Oppression and Vampire The Masquerade - Bloodlines


#1

I just started getting into Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines for the first time with the unofficial patch. I’m really impressed by it, and I’ve learned a pretty morbid amount of what it means to be looked down upon.

I really didn’t know what to expect, so I decided to try playing the “Nosferatu” clan because they seemed good at stealth. The way the game put it, they have to “hide from the world” because of their monstrous appearance. Little did I know the game means it. In the game, you have to conceal vampire powers from humans, but when you are a Nosferatu your very existence reveals the reality of vampires. Playing a whole game where you’re trying to exist in a world and where people don’t just dislike you, but will literally run screaming? Even if they’re vampires? I’ve never experienced anything like it. You end up having to use stealth just to live a normal life.

At one point I walked into a doctor’s office to buy painkillers, an old lady screamed, and a police officer shot me. This was right after I had a friendly exchange with the lady at the front desk. If I was a normal lookin’ dude, then things certainly would have gone differently. Obviously, I look monstrous in the game, so fear responses make sense, but this game clearly has some things to say about oppression. It’s discussing the topic in the most on-the-nose way possible, but as someone who has had the privilege of not experiencing a lot of oppression, I certainly feel I am learning from the game. I just really needed to write this out because I’m surprised at just how this all works in the game.


#2

I think there’s always a weird tension when a piece of fiction uses fantasy creatures as an analog to real life oppression. Almost universally this goes to race. I think it’s sometimes a useful metaphor, especially in game where privileged people can be exposed to a representation of oppression by interacting with it directly. But often, by allowing players to circumvent oppression and hardship through mechanics, this can let players view dealing with oppression as something that can be worked around. There’s also a great quote from George Weidman on Mankind Divided on how it tries to take on racism: “It’s hard to feel oppressed when the nature of your oppression is that you can blow people up with the flick of switch.”

There’s also pretty much always this vague sense of biological essentialism and/or eugenics floating around in them? Like, orcs always having lower intelligence and elves having high intelligence, you know, because there’s nothing weird about that???

I think there has to be a lot of care when taking on real life oppression through fantasy and sci-fi class. There are a lot of works that do it quite well. But then there’s also stuff like Bright (which you can hear about in this Lindsay Ellis video), that, in trying to emulate real life oppression, just end up oversimplifying and muddying the complexities of these issues.