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Have You Played... Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines?

Whether you win the game matters not — it's if you bought it.

A woman holds a sword in a samurai pose while a solider floats in a magic chokehold behind her in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Image credit: Activision

I refer to Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines as "my favourite video game of all time" with such frequency that it's basically a catchphrase of mine. The thing is, though, I really dislike slogans; they're meant to stir up emotions while bypassing our capacity to think critically. So I thought this retrospective was a good opportunity to remind myself of why I still love this janky, weird ARPG about sad bloodsuckers so much, even 18 years after its release.

I played this game for the first time as a 14-year-old from rural Leicestershire, so there's no doubt that the glamour inherent in the ambitious semi-open-world recreation of Los Angeles was a big part of what captured my imagination. As a recently-awakened baby sapphic, the presence of scantily clad ladies who were receptive to my simulated flirtations must surely have had a lot to do with it too. (Just look at that cover art! No points for guessing what first caught my hormone-addled eye.) But even now, as a 32-year-old in a decade-plus relationship who has actually been to the real LA, I can happily revisit Bloodlines for the quality of the writing — and in fact, I do just that on an almost yearly basis.

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One odd thing I adore about this game, though, is the main character. It's strange because really, you'd be hard-pressed to find a blanker canvas. And that's the thing: I think that to this day, the ideas I developed while filling in my Fledgling's character sheet still play a large role in informing how I create all my avatars. There's a certain appeal to making your wish-fulfilment character a literal monster, because they can never be perfect. No matter how many desired traits you try to push onto them, they're still going to have to eat a person tonight if they want to survive. But in Bloodlines, you're encouraged to counterbalance such horrific compromises in the name of self-preservation with acts of compassion that allow your character to hold onto their humanity.

Is it going too far to claim that this game helped me accept how sometimes falling short of your highest standards for yourself doesn't need to mean you're no good to anyone? Yeah, that's probably laying it on a bit thick. And for the record, as an IRL pescatarian I've never literally eaten anyone. But I have fucked up quite a few times, and whenever I have, I've always been able to take a weird amount of comfort from my spiky vampire-wizard-lady. She's still out there doing her best to be human, so I guess I can as well.

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