable to sleep. They were like me, but no. I was afraid they would come to life at night and kill me.

I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents that I hated dolls and had them kicked out of my room. About a decade later, I played Bloodborne for the first time. Unnervingly and somewhat tenderly as the white doves of childhood memory flickered, I recognized a piece of myself in the masked blonde girl slumped on the stone steps, The Doll. Freud would call my reaction – a twinge of fascination, a worm-like rising from inside my stomach – a product of “strangeness.”

“Dolls are of course quite closely related to childhood life,” he writes in a 1919 essay. “Children make no clear distinction at all between living and inanimate objects, and […] they especially like to treat their dolls like living people. A feeling of strangeness therefore does not necessarily come from the fears taught by fairy tales, but from a more general “infantile belief”.

Bloodborne toys with childhood fear and beliefs like a cat pawing an already poisoned mouse. The residents of Yharnam, a city in the game where mist hovers like a permanent poltergeist where everything probably smells terrible, hold to the basic idea that if they do as they are told and stay indoors, they will be fine. They go wild – “Away, away!” staggering command of the Yharnamites, waving their torches at me as if she would do anything to keep my ax from cleaving their faces from their necks—towards the monster they see in me, while disease catalyzes the monster in them. They turn into zombie werewolves, all hungry for blood.

The only respite from the game is the hunter’s dream, where the doll resides.

“It used to be a refuge for hunters,” dirty old man Gehrman tells me when I first arrive at the workshop. “We don’t have as many tools as before, but you can use whatever you find. Even the doll, if you please…”

She’s not alive, but she’s still crying.

I’ve completed Bloodborne three times now and have a few lightly used save files as well. I watched all the lore videos on YouTube, and I’m charmed by its lackluster 30 FPS That much. But every time I watch the low poly Gerhman say “even the doll, if you like it,” I get a little shaken. I’m trying to fast forward – sure, old man, the Vietnam War was a great idea.

Yet in its many tainted worlds, FromSoftware has an undeniable habit to present its female characters as submissive and mutilated meerkats. And, beyond my primary school anxiety, the dolls, especially after the advent of barbie in 1959, are often used as symbols of the impossible female ideal, literal objectification. “A living doll, everywhere you look,” wrote Sylvia Plath in 1962, in a poem criticizing expectations of wives, “The Applicant”. “It works, there’s nothing wrong with that. […]/ Will you marry her, marry her, marry her.

More than 30 years later, Courtney Love seems to answer: “He only likes these things because he likes to see them break,” she sings in the 1994 song Hole. “Doll parts.” “I pretend to be so real, I’m beyond fake.”

But Bloodborne’s doll, while Gehrman probably wishes otherwise, doesn’t mean the patriarchy-sanctioned lobotomy that Plath and Love fear. She’s not quite the “romantic” “comedy” Mannequin fantasy of 1987, where Kim Cattrall’s languid soul is stuck in a shop window mannequin until she falls in love, or the sex doll stiff Bianca, with whom Ryan Gosling initiates a passionate and imaginative romance. in Lars and the Real Girl (2007). The doll’s existence doesn’t prescribe much of the ancient inspiration for these two films, either: Roman poet Ovid Pygmalion’s storya sculptor so enamored with his creation – “that of a virgin”, “even more beautiful naked” – that the goddess Venus allows him to come to life and, finally, to marry.

The doll, while still cake for the rest of the game’s knee-deep carnage, was created with the intention of providing unconditional affection and support (“if you please…”), but she worries about her artifice instead of taking pleasure in it. Her tears though hard crystalfalls again and, when I use my ax to slaughter his human counterpart, Gehrman’s obsession, Lady Maria, she knows. And she is happy.

“Have I changed in any way?” she asks me. “Moments ago, somewhere, perhaps deep within, I felt a release from heavy chains.”

Like The Doll, I feel bound, always, by others’ interpretations of what I look like. Just as when I was a child, horrified by the vision of a stilted woman my dolls showed me, I continue to be painfully aware of my smallness.

Walking down the street, as cars honk and men shout various phrases, I sense that some people want to know if they can break me like porcelain. So I go home and go to Yharnam, pick up my axe, or if I’m in a good mood, raise my holy blade and hack monsters. They don’t know they’re monsters, and I act like I’m pruning a rose bush. I see myself, somewhat reluctantly, in the blonde doll, which is scary but which reflects me.

What I love about Bloodborne is that it understands that fear has no honest resolution. You learn to live within. It allows me to unlock a nightmare that I’ve never really been able to forget, and so, like a fragile, fuzzy gray butterfly, I keep coming back to that thing that hurts me.


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