Terrible Females: When you’re a girl, you get used to blood

Talking about blood in video games

Keep, keep bleeding

For me, blood has always been an integral part of being a woman. Into underwear, at the hands of someone else, in the shower when you shave too close, etc. In video games, women bleed all the time, but typically for more spectacular reasons — they obliterated an alien pod, got their fingers bitten off, someone hacks into their deformed flesh with a rusted weapon. Again, again, and again.

All these bleeding women gushing around, digitally and physically, but we have no real way to understand it, to peacefully live with all this red. When blood makes its way outside, being covered in it is usually more shame than honor. You stem its flow, wash out the dark brown, but expect it to show itself to you again. So when it’s splattered all over my screen, and as an infrequently bloody woman myself, I can’t stop thinking about it.

Video game blood
[Source: Bloodborne Wiki]
In an attempt to purge (or maybe just bathe in) my blood transfixion, I’d like to provide a formal analysis of bleeding girls in games. This is much more categorizable (and generally less depressing) than why women bleed in real life. Here’s what I know.

When

Lots of times, some of the most popular being during a fight, after being riddled with disease/mold/inhuman infection, as part of their character design, or because they’re vampires. But notably, unlike living women with uteruses, video game women with uteruses rarely get their periods or even speak of them, eliminating that monthly blood for the video game world. Also in the grand scheme of games, women characters bleed less frequently than male characters do, but that’s just because there are more of them.

Why

In the case of bleeding during fights, they’re bleeding because they’re in a fight. Sometimes it’s because someone playing Grand Theft Auto V hit them with their car and it triggered mild blood loss. For unattractive or transformed female characters, blood is a popular aesthetic choice to denote their disease or loss of humanity, presumably because, usually, healthy humans often have their blood inside their bodies and not outside of it.

A pool of blood in Grand Theft Auto V
[Source: Metro]
But just as often, a sexy, healthy female character like Lara Croft or Quiet from Metal Gear Solid V gets completely soaked in blood, looking like a plugged-up tampon or well-endowed Carrie. This works to a different effect — these beautiful, bloody protagonists become defined by the blood that covers them. It takes precedence over their muscle and capability. Players are instead reminded of how easily they’re battered, all the pain they’ve lived through, how fragile they are, how primal they can be. There she goes again, the woman, covering herself in blood! How haphazard yet expressive!

How

We rarely see women actively bleeding in video games, it often just exists around mouths and dirty shirts. When provoked, though, video game women bleed in bursts. It flies off of them, thick and brick red if the game was made after 2000, thin and bright if made before. Sometimes it pools quietly, sometimes it’s quick and aggressive, like eating candy that’s too sour.

Blood-soaked Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
[Source: Steam Community]
Associating women with blood, for me, is an indulgent thing. When you grow up as a woman, people are always telling you to be afraid (they don’t tell you that being a woman is only really dangerous when you’re poor, not white, or trans, but that’s less pithy and more difficult to print than “she persisted”).

When I bleed or see women bleeding, I sink into that little part of me that enjoys listening to childhood directions to be on the offensive, a victim with odds to overcome. A person hurt, maligned, and made to feel that way. When women bleed in video games, a type of media marred by its aggressively masculine history, that association becomes even stronger.

But taking it all apart like this — when, why, how — I can take a mini-vacation from my fear. I can pause to view an abstraction of real-life carnage, splotches of raspberry in a game. Sure, it’s scary, grotesque and familiar, but it forces me into a bigger picture. I know these women characters are more than the blood that drains out of them. They have stories, successes, and Wikipedia pages. I know I’m more of a healthy human than a perpetually bleeding punching bag, and I can learn to be afraid of blood without finding a home in it. So can you. It still looks cool, though.

[More articles in the “Terrible Females” series: Anatomy of a woman monster, Against the damsel in distress.]

Ashley Bardhan
Ashley Bardhan is a writer from New York. She thinks about Bloodborne a lot.