Last Sunday, I waxed poetic about Bloodborne in my review of the game. Today I am going to relate that to genre fiction, and Steampunk in general.
My view of Steampunk is that. as we move away from the industrial age and into the information age, it will become more and more popular. Bloodborne represents From Software’s foray into Steampunk/Industrial age fantasy, and I feel it is a smashing success. The company was previously known for the Demons Souls/Dark Souls series, which is medieval and high fantasy.
Bloodborne takes place in Yharnam, a rambling gothic city with magnificent skyline full of cathedrals and high towers. The lower streets are, of course, choked with debris and narrow, but the heights of the city, when you get to them, are magnificent and definitely not medieval. Only the Church, the old sections of the town, and a few other places hint at the feudal age from which the place must have grown.
The weapons and attire in Bloodborne also speak of the industrial age, as well as to older traditions. Alongside axes and swords we have various forms of firearms, and even some reminiscent of the late medieval combination weapons like a gun spear and a pistol/rapier combination weapon. The guns are generally wielded in the off-hand and are used both offensively and defensively to interrupt and stagger enemies, while the main hand melee weapons do most of the damage.
When I first started playing games the idea of a gun being used as a secondary weapon would have induced seas of foaming nerdrage. People just didn’t like mixing guns and fantasy back then, and when they did they often felt the need to show the primacy of the gun. I blame that scene in the first Indiana Jones where Harrison Ford is confronted by a scimitar wielding fanatic, who pulls of an amazing kata, and just shoots the guy. In Fantasy guys with swords coexist with guys with magic, so guns must be better than magic too, right? That attitude has eroded over the years, thankfully, and we now see guns treated more or less as any other weapon and even see enchanted guns cropping up more and more.
The monsters in Bloodborne are also drawn from industrial age sources. Vampires, werewolves, and things that would be at home in the tales of the brothers Grim or Lovecraft seem to be the primary inspirations for the creature’s visuals, although they are all tied together by a common thread, thematically. Instead of a knight facing dragons and orcs, you take the role of a hunter cleansing a city of monsters, acting as a kind of pest control really.
But you all know about that, I expect. Sreampunk is on the rise as Fantasy expends and becomes more popular. Bloodborne has many of the cool trappings of Steampunk, but what does it do so well that can we learn from it for our games and writing?
- The Clash Between Reason and Mysticism: We can frequently see this in modern society, unfortunately, but in previous centuries this was a deep and abiding battle. Galileo was condemned for “vehement suspicion of heresy” and spent the last decade of his life under house arrest. Darwin was even more vilified then than he is today. The Church was a real political power in the early parts of the industrial age, it was fading compared to its dominance in the feudal age, but it still had real strength. Bloodeborne does an admirable job of showing the clash between mysticism and science as the clerics of Yharnam and the various schools of thought that grow up around the study of blood clash in the background and backstory.
- Resource Based Themes: The Industrial age is deeply concerned with the exploitation of natural resources, almost in the same way that the feudal age was concerned with land and agriculture. In Bloodborne the resource in question, the trade on which the Town of Yharnam was founded is the Healing Blood. The Healing Blood is a substance that can cure disease and give long life. It has many other miraculous properties that one can discover in the game, and many theories have developed around it. Like any good industrial age story, the resource being exploited also has flaws. You discover fairly quickly that the Healing Blood has the side effect of turning people who use it into monsters when the moon is full. [SPOILER] Ultimately you discover that the Healing Blood is basically taken from a Lovecraft-like entity that was discovered below the city, and that some see the side effects as evolutionary instead of monstrous. Reminds me of the mixed blessings of oil, coal, nuclear power, and so on.
- Obsession and the quest for Knowledge: While the clerics of Yharnam and the scholars often seem at odds, they have many things in common. Most importantly they nearly always seem to end up as victims of their various obsessions. This is the deepest theme of Bloodborne and one that is pulled off brilliantly. Often these days I see scientists or mystics portrayed as bumbling idiots who cannot but help to go too far, because too much knowledge is bad mmmmkay? Jurassic Park, Age of Ultron, and Ex Machina from this year all leap to mind as having plots that are driven by people who seek knowledge and cause havoc by doing so. Bloodborne also has this, in spades, but the player is also a knowledge seeker and the game treads the razor edge and condemns obsession over curiosity and love of knowledge, which is a much more accurate view. The endings of the game conform to this theme very nicely.