Bloodborne – I Spring Forwards, You Fall Back
I always find it humorous when people complain about the Spring season time change. Discussions like “What is the point of the system in the first place?” and “I’m so tired today, I feel like I’m jet-lagged from losing an hour’s sleep,” become as common a conversation as an impending Christmas or Thanksgiving. The week leading up to and following the annual loss of an hour manages to communally outrage the public masses, with complaints crying out against their lack of a good night’s rest or more free time for whatever recreation. People feel cheated in some way, questioning the very concept of such a practice and going on to even consider it an archaic scientific philosophy which is simply no longer necessary to uphold in the modern era.
Yet only half a year later when our country collective gains an hour, the controversial practice is suddenly lauded over; the cries afoul are replaced by joyous celebration for that extra bit of time granted. The Spring season debacle never even comes to mind, and everyone seems to forget that the cause for celebration is limited till the following year. But the fact remains that without one, the other would cease to exist.
Call it cause and effect. If in the Springtime we did not turn our clocks forward, we would not be allowed the satisfaction of turning them back in the Fall, and vice versa. The “vice versa” concept is the real kicker, however; because in exchange for the bad we are getting the good, but simultaneously, in exchange for the good we are getting the bad, entirely depending on the season. Thus, the concept can also be defined as risk and reward. By risking losing an hour each Spring, the populace will reward itself with an extra hour a mere six months later. All that is required is a little patience and understanding of this general idea for the system to fundamentally work to strengthen our psychological status of control and commitment.
Thus, the seasonal time change becomes in itself a sort of holiday: a specific time to reward oneself for the hard work they endure for most of the year, if only for a brief period as to limit the stresses of everyday monotony and societal rulings which fuel a country’s industry. Holidays are designed to keep the balance between dedication and recreation from tipping too far to the left, lest the collective mind of society caves in on itself due to an abundance of strain. By risking a majority of each passing year working hard to ensure society’s structure, nations reward themselves by allowing days of rest and/or celebration, designed to relieve the mind and body, if only for a brief moment of time before returning to task.
As an athlete, this risk and reward system also directly affects me, if on a more personal level. I commit myself to a strict dietary and exercise regimen each week not only to strengthen my body or to access the meditative qualities of discipline, but to construct a system of risk and reward to suit my own benefits. By pushing myself four times a week to wake up, jump onto the treadmill, and run a few miles, I only increase the level of relief which follows suit. What motivates me is not only the promise of further physical and mental development — of building a better Me — but the notion that I can reward myself for my efforts by enjoying some TV or indulging in a good burger or simply taking a rest on the couch.
Without that concept of reward, however, I would begin to question the very purpose of this tiresome self-commitment, and the stress of overcompensation in effort would cause a relapse of motivation. Stress builds over and clouds the mind when there is no relief from the work one puts themselves through. This is quite evident during the Lent season for me, because each year I participate by giving up all unhealthy junk/fast foods, which are a large factor in my personal reward system. With that lack of reward to indulge in upon achieving my athletic goals and maintaining my steady regimen, it becomes much moore arduous a task to motivate myself to run each morning. On the other end of the spectrum, too much recreation can result in a lack of enjoyment from such overcompensation of reward. Taking a week off from running and eating fast food everyday greatly decreases the level of enjoyment to be had in such indulgence since the act does not feel as rewarding. The concept functions equally when applied to both a universal setting or a personal one; for natural Human survival itself is dependent entirely on a balanced mind and an understanding of why we primarily work hard to continue to exist. The reward gives reason for the risk, and risk offers a promise of reward.
In the grand scope of artistic expression, perhaps no other medium more accurately defines this concept than that of the video game; and perhaps no other game more complexly and convincingly describes it than FromSoftware’s most recent survival horror masterpiece, Bloodborne. Built upon Lovecraftian themes regarding Humankind’s struggle in the search for enlightenment, the game sets the player in a grey, decaying world fraught with horrific monsters which were once human. A scourge has since repainted the gothic cathedrals and religious artworks which once colored an evolving Yharnam into a decrepit image of the past, frozen in time, set as a reminder of the higher powers which the citizens never truly reached. The game’s philosophy centers around the descent into madness which follows a pursuit to find answers to the world’s most enigmatic questions.
At this point, I don’t even have to mention how infamous the game has become due to its intense difficulty; however, I will to instead offer my own definition of its constant frame of challenge: intimidation. Bloodborne is not so difficult a game as it is intimidating, utilizing its haunted setting and vicious enemy types to emphasize its survival horror genre, and to great effect. Around every corner lurks dangers, and players are almost forced to think strategically with each advancing step. Since death could arrive at any moment, thus instituting a checkpoint reload, the potential loss of progress — both in regards to narrative and role-playing progression — is a constant looming force, like a thick fog enveloping the player in its brooding, grey clench.
And yet despite the fear factor, and despite the constant failures (because in Bloodborne, there’s little question whether or not you will die, the question is how many times you will), players continue on in their stead, determined to overcome the challenges which constantly face them. Why? FromSoftware understand the beauty of Human advancement, which is why they’ve crafted a game centered around the overcoming of intimidation to allow for further self-empowerment. Just as the citizens of Yharnam so desperately once sought enlightenment only to turn twisted and ravenous as a dire result, and only continue to do so even in their decayed state of mind; players (people, Human beings) are compelled to seek answers to the enigmatic narrative, to finally complete a boss battle which has defeated them countless times and prove their worth, to gain enough XP to level up and build a stronger character, to make it to the next lantern in hopes of seeing the game through to completion, whether the night ever even ends. It is this natural state of consciousness, this Human longing for survival and self-betterment which fuels the player’s progression despite the intimidation; and Bloodborne is meticulously designed to evidence this very concept.
The video game medium offers a very interpretive approach to artistic argument. A game developer is forced to rely on the player as much as the game’s construction itself to effectively convey the deeper meanings behind each design choice. As opposed to film, music, literature, food, etc. a video game player has a direct influence on the overall experience presented to them, and the most successful games are able to explore different methods of allowing player interaction. Bloodborne achieves where many other titles have failed in delivering a world where having the freedom to either give up or keep fighting ultimately ends up defining who the player is as a Human being. Does enlightenment and self-empowerment compel them to carry on in their stead? or will the vicious monstrosities prowling the scourged scenes subdue their evolution? FromSoftware argue that whichever answer one chooses, it may very well define their own understanding of what it means to be a Man.