Authors' note: Due to the nature of Bloodborne lore, certain bits of information in this article may change over time to reflect a more accurate understanding of the games' story and mythology. While I will always try my best to deliver the most accurate information as possible, due to the constant changing nature of theories around Bloodborne I cannot guarantee 100% accuracy all the time. I will however strive to make sure that the post colonial analysis of this series remains equally valid even if some of the smaller details do change.
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of From Software's 2015 game Bloodborne. So much so, that I talk about it a lot. In fact, it even featured in this article here. Recently, during some academic study I have been doing, I happened upon a copy of the Reddit user RedGrave’s seminal work – The Paleblood Hunt and gave it a read. The Paleblood Hunt, which you can access here, is essentially a 100-page analysis of the complex and confusing story of Bloodborne by which, the author submits ten chapters unpacking each of the multifaceted stories contained within the game’s narrative, layering upon them as you read through, until hopefully the game makes a little more sense.
I have to admit, it was a pretty fantastic and impressive read. It was one of those texts that as an author, you wish you had written yourself. Of course, the amount of research that went into The Paleblood Hunt is obviously astounding, and would have taken weeks if not months of play and careful observation to collect. This is a feat I doubt that I would have been capable of, so even though I am jealous, I am glad this work came from somebody else with a bit more commitment than I.
The reason I bring this text up is because of the smaller (by comparison) research project I have been putting some time into. That is, a post-colonial rewrite and analysis of the game, as I believe the scenario of Bloodborne can offer us a unique insight into the nature of imperialism, xenophobia and racism through the eyes of foreigners, those living under imperial rule and the imperialists themselves.
I am aware that this is an academically dense topic and that for many of my reader’s a term like “post-colonialism” is fairly unhelpful in understanding what this series of articles aim to be about. As such, before we dive in, it’s important to have an understanding of this narrative theory.
A quick google search will tell you all you need to know in regards to this topic. Post Colonialism is an academic discipline of literary scholars that looks at explains and responds to the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The theory is often about speaking in regards to human consequences of external control and economic exploitation of native peoples and their lands. It can also be about those of “other” races and cultures living within a larger imperialist culture foreign to their own.
Post Colonialism tends to look at the politics of knowledge (creation, control and distribution) by examining the functional relations of social and political power that sustain colonialism and neocolonialsim – the imperial regime’s depictions (social, political, cultural) of the colonizer and the colonized.
What a confusing mess of academic words right?
In layman’s terms, we are analyzing stories that give a fair and accurate depiction of the oppressors and the oppressed. This is usually in regards to race and culture, but can also be about the relationships between any minority and majority, whether it’s sexual, political, racial, cultural or economical.
Bloodborne: The Elevator Pitch
Bloodborne has earned itself quite the reputation for being infamously hard to figure out. In fact, it’s entirely possible (and I know because I did it) to play through the whole game your first time round having no idea what the story is at all.
This is because the game designers chose a unique way of unpacking narrative to the audience. That is, you will only discover story if you specifically go looking for it. The game doesn’t hand you anything but rewards curious players who seek understanding as to the goings on of the game world.
But for the sake of this article, let’s begin by creating a quick synopsis. This is what we call in the screenwriting business, an Elevator pitch, something you can tell a rich executive in an elevator to sell them on your film.
A foreigner suffering from an unknown ailment journeys from a distant land to Yharnam in search of the miraculously healing blood transfusion the city and its empire is famous for. Upon arriving and receiving their first transfusion, the foreigner awakens to a city in chaos in which beasts stalk the streets, hunted by holy warriors. The foreigner finds themselves dragged into the hunt and as the night darkens, so does their understanding of the world around them, until finally, they are faced with a horrifying and mind-altering truth.
That’s it in short. Of course, there’s a hell of a lot more where that came from. However, for the sake of brevity and concision, we will only be focusing on three aspects of the overall story in this series of posts.
The first aspect which we will look at today is the Player Character’s journey through the world of Bloodborne as a foreigner, the second, a focus on the backstory of an NPC character and boss fight named Father Gascoigne, and lastly the economic status of the Healing Church and its miraculous blood transfusions.
The Foreigner’s Journey
When Bloodborne begins, you are introduced in the very first scene to a Blood Minister as you are about to undergo your first blood transfusion.
“Oh, yes…” he says, “Paleblood… Well, you’ve come to the right place. Yharnam is the home of blood ministration. You need only unravel its mysteries.”
As soon as this cryptic statement is uttered, you find yourself passing in an out of consciousness. You see a Werewolf rise from a pool of blood and then spontaneously combust before being swarmed by strange grotesque small creatures.
A note sits on the table next to you. It says:
“Seek Paleblood to transcend the hunt.”
For a long time everyone in the Bloodborne fandom considered that cryptic message as being important to the player. And it is, but not in the way we were lead to believe. In fact, that note is arguably an incredibly cryptic hidden gun within the narrative.
To understand what this means, we need to ask the question, much like RedGrave does in his analysis – What is Paleblood?
Redgrave suggests that when we think about blood in Bloodborne we need to think about it in three separate forms. Red blood cells, Plasma or Serum and finally White blood cells, or Pale blood cells.
In Bloodborne, each one of these forms is important, however for the purpose of this part we will be focusing mainly on the white blood cells. However, let’s point out couple of things about each form before we continue:
Red Blood Cells
Red blood cells are used for the distribution of Oxygen. They are the primary means of support to keep the body alive and feed the body’s tissue. In Bloodborne this is important because of the legendary blood transfusions Yharnam is famous for. In the game, Yharnamites are pretty much all addicts for the procedure, which transfuses blood from a “Great One” discovered in some ancient ruins by the Holy Church into their bodies. However, the blood has an unforeseen side effect; it makes users especially vulnerable to a blood-borne disease known as “The Scourge of the Beast” which causes Lycanthropy in normal civilians and an insatiable lust for violence.
Plasma is the liquid that contains both the red and white blood cells. It acts as a means of transportation for both red and white throughout the body. When separated from the red and white cells, Plasma on its own is a yellowish amber coloured liquid. In the context of Bloodborne we see the use of Plasma in a group of beings known to the community as Kin of the Cosmos, beings that were once human/mortal whom have been through the use of experimentation, ascended to a higher form of being altogether, freed of The Scourge of the Beast, these creatures when attacked in the game bleed Amber, they are void of white and red as they have no need for either.
White Blood Cells
White blood cells, if my memory of science class serves me correctly, are an important part of the human body’s immune system. When an infection or bacteria enters the body, White blood cells act fast by locating the threat, isolating it and destroying it by growing around the threat and consuming it.
White blood cells are by far the most fascinating in Bloodborne. RedGrave writes in The Paleblood Hunt, talking about a past hunter named Djura, who like the player character – had access to “The Hunter’s Dream”, a special safe area where he could hone his skills and grow stronger through the use of Blood Echoes taken from his fallen foes. He could die and would return to this dream, only to be reborn back into the hunt moments later, much like the player can:
“Djura likely suffered from a terrible, incurable disease. It’s possible that Djura suffered from a type of terminal anemia, meaning that he had a significant deficiency of iron in his bloodstream and that he had much less haemoglobin in his red blood cells. Anemia was… …associated with a terrible paleness of the skin. The lack of haemoglobin meant the red blood cells carried much less nutrients throughout the bloodstream; the blood was a pale, sickly colour and the skin followed suit.” (RedGrave, 2015, p.60)
RedGrave suggests that perhaps the note on the table next to you, the one which says “Seek Paleblood to transcend the hunt.” is not written for you at all. It is either a note from Djura’s Blood Minister/Doctor to yours, or alternatively, they are the same person and it’s a note the Blood Minister has left for himself in regards to finding those who like the white blood cells have the ability to destroy the Scourge of the Beast through the hunting of monsters.
“Djura’s doctor discovered someone whose red blood was pale, who carried the antibodies and the potential to battle the Scourge of the beast. He discovered a Paleblood. When the Paleblood was treated with the Old Blood (Blood of a Great One), they were reborn as a Hunter, and not just any hunter but a special one. The Hunter’s Mark was branded in the mind of the Paleblood Hunter, connecting them to the Hunter’s Dream and forcing them into servitude.” (RedGrave, 2015, p.60)
We know from playing the game, that Djura was not strong enough even as a Paleblood Hunter. He was eventually driven mad by what he had seen and done as a Hunter. After Djura came another Paleblood, a woman from a foreign land named Eileen the Crow, however she too would fail, although not as drastically as Djura.
Which brings us to you – the player, another stranger from a foreign land, a Pale Blood with the potential to end the nightmare that has befallen Yharnam and the surrounding areas. You receive a blood transfusion in an attempt to heal what ails you, only to find yourself connected the Hunter’s Dream and all that it entails.
In a Post-Colonial sense, this is an important concept because it is a counter-narrative to something we see all the time in Hollywood, that of the “White Saviour Narrative”. Sociology Professor, Mathew Hughey explains:
“A White Savior film is often based on some supposedly true story. Second, it features a nonwhite group or person who experiences conflict and struggle with others that is particularly dangerous or threatening to their life and livelihood. Third, a White person (the savior) enters the milieu and through his or her sacrifices as a teacher, mentor, lawyer, military hero, aspiring writer, or wannabe Native American warrior, is able to physically save — or at least morally redeem — the person or community of folks of color by the film’s end.” (Hughey, 2015)
Obviously, we can drop the film part and the based on a true story part for the Bloodborne context, but the rest of the description is quite interesting, albeit in need of a reinterpretation:
The Colonial Savior Narrative
A Colonial Savior narrative is a narrative device in which a non-colonial or minority group or person who experiences conflict and struggle that is particularly dangerous to their survival or livelihood. In this narrative, a member of the majority, often times a white male, enters the milieu and through his or her sacrifices as a teacher, mentor, lawyer, military hero, aspiring writer, or wannabe Native American warrior is able to physically save – or at least morally redeem – the person or community of minority by the story’s end.
That sounds better. Let’s work with that. So with our new definition in mind, let’s look at Bloodborne and how it subverts this narrative trope.
In Bloodborne Yharnam, The Healing Church and the Byrgenwerth Scholars are effectively the (white) majority. Although never explicitly stated, the way the city looks and is structured, one can assume that it is if not the capital city, it is a major city within a Victorian-esque Empire. Yharnam has the backing of a major Catholic-styled Church which acts as a governing authority, as well as the Academic elite in Byrgenwerth.
The majority become threatened by a Bloodborne disease that causes them to turn into beasts and attack one another. Hunters have risen up to try cull this plague; however they have been largely unsuccessful. The plague threatens the survival and livelihood of the majority.
Only those known as Paleblood’s have the capability to defeat this threat. Paleblood’s – sickly anaemic outcasts – a minority have what is needed to save the majority.
Lastly, you – the player arrive on the scene. Not only are you a sickly anaemic, but you are also a foreigner. It is you who will put an end to this plague. You the sick, foreign minority will save the Victorian majority from the evil they have bought upon themselves.
Do you see the switch over here?
Bloodborne is ingeniously an anti-colonial savior narrative.
Adding to this, we have to consider Bloodborne’s Lovecraftian origins. For those of you who don’t know – H P Lovecraft was a horror writer from the early 1900s’ who achieved literary fame after his death for his horrifying tentacled monsters such as Cthulhu, Nyarlothotep and Azathoth, in what became known as The Cthulhu Mythos, by which many other writers have and still to this day contribute to with their stories.
Bloodborne is kind of a love letter to that Mythos, being heavily influenced by Lovecraft’s creatures and philosophies. However, HP Lovecraft, the man was a horrific racist and Xenophobe, even penning a poem at one point in his career called “On the Creation of Niggers”.
Lovecraft’s short stories typically revolved around a character who was always a white male, who felt they were unusual, an outcast in their present society for various reasons. This created what is known as the outsider archetype, on which I have written about here.
This information I believe is crucial to understanding the post-colonial genius of Bloodborne. It is, in its own way a rewrite of Lovecraft’s tales from a post-colonial perspective. Bloodborne takes Lovecraft’s Outsider Archetype turns it on its head by making the central Outsider Character a foreigner (the very type of Outsider Lovecraft often villainized in his own work as being tribal, uncultured evil pagans), and has the white racist xenophobes of Yharnam turn into horrific monsters throughout the course of the game.
The player’s journey aka the Foreigner’s journey in this game is incredibly interesting when you consider it from this perspective. It subverts the very nature of the Lovecraftian tale, and thrusts the player into the uncomfortable perspective of a minority outsider in a world hostile to them, and allows them to save this world if they choose to do so.
Hughey, M. (2015, January 19). The whiteness of Oscar night. Retrieved from https://contexts.org/blog/the-whiteness-of-oscar-night/
RedGrave. (2015). Chapter ten: The paleblood hunt. In The paleblood hunt - A Bloodborne analysis (2nd ed., p. 60). Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JL5acskAT_2t062HILImBkV8eXAwaqOj611mSjK-vZ8/edit