Bloodborne Is Not An Abuser 1


Content Warning: abuse, domes­tic vio­lence.

There is an argu­ment cur­rent­ly find­ing favour with­in games crit­i­cism as a loose field that states that Bloodborne — in fact that all of the games in the Souls series — are equiv­a­lent to abuse or to being in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship. Just…  no. Stop. This argu­ment is embar­rass­ing and it is offen­sive and it fun­da­men­tal­ly mis­un­der­stands abuse, turn­ing pain into a badge for pos­tur­ing with.

Bloodborne will never beat you so hard that it breaks your ribs and puts you back to work on the farm the moment you leave the hos­pi­tal.

Bloodborne will not tell you that it could not live with­out you. That you are the only thing keep­ing it alive even while it keeps you dead inside.

Bloodborne will not make you cover your bruis­es with make­up and lies about door frames.

Bloodborne will not cor­rect your every minor mis­take in front of your friends until you begin to doubt that you have ever made a state­ment in your life that didn’t make you look like an idiot.

Bloodborne will not tell you that it will change, and never even try to do so.

Bloodborne will not sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly alien­ate your friends and fam­i­ly until it is the only thing that you have to rely on and then tell you that you are in the best place you can be.

Bloodborne will not tell you that you would be noth­ing with­out it even while it keeps you from ever chang­ing or grow­ing or being who you are.

Bloodborne will never hit you and tell you that it only does so because it loves you.

Bloodborne will not find you, even after you think you have escaped, and drag you back into its life.

Bloodborne will not scar you where it knows that it will not be seen.

Bloodborne will not poi­son your life so that even when you are final­ly free of it you secret­ly fear that every rela­tion­ship must exist in that model until you sab­o­tage each one so that it does.

Bloodborne does not see you pri­mar­i­ly as a tool to fur­ther its own designs.

There are all sorts of valid and use­ful con­ver­sa­tions to be had around the Souls series of games. If you are a sur­vivor of abuse and play­ing these games speaks to you about that abuse then I would love to hear about how that works, if you are will­ing and ready to share it. There are valid and use­ful con­ver­sa­tions to be had around addic­tion and exploita­tion and an indus­try that is known to abuse and facil­i­tate abuse of its work­ers. I main­tain — and always have done — that games are a form of art and should be dis­cussed as such, but even so it needs to be remem­bered that art is a prod­uct. Tell me how it made you feel, or what its place in the his­to­ry of aes­thet­ics is for sure, but do not ever tell me that play­ing with your £300 toy is the same thing as a life­time ruined by active, sus­tained and cal­cu­lat­ed dehu­man­i­sa­tion. Bloodborne is not, in and of itself, an abuser.

So Bloodborne didn’t hold your hand through a dif­fi­cul­ty spike? Boo hoo. My heart weeps. The prob­lem is that every­one likes to talk about the way Bloodborne makes them fail, even as they suc­ceed. A litany of boss­es, each hard­er than the last, all mak­ing them fail; but to even recite that litany they must have defeat­ed each in turn. To call Bloodborne abu­sive under these cir­cum­stances is to ulti­mate­ly buy into the rhetoric of the abuser, to believe them when they tell you that they only want to make you stronger, that it is only you that is hold­ing your­self back. But that is a lie. Abusers do not want you to be stronger, they want you exact­ly where and how you are, direct­ly under their con­trol, shoring up their posi­tion in the world. Maybe, just maybe, if Bloodborne kept you in the start­ing area, if it denied you the tools to get out but told you that it was your own fault for not being strong enough, then I might agree that it mod­elled abu­sive behav­iour. But it doesn’t. Its fail­state is a soft reset, and some spooky text, not a per­ma­nent phys­i­cal or emo­tion­al scar. Abuse breaks you down in a way that Bloodborne nei­ther can nor is inter­est­ed in doing.

While it may instil in you con­flict­ing and dif­fi­cult, even self-flagellatory, emo­tions Bloodborne remains a game that you chose to play, that you can leave behind at any time. To call such a thing an abuser is to once again fall into a dan­ger­ous and destruc­tive rhetoric around vic­tim­hood that real life abusers use to their advan­tage to per­pet­u­ate their abuse: ‘You chose to be with me’; ‘You could leave any time, but I know that you aren’t strong enough to do so’; ‘She brought it on her­self by going with him, we all knew what he was like and at least she’s got a nice house and kids.’ But abu­sive sit­u­a­tions are not games. You do not level up and even­tu­al­ly beat them by design. Sometimes you walk into them and some­times you are born into them, but you never know before­hand what they will be like; there are no reviews to tell you you might want to give this one a miss if you don’t like dif­fi­cul­ty.

Talk about hard­ship and strug­gle, about dif­fer­ent forms of teach­ing and agency and even whether the pre­cious leisure time that you spend play­ing with unbe­liev­ably expen­sive toys is being wast­ed by some­thing that you are in no way behold­en to play. But do not equate it to abuse.

Women’s Aid is a UK domes­tic abuse char­i­ty. You can donate here, or find more about refuge organ­i­sa­tions in your own coun­try with their inter­na­tion­al links here.

  • Danzen

    Thanks for writ­ing this. Just a cou­ple of days ago, I was read­ing a short write-up of Dark Souls where­in the per­son spoke sev­er­al times of “trau­ma” and “tor­ture” in the con­text of its learn­ing curve. There was some vague attempt to con­nect this learn­ing curve to real-life expe­ri­ences, per­haps per­son­al ones, but it remained too vague, and the choice of lan­guage unfor­tu­nate­ly came off as too strong for the sub­ject mat­ter. Maybe there is a mean­ing­ful way to draw par­al­lels between the stress­es these games offer and those we expe­ri­ence in unhealthy rela­tion­ships with other peo­ple, but unless that’s made explic­it — at least not­ing that we had or have those unhealthy rela­tion­ships — I think these are word choic­es that should be avoid­ed.