When I think about how the vampire myth evolved throughout history, I admire the creativity of people when it comes to conjuring up new interpretations of this character. Of course, such is the nature of myth, to be endlessly retold and reinvented. I find it sad, however, that so many of the newer dark fantasy works settle for either mindless monsters or the undead Barbie type. There are few attempts to dig deeper a truly fascinating idea.
In this short rambling I’d like to talk a little about a great example of what I mean by a truly immersive and complex approach to the subject. One of my favourite video games – Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines.
I love this gane because it’s not about otherworldly shrieking or blood baths; it’s about the whole underground society with it’s own culture, religious believes, politics, scholarly knowledge, art. It’s our own world, reflected in a dark mirror.
‘The World of Darkness is a place where immortal monsters pull the strings of humanity. Violence and despair are common here. The world is bleak, but escape is an ever-present commodity – perhaps too present… ‘
The world is bleak, and it’s visible in every detail of the dark, gothic and somewhat decaying version of Los Angeles. It’s a world seen through vampire eyes, that no longer perceive care-free play, the thrill of new possessions, or excitement of flirting. Nature is never lush here, elegance is never glamorous, light is never able to fully light up rooms and alleys, nor bring out the colours, because everything is broken.
We start out in Santa Monica. Narrow, ill-lit streets, surrounded by austere buildings, lead nowhere. Moths flutter under a crooked street lamp near the Blood Bank entrance. A doom-sayer opposite an abandoned gas station prophecies Apocalypse. On a cold, grey beach, the lights of distant ships glimmer in the night sky. The hour is late, and thugs, prostitutes, police patrols, club goers and night shift workers fill the streets. There’s something about every place we visit that resembles the scene of an abandoned theatre and that really gets the message of hopeless vampire existence across.
In VTMB the night is crowded with multidimensional, complex and unique characters – Kindred (vampires), Kine (humans), and others. Unlike in a lot of other vampire films, games or books, here we have a whole range of very diverse, colourful personalities. Vampires vary from plotting, suited-up Prince La Croix with his tailored speeches, to swearing, long-haired biker, Smiling Jack. From sarcastic Old Hollywood star to teasing raving overgrown schoolgirl. Each of them represents their clan and a faction, which in turn have their own loyalties and, of course, among which you will have to choose; in this struggle for power no-one stays uninvolved. Also, being a vampire puts you in quite a tight spot in regards of morality, and what’s worse, your every moral choice brings political consequences with it. In that light it is surprising how many belief systems and codes of conduct the characters in VTMB come up with.
It’s impossible to talk about this game’s amazing atmosphere without mentioning the music. It can be divided into two categories: night club music and ambiance music.
Every district we visit has one or two clubs or bars where vampires come to hang out and/or hunt. In each of them a song or two are played in a loop, emphasizing the club’s atmosphere and at the same time are a tip of the hat to some aspect of vampire existence. These are the true masterpieces of both metal and various gothic music genres from artists such as Tiamat, Lacuna Coil or Ministry. The ambience music composed by Rik Schaffer, who has worked also on games like Gothic 3 or Elder Scrolls Online, features haunting, dark pieces, whose names (eg. ‘Creepy Ambience’, ‘Disturbed and Twisted’, ‘Dark Asia’) express in the best way the true, non-grotesque ghastliness that is so hard to come by nowadays. It fills the streets of the city with mystery and suspense better than any FX effects ever could.
Additionally, for anyone out there moved by the VTMB soundtrack, I recommend Music from The Succubus Club, an interesting composition put together to go with the original pen and paper version of the game. Thirteen tracks to enjoy, each representing one of the 13 vampire clans.
For me, Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines fits in a certain category of vampire representation along with Ann Rice’s universe and the film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’. Of course by no means I imply these are the same. But what brings them together is grace, respect and depth with which they try to answer the question: ‘What would it be like to be a vampire?’ Not fully a monster, but not a human anymore. A creature suspended between those two worlds, staring eternity into face. And no glittering in the sun.
Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines game is based on a pen and paper game published by White Wolf Publishing and a part of World of Darkness. I have never played the original PnP version, so if I am mistaken in any detail, I am open to corrections from anyone who played it. Also, I encourage everyone who plays/replays/is about to reinstall VTMB to get familiar at least with the Internet-available resources of knowledge about the world it’s set in, as it makes the playthrough a lot more understandable and enjoyable!
A geek and gamer with a background in Cultural Anthropology, Lena loves all things that go bump in the night; apprentice of vampire lore, fan of cyberpunk, enthusiast of dark fantasy. Lena is blending in with the mortals working for an interior designer.