Troika Games, 2004
Recommended: Yes, despite it all
I’ve been getting back into playing the tabletop roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade recently, and a growing obsession with the World of Darkness (as the setting is called) had me pick up a computer game I haven’t played in years: Vampire: Bloodlines.
A decade old at this point, Bloodlines has been reviewed plenty. Suffice it to say that: it set a new bar for roleplaying games; it’s immersion and writing are spectacular; it was rushed and buggy because capitalism is an awful economic system for creators; and the game’s, uh, not so perfect from a gender point of view.
An extraordinary amount of effort went into the animation of breasts. If I’d written my own character, I’d be wearing a fucking sports bra.
I’ll elaborate on the latter point: this game is sexist. Some of that sexism, you could argue, is just a realistic depiction of our sexist world—on my playthrough as a woman of average appearance (two dots out of five), I got hit on and sleazed on several times. But when I slept with a human zombie hunter named Romero, I got experience points for it—the gamemakers rewarded me for it. Since, according to canon, vampires gain absolutely no pleasure from having sex and only use seduction as a way to feed, there is scarcely any reason for me to be sleeping with anyone.
If you play as a woman character, seduction is a powerful weapon. If you play a male character, seduction is far less useful and game guides suggest intimidation as a useful skill instead. From my point of view, women and men are both equally capable of exerting their will through seduction. Oh, also, almost every single woman is bisexual (the one who isn’t calls you a dyke if you hit on her) and very, very few men are.
And most blatantly, the amount of heaving cleavage in the game is a bit ridiculous. My character—a bad-ass Brujah bruiser vampire who could probably juggle cars and can move five times faster than any mortal—ran in this silly exaggerated way, swinging her hips. And for a game with such simple graphics, an extraordinary amount of effort went into the animation of breasts. If I’d written my own character, I’d be wearing a fucking sports bra.
A fair amount of the story takes place in strip clubs and peep shows, and street walkers are everywhere. I’m not going to talk shit on that element, however. The World of Darkness is focused on the underworld, and such places things are real. Vampires would run strip clubs. And a lazy vampire with some cash to blow might hire a prostitute and feed on her in the shadows rather than go through the effort of seducing someone or jumping someone pissing in the alley.
It’s worth noting that this Los Angeles is pretty creepily white.
I’m capable of turning off that kind of critique so I can enjoy a game or a movie, however, or else I’d be left with almost nothing. So it goes.
Then there are the anarchs.
In the world of Vampire: The Masquerade, there are three major sects of vampires. As I read it, there’s the Camarilla, who represent government; the Sabbat, who represent dog-eat-dog anarchy; and the Anarchs, who represent anarchism. Bloodlines takes place in the Anarch Free State of Los Angeles, where the sometimes-benevolent Camarilla have only recently started to stake their claim.
The Anarchs aren’t the same as human anarchists. For one thing, their political work is solely for the liberation of vampires, not humans. For another, various cities under Anarch control still have Barons, who are the Anarch equivalent of the Camarilla’s princes. But these Barons are, ideally, much closer to facilitators than bosses.
In Bloodlines, you can choose to support the Anarchs, the Camarilla, or neither. Naturally, on my playthrough, I sided with the Anarchs.
There’s a “don’t call me a leader” street fighter whose charm draws people to the cause, there’s a soapboxing vampire communist (who says that vampires could have communism even though it will never work for humans), and there’s a jaded Vietnam vet who can’t stand all the preaching but still sides with the Anarchs. Yup, I’ve met all three of those people in real life.
But at one point, if you decide to side with the Anarchs, you have to convince that charismatic Anarch to step up and be the leader his people need. Blech.
It’s awesome to help the Anarchs kick out the imperialist invaders and get their Free State back, all while fighting werewolves and demons and killing soooo many cops.
Still, it’s awesome to help the Anarchs kick out the imperialist invaders and get their Free State back, all while fighting werewolves and demons and killing soooo many cops.
But maybe the best thing to get out of the game isn’t just “go Anarchs” or whatever. If there’s one thing that World of Darkness does masterfully as a roleplaying game, it’s eschew black-and-white morality. At the end of the day, you’re a vampire. You’re damned. You’re a monster who drinks peoples’ blood and your organs have atrophied and the day you see the sun is the day of your final death. You aren’t a good guy. You aren’t necessarily a bad guy. You’re just a vampire.
In anyone else’s hands, the Camarilla would have been the “good guy” vampires and the Sabbat would have been the “bad guys” and the Anarchs probably wouldn’t have existed. In the World of Darkness, though, there is no good sect of vampires—not even the Anarchs. The Camarilla are duplicitous and authoritarian. The Sabbat are monstrous. The Anarchs are potentially misguided and oft-hypocritical. It makes for a fascinating three-way fight.
And it makes for a rather enjoyable game.