Undone by the Blood: Contagion Theory and The Mass Man in Bloodborne

There’s a lot to pull from 2015’s PS4 exclusive. Aside from It’s really hard and I don’t know what’s going on; there’s a myriad of other ideas and conclusions to draw from this bad boy. So here’s one.

Get ready to get gud, and crack open a cold one with the Old Ones.

In Bloodborne, you play as a mysterious outsider arriving in the city of Yharnam during an especially strange time. While the settlement became known for it’s special “blood healing” practices made possible by the Healing Church, this same process has turned many of its inhabitants into something less than human. Unless you can find the source of the illness, this nightmare may go on forever.

But you’ve accepted the role of a “hunter” in return for the town’s renowned blood transfusion yourself. Meaning you’ll have to hack and slash your way through Yharnam and its terrible scourge of beasts and monstrosities. The more secrets you uncover, the deeper into madness you sink.

French social psychologist Gustave LeBon published Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895) and developed “Contagion Theory” in which he posits that individuals are more likely to lose their sense of rationality when in a crowd due to anonymity and a heightened feeling of power. LeBon also states in Crowd-

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung also had his own extensive research on the subject. He referred to someone taken over by the mob mentality as a “mass man;” someone who is lost to the crowd. They no longer think for themselves (We’ll get back to that phrasing), if they ever did.

One of the more unsettling parts of Bloodborne is the realization that the monsters you’ve been mowing down throughout Yharnam are the townsfolk. Not only the townsfolk, but the city officials as well. They’ve accepted the blood of the Healing Church and now, during this eclipse, their bodies and minds have been taken over by the effects of it.

Many of them also hunt monsters, not seeming to realize what they’ve actually become.

They still hold onto a sliver of their humanity. Since you’re employed by the church, you can hear Yharnamites crying out It’s all your fault! as you chop them to pieces. It is the church’s fault, right? And now you’re killing on behalf of the ones who haven’t changed. But the others are beasts now. They attack you and you have to kill them to survive. Still, knowing what you do, it turns the killing into something more disturbing; they’re akin to rabid animals, but they weren’t always.

Why was there a riot in Philadelphia in 2018 after the Eagles won? How did an entire town agree to put women on trial for being witches under such loose pretenses? When does the group turn from harmonious hippies to violent abusers drinking poisonous, off-brand Kool-Aid? It all seems insane. It is insane. But where do they come from? They weren’t born the same day they went to the streets to destroy things, despite their apparent IQ.

Jung states on mobs-

“If it is a very large group, the collective psyche will be more like the psyche of an animal, which is the reason why the ethical attitude of large organizations is always doubtful. The psychology of a large crowd inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology.

-Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jung also notes that to have a “collective experience” as a member of a group, it has to be done on your own rather than your mind melding with a mass of people, ironically. Change and progress are personal, so to speak.

Regarding your hunter, you design him or her; every feature and article of clothing. You give them whatever name you decide.

In essence, they’re a blank slate. There’s plenty of options to wear a mask or other face covering that hides your distinguishing features, giving your character more mystery to go about the town with an ominous presence. It could give even more reason for the townsfolk that haven’t transformed not to trust you. I won’t wear a mask, though. I refuse.

I’m too beautiful.

Much of this is to say any personality your hunter has is projected onto him or her by you, the player.

But maybe more interestingly, you use blood as health. The same blood the townsfolk used that transformed them into beasts. Why haven’t you changed? Though you seem to have a certain immunity to its effects, hunters can change if they overdo it. In fact, it’s even worse for them.

Hunters that give into the cravings and become “blood drunk” have a special place in hell known as “The Hunter’s Nightmare.” Their thirst can never be satiated and their hunt goes on forever. Imagine Van Helsing’s hunt for Dracula never ceased now matter how many times he killed him. Or worse, he had to watch Van Helsing (2004) no matter how many times he finished it. A fate worse than death.

All in all, there’s a thin line between a hunter and the hunted. You’re rewarded for aggression and can regain blood by attacking enemy bodies even after their death. And many of your enemies throughout The Long Night are former hunters. They’re more difficult to kill for sure, but if you’re doing your job, they’ll all be crushed by your mighty boom hammer. What’s that you say? You use the Moonlit Sword or the axe? Wow, you must be an actual child.

This post could have been titled “You VS the Mob Mentality.” Everyone is the main character in their own story, but a “You VS the World” attitude can easily cause one to slip into the mindset of believing they couldn’t be capable of the horrible acts other people commit. No, not precious you. You’re different.

Of course, that’s what we all think. No matter how much of an individual you may see yourself, your singular perspective will always leave you open to blindspots. Which is terrifying because it blurs the line between yourself and all the idiots out there- ones you’re aware of in your everyday life and ones you view from the safety of your computer.

Worldstar!

Though a bad temper isn’t quite the same as an angry mass of screaming peasants with pitchforks and torches, it can give one an idea of how the mob mentality can fester outside of a crowd. The mass man in the mugshot didn’t start off unreasonable; just annoyed. And so was everybody else. Eventually, the mutual feeling culminates in a swarm that only stops when everything has been destroyed or the group has been forced to disperse.

The Healing Church was founded by Laurence the First Vicar, who believed the healing blood was the path to enlightenment and human ascension. Though his old mentor, Master Willem Provost, had an contrary adage-

“We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open…fear the old blood.”

While Laurence was steadfast in his commitment to the church and blood healing, it originated with Willem, who founded the school of Byrgenwerth. An excess of blood can turn men into beasts, but Willem’s path would lead him and his followers to an obsession with “eyes-” Seeing into the infinite and obtaining omniscience.

And in true Lovecraftian fashion, this would lead to insanity for those who take this process to it’s intended extreme.

It seems much of Bloodborne’s core concepts are made up of the criticism of any institution or group that would aspire to take away your individuality; your sane mind. Every faction within Yharnam is shown to have started with corrupt intentions or is eventually done away by them.

Often people attempt to combat the so-called groupthink with sayings like “Think for yourself” or “Question everything.” But all too often the adherents of such phrases are hubristic enough to believe they even know what any of it means. In actuality, everything is seen through the cracked lens of cynicism.

Maybe they began “thinking for themselves” and this caused them to upend their old views without contemplation- everything must go. “My parents were wrong in this view- so my entire upbringing has been a lie.” Or perhaps they were raised with a superficial view of being your own person but never examined the ideas in detail, just followed what allows them to remain secure and feel like an independent person.

All in all, it’s no better than blindly following the crowd. You’re possibly less likely to believe you can be manipulated should you already see yourself as a true individualist. After all, you’re already thinking for yourself, right? No need to change anything. You’re not capable of this, it’s not possible for you to do that. But truth and ego have been conflated.

It’s not enough to “think for yourself,” or at least not in the conventional sense. Individuals make up mobs and mobs believe their cause is just. In a sense, mobs believe they’re thinking for themselves. But only now, finally, they have the collective power to DO something about what ails them. Everyone thinks for themselves until the point that businesses are destroyed, bodies are laid out in the street, and the mass man sits in jail thinking “How did I get here?”

“When I review my actions, I was right where I needed to be, exactly when I needed to be there!”

The people of Yharnam became infected after transfusions that were meant to heal their sickness. The church who used them as experiments can be blamed, but do the Yharnamites blame themselves for fully trusting an authority that clearly should not have been trusted?

Did they do their research and ask the right questions? Can the response of “Well, not everyone thinks like that” be used for the townspeople’s actions when the actions themselves are made up of violence, destruction and even murder? How much blame can be passed off an individual simply because enough people were involved? Are you constantly thinking through how you live and how to better yourself? Or do you feel that you can only do better once others are corrected first?

A contagion of the mind far outweighs the effects of any biological sickness because there’s no cure but one developed by each and every person in their own time.

And the frequency of such actions being taken? Just look around you and come to your own conclusion.

“During the great plague, which ravaged all Europe, between the years 1345 and 1350, it was generally considered that the end of the world was at hand. Pretended prophets were to be found in all the principal cities of Germany, France, and Italy, predicting that within ten years the trump of the Archangel would sound, and the Saviour appear in the clouds to call the earth to judgment.”

Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds (1841)

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