Mechanics as Metaphor in Bloodborne

The Great One, Amygdala.


In order to add depth to the lore and gameplay of games, game designers often try to employ a strategy called Mechanics as Metaphor. Extra Credits has a great video on the subject. In short, it is the use of gameplay mechanics to express a narrative point or capture the tone of an experience. I believe one of the best examples of this is found in From Software's Bloodborne, where many mechanics are designed to fit thematically within the game's universe.


There's a statistic in Bloodborne called Insight. It is collected mostly by exploring new areas, finding items such as Mad Man's Knowledge or Great One's Wisdom around, encountering and defeating bosses. While Insight can be used as currency to buy weapons or armour, the main effect it has on the game is much more subtle. Higher Insight means certain enemies will spawn or use different moves they didn't previously, sound effects like distant off-key singing or a baby's cry will be heard wherever you go, or the alien-gods Amygdala will become visible on buildings. More than anything, it is unsettling, and adds to the sense that there are strange things occurring in this world that your human brain cannot comprehend.

How Insight can be used to buy items.


These effects tie in perfectly with the game's lore and what Insight is supposed to represent. Bloodborne is heavily inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft, seen most obviously in the Great Ones in the game, god-like creatures reminiscent of Cthulhu. There is heavy commentary on religion, human desire to gain wisdom, and descent into beasthood. Insight is defined as "inhuman knowledge," and represents the player's progress in attempting to understand the Great Ones. The decision to include a different form a currency than simply Blood Echoes affect both the style of the gameplay, encouraging further exploration, but also the narrative themes in Bloodborne.

In addition to Insight, there are several stats related to the concept. Beasthood, which can be used to increase your physical damage, but the more Insight you have the weaker it becomes. Narratively, it demonstrates that becoming closer to understanding the Great Ones takes the player farther from primal-humanity, or Beasthood. Similarly, certain enemies will cause a Frenzy, a status attack that causes the player to take large amounts of damage. Frenzy is theorized to be the result of the player being forced to process information incomprehensible to humans, and with more Insight, it will occur more quickly. Having multiple stats related to Insight that each have their own lore significance makes the concept feel intertwined with the world, and demonstrates that Insight is a crucial aspect of the game.

Awful enemies that cause Frenzy.


Due to the way these mechanics are seamlessly integrated into the world of Bloodborne, they make the entire experience more polished. The themes of inhuman powers and beastiality are all tied to Insight, and make the stat more than simply a stat. Insight is a mechanic that is a metaphor for Bloodborne's lore, and I would love to see more ideas like this in future games from the creators.

Until next time, Tabea