This is the second part of my Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Diary. You can read the first part here.
All of this is huge spoilers so it’s only your OWN fault if you read any of this and then ruin your whole life because you spoilered this wonderful game and then you will never like anything again and love will seem hollow.
It continues to rain, as if it will rain for eternity. I just had the worst experience of my preternatural life. I went to the Ocean House Hotel, like Therese, Jeanette’s prim sister, asked me to, to rid it of evil spirits. I wanted to get on Therese’s good side – she seems like a powerful businesswoman in this town. And also I just really like the club she owns and The Asylum seems like a cool hangout.
But the Ocean House Hotel was haunted by a lost girl, a little thing who tried to guide me through the ordeal. I’ve never felt so alone and afraid in a building, a building that wanted to kill me. In the beginning I thought I was just hearing things. Footsteps. A voice. But the lights flickered and went off. Pots and pans in the kitchen threw themselves at me. Messages on the wall in blood. And I could do nothing but pursue this little girl ghost who cries, and the longer I followed her through the burnt out wreckage of the hotel, the more violently the building attacked me, the more afraid I got, the more I felt like I had to just check out and never come back.
But I wanted to see Jeanette again. And to see Jeanette again, I had to have something to show.
At the climax of the ordeal the hotel lit itself on fire, and as soon as I walked through the fire and the collapsing house to retrieve the jewellery Therese wanted, the fire disappeared. The ghost was released from its servitude to the hotel. The hotel’s memories had tried so hard to tell me: a diary mentions an abusive relationship where the father was violent and jealous. A child’s drawing of her family portrays her father as a terrifying man in rage. She was a young girl who was abused by her father. There are a lot of abused girls around here, in night time Santa Monica.
Perhaps it was the careful scripting and the sound design of this quest that created such a tense and awful atmosphere of dread. The hotel was huge, empty. The lights flickered. There was just enough information to build a feeling of something going badly wrong. And then things start to hurt you when you get close to the haunted object. Perhaps the worst thing about this mission is that you know you have to go towards the girl who may or may not wish you harm. You keep seeing things: things flash in front of you and melt away. Weird noises happen. Finally, when you see the blood red lettering on the bedroom wall and you know it can’t possibly get worse – ‘exposition graffiti’ that is used once, to huge effect.
One of the only missions in any game that I never ever wanted to play again. It is terrifying.
When I get back to The Asylum, only Jeanette is there, and I’m so enamoured with her I give her the pendant instead of to her sister Therese. Then Jeanette asks me to go to Gallery Noir and slash some paintings to annoy the toffs of Santa Monica. It turns out the paintings are duly enchanted: a blood demon appears from the paintings, and I hack it to death with a knife I seem to have picked up from somewhere. (The paintings are brilliantly weird, and have to be destroyed in order. They are based on the biblical misdeeds of Caine, who is the mythical First Vampire of the game.)
I return to The Asylum again. Therese is there instead of Jeanette, and of course she’s angry with me for giving the pendant to Jeanette… and destroying her exhibition.
When I originally played this game it was at this point that realised I was shocked. I started to realise that I didn’t expect NPCs to lie to me, and not even just lie, but manipulate me. Play me off. Twist things, and blame me. It really fits with both the characters too, that they are powerful sisters who hate each other and need a pawn. And you realise you do want Jeanette to like you, maybe even want Therese to. You want to please them because they’re hot and they’re interesting. They’re… glamorous.
Is this what it’s like to be a heterosexual man?
In any case, you know what’s coming next. Therese sends you to the diner to parlay with Jeanette, but it’s a set up. Dudes are there to ambush you. You get back to The Asylum, and…
Well, Therese is holding a gun. And she is arguing with herself. Well, she’s arguing with Jeanette… Who is Therese. They are the same person.
As you try to placate ‘both’ personalities through wild stabs at conversation options, what is revealed is that Therese/Jeanette’s father ritually sexually abused her, until one day Jeanette snapped and blasted his head off with a shotgun. You can’t ascertain which part of this ordeal created the split personality: the prim, ‘good’, businesswoman Therese, and the rebellious sexual predator Jeanette.
The painting looms huge over the room, even more horrible than before. I eventually figure if I encourage Therese, Jeanette might rebel and take over. It happens: Jeanette wins out, Therese is extinguished. Jeanette seems distraught and exhausted, but at least, I think, she is alive.
There are themes here that I missed the first time round.
Father figures are terrifying, awful in this game. The Ocean House Hotel’s abusive spirit is that of a jealous father and husband, and Jeanette also realised that her father was sexually abusing ‘Therese’, her other side, and it was Jeanette who was eventually strong enough to end it.
What is also interesting is that Therese was the ‘good’ one, the one that ‘obeyed’, the one that when she did what she was told, she became a high-powered businesswoman. Therese’s obedience and correspondence with society’s awful demands largely gave her prosperity, whilst the only reason we suppose she could leave the abuse of her father is down to the rebellion of her ‘sister’ personality, Jeanette. Jeanette is a symbol of disobedience: she fucks who she likes and her ‘sister’ constantly slut shamed her, she dresses provocatively, her eye makeup is smudged and I-don’t-give-a-fuck dramatic. She’s the goth Britney Spears to Therese’s pant suits.
The question is raised here: is obeying the establishment, and corresponding to its demands, more costly than rebelling against it for women? Is becoming successful in capitalist terms worth the destruction of the self? The eroding of personal freedoms? Therese is the Madonna, the ‘good woman’, and Jeanette is the whore, but both seem to come at a cost.
Perhaps there’s a reason that women are known for the trite mental illness trope in fiction. There doesn’t seem to be a role for us in the popular imagination that understands exactly how we can exist without becoming ill.
I stalk off into the night, thoughtful. The sex workers on the street try to solicit me, strong and demure in the shadows. They know who they are and what they want, like me.
Where are the rent boys, I think, as I remember seducing the cop by the gallery, taking a deep bite into his neck, and leaving him woozy with love. What about the men? I think, as I walk into the bail bondsman’s place, and look longingly at the doughnuts that I cannot ever consume.
The rest of the S.EXE columns are here. BLOODLINES WILL RETURN.