The Gross Visuals Behind Bloodborne And The Binding Of Isaac
I find the visuals behind The Binding Of Isaac to be a bit off-putting, and I’ve noticed a few comments from people that feel the same way. My friend is a massive fan of the game and understandably finds that odd considering that I love Bloodborne, which is also a bit gruesome. Being a horror fan and considering some of the games, films and TV shows I enjoy, I’m obviously not totally against gruesome visuals. In fact, Bloodborne feels fairly tame to me compared to other things I’ve experienced and I wouldn’t have thought about it in this way if my friend hadn’t mentioned it. I think because it’s mostly blood, which doesn’t bother me, as well as the fact that it’s used in such quantities throughout the experience that you eventually desenitise to it. I don’t think we can claim that everything that uses gruesome visuals is the same, but it’s not always clear even to yourself why some things can be acceptable while others are distasteful. It might seem like an unusual comparison to make considering that Bloodborne and The Binding Of Isaac are completely different games, but as they are favourites in our group they’re talked about very much.
Two things can fall into the same category and yet feel very different. The theme, tone and reasons behind the use of gross imagery can affect the way we perceive it. For example, Final Destination feels very different to Saw in that one is a lot more realistic than the other. I’ve been able to watch through all of the Final Destination films because they’re so over the top they don’t affect me, but I’ve only managed to get through three of the Saw films. (Just for the record I struggle with gore because it can cause me to go faint.) In games the violence can serve the story or the gameplay. If we compare Until Dawn to The Evil Within we can see that one is a lot more bloody and far fetched than the other. The Evil Within uses gore as a way to make dying entertaining (see here ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynXVpM3fi7g‘ – not for the faint hearted.) It’s a challenging game where you can fail a lot, but the variety of deaths keeps it interesting. Until Dawn takes the time to develop the characters and seeing them die can feel incredibly horrific (see ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLA6gPGZZds‘ – again, not for the faint hearted.) While The Evil Within arguably contains way more blood than Until Dawn, the latter had more of an impact on me. Then there’s the type of body horror that you see in films like The Fly, Slither and Alien Resurrection in which you see odd forms of flesh that both fascinate and disturb me for reasons I can’t quite explain.
If we compare the tone between Bloodborne and The Binding Of Isaac it’s clear to see that they’re very different. Bloodborne is more realistic with a Lovecraftian feel and stylised violence. The Binding Of Isaac has a brighter and bolder art style by comparison. Both games contain moments of body horror similar to the films I mentioned above with a number of different grotesque enemy designs (e.g. Ludwig and Peep.) I think the style alters the feel of each however. The Binding Of Isaac is far more vibrant with its brighter blood/flesh colours. Bloodborne feels more subtle with its colour tones and the lighting can obscure parts. Many of the darker aspects of it are easy to miss.
The main thing I’m not so keen on with The Binding Of Isaac is that it’s far more scatalogical and feels like it’s trying to gross me out. I’m not fully informed about the meaning behind the game, but as far as I know it makes sense because it’s being experienced through the perspective of a child and they don’t fully understand the world around them. I read one comment that stated that kids apparently find such things amusing (like poops and farts,) but I don’t find that I’m able to relate to it myself. I think the fact that you are controlling a child makes the whole thing seem more horrific. (There’s another game called Among The Sleep that uses this idea to its advantage; Creating the feeling of vulnerability by putting the player in control of a child.) In Bloodborne we play a hunter and it’s about killing because that’s what they do. When bosses die they explode in a spray of blood, which feels satisfying and has the same affect as receiving a gold star or a pat on the back. We’re encouraged to play aggressively, just as the hunter is drawn uncontrollably towards the need for blood. The combat can also distract me enough not to always notice the gory details. The Binding Of Isaac uses gore for different reasons; You have to defile the main character to be able to progress.
Some parts of Bloodborne are admittedly a little bit gross, such as the umbilical cords or that your character gets covered in blood. However, it leans far less in this direction than The Binding Of Isaac does as an overall experience. A little bit of gross out isn’t enough to completely put me off something, but it doesn’t overshadow Bloodborne while it feels like it defines the experience in The Binding Of Isaac. Bloodborne is also complete fantasy and isn’t trying to make any sort of a statement about anything – as far as I know. Many of the issues affecting the characters are made up, which unsettles me less than some of the themes that can be seen in The Binding Of Isaac. For example, there’s an item called wire coat hanger, which is a reference to unsafe abortion practices. One of the bosses called Gurdy is a little girl popping out of her own tumorous body. Placing such dark material next to memes and a quirky art style can create the impression that they are being taken lightly. It can be justified by the type of experience the game is trying to deliver, but it risks deterring people before they’ve even had a chance to figure out what it’s all about. Some games can challenge us, but not everybody feels comfortable enough to want to experience that.
The visuals are rarely enough to actually put me off from playing a game. If you enjoy the mechanics I find that you can overlook many other things. Unfortunately, despite giving it a fair go, The Binding Of Isaac hasn’t really clicked for me in that area yet either (and I will return to it at some point for another go.) When you’re not enjoying something you can find yourself looking for the reasons why and will point out these problems that on there own wouldn’t have been enough to stop you from playing. I like the visuals in Bloodborne because it has lot of detail to it and feels suitably chilling and creepy for the game; If I did mind them I’d probably still play because I enjoy the mechanics enough to overlook them. I already had a few expectations in place before Bloodborne, created by Dark Souls – a clean game by comparison – and so there were few doubts about my ability to enjoy it. The gore in The Binding Of Isaac suits the need of the game and I’m not suggesting that the visuals are bad, but I do think it’s understandable why it would put some people off from giving it a go. Both games use gross imagery in interesting ways that work with the gameplay and story.
This is the best explanation I can give towards why I’m not so keen on the visuals behind The Binding Of Isaac despite having enjoyed many other gruesome games; It’s not always easy to understand why we like or dislike certain things. I struggle with a lot of body horror because – as I mentioned above – I do sometimes go faint and that leaves me feeling very ill. It’s odd because some things will set it off while others don’t, and I haven’t yet been able to figure out what or why. The emotional reaction we have towards certain aesthetics is similar in that we feel it before we can even explain why its had that affect on us. In some cases it’s the game’s intention to shock us, but not everybody is going to enjoy being made to feel this way.
Thanks to my friends as always for giving me something interesting to think about. 😉
- Polygon – A defense of Binding of Isaac from a former fundamentalist Christian
- GameSpot – Bloodborne’s Violence Not Gratuitous, Director Says
- You Tube – Gameranx: Top 10 Goriest Games Of All Time