Over a series of blog posts I’ve been exploring the role of faith (religious and secular) in the world of Dark Souls, which you can find under the tag Faith in Dark Souls. Continuing on similar themes, I’d like to take a moment to turn to Bloodborne and examine the way faith works in its world.
Hunters have told me about the church. About the gods, and their love. But… do the gods love their creations? I am a doll, created by you humans. Would you ever think to love me? Of course… I do love you. Isn’t that how you made me?
Bloodborne inhabits a world very different to the high fantasy of the Dark Souls series. Instead of dragons and divine power, Bloodborne gives us a Victorian, urban setting, complete with Lovecraftian Old Ones. Symbols of faith and religion play a prominent role in this world – central to Yharnam and its current crisis is the Healing Church. This religion functions differently to the way, say, The Way of the White functioned in Dark Souls. Rather than specifically look at religion, I’d like to examine faith in institutions in Yharnam.
The Victorian era setting is important when considering faith in Bloodborne. As a mentioned, while the Healing Church is important to the people of Yharnam, it is not the only institute that is powerful or respected. While religion was still a large part of society in the Victorian times, this was also a period of scientific discovery that required a different view of the world. This was the era of Charles Darwin and David Livingston, of Ada Lovelace and Lord Kelvin. It was a period of exploration and discovery that laid the foundation for modern scientific endeavours. And this is reflected too in the society of Yharnam. Prominent amongst the locations and institutes the player visits is the University of Byrgenwerth . Even within groups linked to the Healing Church, this atmosphere of discovery and pursuit of knowledge took human kind to places they had never been before. One could make a case that Bloodborne explores the theme of the danger of unethically pushing science and knowledge too far, but I think it also highlights the role of broken faith placed in trusted institutes.
For many science is a faith of its own, sometimes replacing, sometimes intwined with religious beliefs. Science is a way of understanding the world around us, of seeking meaning amongst the chaos of the universe. Many place great value and even moral responsibility on the pursuit and sharing of knowledge. In discovering the Labyrinth, the Old Ones and the healing blood, those involved initially saw something noble in their endeavours. Blood that could heal people would certainly be welcomed by any society. But the bestial transformations it lead to symbolise the damage that irresponsible and unethical applications of new science can inflict.
I am in no way a technophobe, but surely we can agree that it is a good thing to have rigorous testing of new drugs before they are given to patients in large numbers. And we need only look to the Victorian age to see examples of field work, that while done in the name of knowledge, would be considered unethical by today’s standards. The belief that knowledge was everything corrupted and blinded many involved in Bloodborne. During the game the player character can gain Insight, a stat which “represents the depth of inhuman knowledge”. Insight is gained by encountering new bosses and by consuming Madman’s Knowledge which is described as:
Skull of a madman touched by the wisdom of the Great Ones.. .Making contact with eldritch wisdom is a blessing, for even if it drives one mad, it allows one to serve a grander purpose, for posterity
Insight affects the experience the player has of Yharnam. The more Insight the player character has, the more enemies appear. The audio changes and the player hears whispers in the background. The link with madness here is akin to the Mound-Makers which depicts a corrupted faith. In Bloodborne it is easy to become consumed by the pursuit of knowledge and lose all perspective.
The Victorian example is fitting as a comparison to Bloodborne when we consider the power dynamic of the time. The reign of Queen Victoria was a time of imperialism, with its associated colonialism and racism which still scars the world today. Sexism was commonplace and industrialisation further widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Abuse of power is as rife in Bloodborne as it was in our world.
The faith that the everyday people have in Yharnam is placed in their institutions, those who they respect and expect to serve and protect them. But the Healing Church covers up the irreparable damage they have done, preferring the power and influence the blood gave them over the wellbeing if its people. The University is complicit in this and seeks further knowledge and power which damages the city around it. Dr. Iosefka experiments on her patients seeking higher powers. Even the Hunters themselves become corrupt and turn on those they are trying to protect. The people of Yharnam put their faith and belief in institutions that betrayed them.
While there are divine entities and Eldritch Old Ones in Bloodborne, the faith that is most interesting to me is in influential bodies in society. It’s the kind of faith that exists today, and it still hurts when they inevitably betray us. I don’t wish to get too apocalyptic here, but recent political events show us that institutes and elites lie to us in order to hold on to their power and influence. And while I have yet to see people literally turn into monsters, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t see tragic outcomes from these actions. Bloodborne may have a fantastic premise, but the horror at its core is the believability in the faith given and broken by the people.