“I love another and thus I hate myself”
FKA twigs (“Formerly Known As”) sings in “Preface,” the intro track to her debut album, LP1. I’ve fallen in love with the British “LP1>haunteuse” the past few weeks, chiefly because of works like “Preface,” a terrifying trip-hop glitch disaster who’s only lyric is the Sir Thomas Wyatt line. Her operatic vocals are layered to form a chorus of angels, hovering over a massive, genre-chimera beat, eventually looping into “I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself” as the song climaxes and crashes into the first track proper on LP1.
Haunting, demented yet delicate, it’s often said that twigs’ music is perfect to have sex to. So I played Bloodborne with it. Combining the sonic pallet of Björk’s Vesptertine era with Aaliyah’s Timbaland produced eerie beats and (serial) killer hooks, twigs’ music melds perfectly into Bloodborne’s gothic horror aesthetic, making for some surreally well fitting Dark Side of the Rainbow moments. The tense, spacious “Numbers,” which recalls a funeral procession in its first half before accelerating into futuristic breakbeat in its second, scored my battle with the Cleric Beast. “Was I just a number to you?” echoing while the Cleric Beast gored my character recalled the fury and savagery of a jealous lover, underscoring the Beast’s unpredictable and intense attack patterns.
“Glass and Patron” played while I fought rival hunter Father Gascoigne. The video for “Glass” centers on an elaborate vogue dance battle, twigs (a former ballerina and backup dancer) and her squad demolishing a runway while duckwalking and deathdropping to the pulsating, frantic track. Because Bloodborne’s narrative details are so sparse as to be almost immaterial, the runway stomping (“It’s a motherfucking”) walk-off of “Glass” became the context for the encounter. As much as I wanted to hack the old man to death with a cleaver, I also wanted to out-dress and out-dance him. The hook: “1, 2, 3….now hold that pose for me” looped over the a zoned-out percussion while I dodged shots from his blunderbuss and calculated the footsteps between us as he winded up a charged attack with his two-hander. The ultimate victory in any RPG was mine: I killed a guy for his awesome clothes.
“Pendulum” played as I climbed up into the rafters then down into the sewers exploring Yharnam, the game’s opening area. A gorgeous city lost to an apocalypse before the game even starts, I’d often pause to pan the camera upward at the bed of knives framing the sky, ornate cathedral spires stabbing into the dusk. The production overflows on these tracks, letting twigs’ soft voice sink beneath the beats. Minimalist and downtempo, “Water Me” conveyed solitude, reflection, even regret as I passed through the coffins lining the streets.
Twigs’ greatest work to date, “Papi Pacify” from EP2, which she directed, features the singer in an intimate “breath control” encounter, left gasping as her partner strangles, muffles and put his fingers down her throat. Accompanying these shots are brief images of the couple embracing, twigs cradled softly in his arms. Brutal and beautiful, I see “Papi Pacify”’s video two ways: portraying a relationship based on trust, in which twigs is a consenting participant in the breathplay or perhaps a relationship in which the power dynamic is skewed and twigs must endure an invasive, boundary crossing partner. Or both—a duality reflected in the Wyatt lyric from “Preface.”
While Bloodborne’s difficulty is often described as masochistic, I think it’s a more nuanced dynamic, like the dynamic(s) in “Papi Pacify.” And while many people have compared Bloodborne to sex, art critic and designer Lana Polansky spoke on the game’s difficulty in terms of knowledge and player consent:
Bloodborne players certainly endure a lot, but how much do they consent to? After reading a handful of reviews the past few weeks, I think many fall into the same three dynamics that could be interpreted from the “Papi Pacify” video: consenting to the difficulty, rejecting it as abusive and exploiting player ignorance or both. For me, I’d let Bloodborne stick its fingers down my throat, but I wouldn’t let it strangle me. That is, I consent to the cruel tutelage of memorizing attack patterns and the constant risk of the Blood Echoes, but the jump scares, one-shot kills and hours spent farming blood vials after using them up in a boss battle are frustrating and unnecessary even in a notoriously hard series. I guess I liked the pain, but not the punishment.
Bloodborne and FKA twigs seemed like a happy coincidence at first, but applying her ruminations on sex, pain and consent to my play experience gave me a way of being critical of the game without falling into a simple love/hate binary (or worse, a review score) based on the erroneous and frequently sexist hardcore/casual gamer fallacy.
Simply put: I love Bloodborne, but I’m not willing to hate myself for it.
Sidney Fussell is a critic, comic and ideas guy. Twitter | Portfolio