Thursday, November 09, 2006


Blood is an interesting thing isn’t it? Seldom is there a sense of apathetic acceptance for the presence of blood, save perhaps in the medical and meat packing industries. In most other contexts the presence of blood is met with some sort of emotional response. When seen in the context of a real person it is met with fear and revulsion. On the news it is a magnet for attention, capturing fascination and fascinated horror. If placed in a truly fictional environment it can elicit anything from disgust to elated excitement. Obviously there is something special about blood, but it cannot be chalked up to simply the fact that it is part of our body. We can see images of brains and think them mundane or bizarre. We can see skeletons and be entertained by their humorous visage. The disassembly of the human body is not alone enough to subject us to disgust and fear. Nor is the presence of violence alone enough to satisfy our desire for violence. The presence of the prodigal red liquid is necessary to satiate our bloodlust. Its absence serves to sanitize copious violence. What is it about blood that can instill us with such phobia? Why does the sight of it in flight bring such unparalleled relief to our secret primal desires?

Blood denotes tragedy and violence. It signifies crisis and loss of comfort. It is the aftermath of something horrible, and the beginning of some new horror to come. Moreover, it means something is wrong. It means something in the safe and predictable world has gone awry. Yet it is not always so.

Blood is just under the surface of every part of our bodies at all times. To see it is to know that some membrane has broken; its natural brightness staining and shattering the earth tones of our clothing and living spaces and lives.

It is one of the few untamed liquids in our domestic world. Our environments are composed of solids and shapes. Geometric and manipulateable. Liquids become imprisoned in vessels. The few times when liquids are permitted to leave our control are often regarded with caution and disdain. With few exceptions, blood is never contained. Its arrival is unexpected and surprising. Its recognition is automatic. Once it appears, standard and practiced behaviors come into place. Halt its flow, dispose of its residue, eliminate its threat to our psyche. Blood is to be controlled and disposed of.

Blood is evil.
Yet blood is our life.

To die is to loose the flow of blood in the body. Brain damage, heart stopped, loss of blood flow, loss of oxygen. Heart wound, unable to pump blood, loss of oxygen to cells. Asphyxiation, loss of oxygen, blood is rendered useless.

Blood is our band-aid. Its course is our body’s tried and true method of maintaining its shield from the threats of the external. It is our life and it flows from us, escaping its incarceration in our bodies, betraying its life giving properties as it ventures into the world around us, leaving us behind.

I was cut once at work. A staple punctured my thumb. It managed to miss any significant nerves. I felt nothing. Blood left my finger freely. My first reaction was typical. My heart rate increased and I went for a rag. But the absence of pain changed the situation. Stopping the blood meant stopping the pain. But there was no pain. No reason to stop it.

I let it flow. A thin thread of my life trickled down my thumb and circled my knuckle. Held away from my body, its bright color dazzled me. It meandered over and traced my veins, creating an ironic dichotomy. I was entranced. My fluid inside come to visit my eyes, benign and elegant. Untamed and nimble. The unseen beauty of my body revealed in contrast to the external world in which my body thrives.

Its vivid color. Its unmistakable brilliant crimson glow.
My blood stopped its dance of its own accord and I was genuinely sad for its absence. My coworkers were mortified. I was bleeding. Bleeding! Wash your hands! Nurse your wound! Fix yourself!

Fear of blood has been rationalized by the threat of infection, but exists because of the circumstances that accompany its entrance into our safety. At the same time, the semi-universal fear of blood is met with a semi-universal attraction to it. Whether triggered by hormones or environment, whether it brings delight or simple fascination, people pay attention to blood.

I’m sure not everyone has bloodlust. I’m sure not everyone who seeks blood has a desire to see it. But thirst for violence exists. And violence is not complete without blood. Death is not true without proof of life’s absence. If we desire death, we desire the image of life leaving. Of pain coursing and safety spilling.

At times however, bloody violence can be grounding. A blood-smattered surface is an effective conveyance of a violent act, and is more tolerable than perhaps seeing the act take place, or further, of experiencing the suffering of the victim. It may in fact be soothing to have one’s senses washed with red warmth rather than be forced to endure the empathic sensation of pain.

Yet this is not what I see bloodlust to be. To me, searching for the sight of life fluid strewn on one’s body and environment is not so much the want to create sadistic pain and suffering, but is more a draw to the powerful image of profound destruction.

All the afore mentioned imagery serves to imbue blood with magical symbolism. To draw another’s life from their body is to create an elegant destructive act. It is creation from destruction, control over the untouchable, ultimate freedom from restraining taboos. To see blood is to witness the disassembly of the most fragile and sacred of paradigms. To create blood it is to experience the most tantalizing of destructive acts. To create blood is to witness the reversal of the elusive property of life. To experience dynamic death with eyes and skin and nose is to know elusive life with the same senses in a more tangible way than is ever possible.
However, not all thirsts for blood can be attributed to such a spiritual exploration. There is also a definitive expression of power in killing, and especially in drawing blood. To be in combat can be experienced not only as the fight for one’s self, but as the fight for someone else’s self. Victory exalts the victor in any contest, but in a contest where life is the reward, triumph means the prize of two lives, the winner’s and the loser’s. This relationship may not be experienced clearly without the tangible aid of life lost, the visual and visceral witnessing of life leaving the body. To coerce the life from another’s body, draw the profound red ocean from another’s world, is wearing victory, displaying the fascinating macabre of your own mortality in front of your own eyes, holding your own death before you while maintaining the safety of life. It is selfish in the utmost.

A final interpretation of this bizarre enjoyment harkens back to the idea of destruction as creation. Whether correlated to hormones or to gender specific child rearing behaviors, like the thirst for violence an enjoyment exists which focuses on the chaotic destruction of objects.
Breaking things is fun. It is a pleasure that may be related to that of careful dissection of objects, an endeavor viewed as much more benign. The fascination with how things are constructed is one that is not at all uncommon. Engineers often regale friends with tales of their earliest interest in taking machines apart to see how they work. Few children have never felt a sense of fascination for a diagram of their own muscular structures in a biology book. Knowing how things are put together is interesting. Taking them apart is entertaining. Breaking them can be exciting. Watching an object smash into pieces, seeing the textures and weights and viscosities mix and interact can be fascinating. The act is violent. It requires force, creates noise. Muscles flare and hormones churn. The result is a temporal sculpture. Dynamic artwork with the element of surprise as one of its rewards. Objects which are familiar and plain become transformed into dancing arrays of novel shapes. Tensions are released as plastic coverings shatter and wheels tumble into space. The rigidity of the world is stressful. Objects resist our will and obstruct our desires. The physicality of the world around us exerts a sort of power in the sense that we are unable to change it. Breaking objects fills some of us with a sense of control over our environment that nothing else can match. Not only control, but dominance. Nothing alludes to power the way destruction does. Whether it is a fallacy or not to associate the destroyed with the weak, the destroyer with power, it is done. The powerful have the power to tear us apart.

Among the objects in the world which exert more power over our free will, which limit us in infuriating ways, is our own human form. Our body constricts our desires and imaginations. It is our most intimate possession and our most intimate obstacle. The fear of pain and death suffocates our behavior and puts blinders on our willingness to act. Yet this fear cannot lessen the desire to destroy, to master and control and rule, the human form. In fact, it may even serve to heighten it. How exciting to command control over the human body. How freeing to separate one’s self from the confines of height and weight, breath and pulse, hunger, thirst, thought. The fantasy of disembodied life endures in religion and folklore. Persistent thought and experience after death is life’s reward for many. When reason falters in the face of emotion and passion overtakes the mind and imagination, murderers become triumphant knights of the human condition, triumphing over humanity and surpassing the human form. To destroy the body can be to vicariously liberate one’s mind and free the ethereal self from flesh for the brief moment that act is in progress. Creating gore may for a brief instant exalt a mortal to a position of spirit. To destroy a body might feel like conquering all of humanity.


Warren Price said...

Good lord, Evan.

1700 words and yet not a single reference to blood in video games anywhere! How many chickens did you sacrifice to the blood god while you were writing this? If you’re done lionizing blood, I’m going to comment about its effect in video games (In all seriousness though, that was a very reflective and well written piece).

It’s no secret that blood is very psychologically and physiologically arousing. As you said before, blood emerges from crisis and conflict. It only makes sense that we become mentally and physically charged for conflict when we see blood. This age old instinct most likely explains why we love blood in our video games so much. Blood makes the action more visceral, and the effects more palpable. A player can more easily immerse himself in the game, and becomes more emotionally invested in the gameplay. I suppose to put it simply: Blood adds realism, which makes a game more exciting and believable.

And of course on the negative side, blood makes people apprehensive and squeamish. What motivates young teenagers to play a game all through the night also motivates weary parents to take away their child’s console. The understandable, yet misguided, fear that blood in games will turn all players into homicidal maniacs is quite pronounced. I always find it interesting that a bloody game in which the hero kills zombies or monsters will always receive an “Mature” rating from the ESRB, yet a game that involves killing lifelike human being can receive a mere “Teen” rating if it is devoid of blood (Compare Resident Evil to Goldeneye). I am also reminded of the old N64 game, Jet Force Gemini. That was one of the most gory games I’ve ever played. However it managed to receive only a teen rating because the enemies exploded in showers of green “goo.” The simple switch from green to red heralded the difference between acceptance and outrage.

In summation, blood makes people psychologically charged in both positive and negative ways, the result of which can often seem irrational when looked at objectively.

SnrIncognito said...

this is an perfect comment. youve done exactly what i wanted, which is to connect this essay to the topic of games. exactly what i wanted the reader to do. thanks!