Castlevania: Symphony of the Mike Part 1 – OCDracula

Dracula.(Castlevania).full.295042Is it fair to retroactively psycho-analyze fictional characters? Perhaps not, in the sense that I am in no way ascribing motive to Koji Igarashi or anyone else who worked on Symphony of the Night, but as each player takes on the role of Alucard each player must take on the role of creator in deciding how Alucard acts and therefore, to an extent, define their specific incarnation of Alucard. Just as a theatrical production is a collaboration between writer, director and actors each translating and interpreting the work, each play-through of the game is a collaboration between the designers and the player(s). Not every game need be (or, arguably, can be) viewed as a collaboration in this way, but games such as Symphony lend themselves well to this form of play. Also, perhaps, at this moment in my life, I am also particularly disposed toward analyzing Alucard and his father through a particular lens.

Each player’s Alucard is unique. How they fight, what items they use, how they explore the castle, even the skill they demonstrate will all vary from player to player. Of course, all Alucards have some shared experiences. Every Alucard will be an physically 18 year old half-vampire with flowing hair and fabulous capes, for example. Nearly every Alucard will also end up something of a packrat, as players grab everything that isn’t nailed down. Alucard’s cloak will end up stuffed with potions, dozens of swords, a restaurant’s worth of food, and enough clothing to outfit a small village. But no matter how obsessively the player collects items and hoards their inventory, it will always pale in comparison to that of Alucard’s father, Dracula.

Dracula’s habit of hiding items around his castle has become something of a running joke for fans of the Castlevania series. The idea that you could whip a centuries old castle wall to find perfectly edible, healthy pot roasts and turkey legs is pure old-timey video game nonsense. Symphony of the Night continues this tradition with gusto. Dracula has continued placing food in his walls and hidden rooms, but he has expanded his menu to include everything from cheesecake to dim sum. There is not a single candle in his castle that isn’t home to at least one coin, with some containing sums as high as five hundred American dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that means any given candle could have contained the equivalent of $6746.38!

What exactly IS Dracula’s obsession with hiding things in candles or stuffing his home with meat? Why does Dracula fill his castle with piles of daggers, swords, books, bottles, lightning-shooting guns, Lord of the Rings memorabilia and almost countless other bric-a-brac? Is it possible that Dracula suffers from hoarding disorder?

Seems legit

Seems legit

Compulsive hoarding was first defined as a mental disorder in the 5th edition of the DSM in 2013. It is still not entirely understood, and it is unclear as to whether it is merely a symptom of another condition (such as OCD) or truly a separate, isolated disorder.

The first criteria for diagnosing hoarding disorder is “Persistent difficulty discarding or parting or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.” It is safe to say that Dracula falls under the first criteria. His collection includes incredibly old objects, some of which have been in his possession for centuries. The oldest items in his collection include a dagger owned by the artist Hans Holbein from the 16th century, a katana made by the Japanese swordsmith Masamune in the 13th-14th century, and a garment worn by the biblical Joseph sometime around 1800-1500 BC! While these and many other items in his collection are valuable, he also hoards random cloth tunics, knives, and other worthless items.

The 2nd criteria, “This difficulty is due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding,” is impossible to assess based on the little we see of Dracula in the game. However, Dracula definitely fails to meet the 3rd and 4th criteria, that of his hoarding making his home unusable and interfering with his social welfare respectively. There is no part of his castle that unusable because of his hoarding. For example, there is an entire wing filled with grandfather clocks, but they are all neatly arranged and do not hinder movement in any way. While some floors may have random objects littered across them, every room in the castle is still usable for its intended purpose, which means that Dracula fails to meet the 3rd criteria. He also doesn’t seem to meet the 4th criteria, as it does not seem to impair his social standing with the other undead and demonic entities in his social circle. It could be argued that his hoarding does create an unsafe environment for others, as it gives vampire hunters who wander in the weapons needed to cause grievous injury to other monsters, but that isn’t exactly what the DSM means. It seems pretty clear that Dracula’s candle-and-meat fixation is not specifically due to hoarding disorder.

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So if his hoarding is not due specifically to hoarding disorder, could it be the symptom of a different condition? For years, hoarding was considered a symptom or subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Full disclosure: I suffer from Tourettic OCD and so have some understanding of the condition, but I do not for a second consider my experiences to be universal to every form of OCD. The difference between hoarding associated with OCD and Compulsive Hoarding, as I understand it, is in motivation. Hoarding due to OCD is fueled not by the stuff itself, but by a compulsive fear or superstition. A lot of people misunderstand what OCD is like. OCD doesn’t take over your body and force you to do something. Rather, you have this repeating, obsessive cycle of thoughts that tells you over and over that if you DON’T do something, it will cause a disaster. Someone I knew who suffered from bad OCD had to shout “five!” every time anyone counted to four because the feeling that a four “left alone there” would cause horrible things to happen to them and their family was overpowering. They knew it wasn’t logical, but the feeling of dread was real regardless. The compulsive fear or worry is not always a specific superstition, such as in my own case. Sometimes when I have tourettes tics, I have to repeat the tic after its finished because my body just “feels wrong” if I don’t. Suppressing a tic makes me feel like my body is going to collapse into itself. People who hoard as a symptom of OCD do so because it has become tied into some negative thought loop.

Dracula hoards very specific things. He collects weapons, armor, money, rations and drugs. These aren’t the 19th century equivalent of junk mail, even if the items aren’t particularly valuable or useful. Their intended purpose seems valid for Dracula’s interests. Keep in mind that Dracula has been literally killed at least once a century since he was born. He always comes back, but who is to say what he is going to come back to? If you knew you were going to be staked through the heart and lose another few decades, wouldn’t you want to make sure that you were set when you came back?

Dracula is obsessive and paranoid. He hoards and hides money and goods because he knows sooner or later he will be attacked and staked again. What better way to make sure that no one steals your money while you are waiting to be resurrected by your evil followers than to hide it? What better way to plan for a long siege of heroes than to have emergency rations covertly stashed around your home? Having an arsenal in every corner of his castle means no matter where he is attacked, he can defend himself. He did not count on the Belmont clan being so thorough in its destruction of his home, but even now that his hiding places are well known, he can’t stop. It has become more than a ritual or a desire, but a compulsion. If he doesn’t put some coins in his candles, it starts another negative feedback loop, obsessively playing terrible, negative thoughts in his head.

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A puppet that I am probably related to

Dracula would certainly not be the first OCD vampire in history. Many vampire legends around the world depict the undead fiends as suffering from arithmomania, or an obsession with counting their actions or surrounding objects. In several stories, the heroes escape the vampire by scattering seeds or grains across the floor, forcing the vampire to stop and count them before resuming the chase. Of course Count von Count, one of the most famous pop-culture vampires of all time, is famous specifically for his arithmomania. Vampires also obsessively perform superstitious behavior (refusing to move through running water, avoiding certain religious symbols, refusing to cross a threshold until certain prerequisites are met) that also seems to be in-line with OCD symptoms. Whether vampirism supposedly causes OCD or these were people who had OCD before turning undead doesn’t matter. All I’m saying is that those of us with OCD and OCD tendencies can fairly easily see aspects of ourselves in these monsters. A precedent is set to see Dracula in this particular light.

By sheer coincidence, my own genetic origin of OCD and Tourettes comes from Transylvania. My ancestors who passed these conditions down the line were originally Czech Jews from Prague (supposedly they were rabbis who served under the Rabbi Loew of “the golem” fame, but who can say for sure). When the Jewish community was expelled from Prague during the Habsburg reign, my ancestors fled to Romania, and settled in Transylvania. There they found kinship and intermarried with another disenfranchised community, the Roma. From what I can gather, this is unusual, as while both the Jewish and Roma communities of Europe suffer ongoing bigotry and abuse to this day, the two groups were often set against each other by those in power. However, when doing family research for school as a lad, I learned that Transylvania was home to a number of intertwined Roma and Jewish communities. The groups that settled there were mostly craftsmen, entertainers and artisans and it was apparently hard to pit two hardworking blacksmiths against each other. Before the holocaust began, my Romanian ancestors fled to the US, where they intermarried with other members of the Jewish diaspora who had arrived in the US from Germany and Russia. The Jewish and Roma people left behind almost all died in what followed.

My family history is one of fear and struggle on all sides. The fear of genocide, the fear of persecution, the fear that everything could be taken away from you in an instant. Multiple generations had to leave their homes under the threat of violence, leaving their entire lives behind. My ancestors were lucky to have skin the right shade for America, so that when they arrived they were declared “white” and did not need to fear the same level to violence as back home (unlike those the wrong shade, who still today live with that fear in America). But family stories get passed on. Patterns emerge. The guilt that comes from knowing those left behind died so you could escape is not something that goes away easily, nor is the knowledge that no home is guaranteed to be permanent. Certain fears got passed down to the children of my family without anyone even realizing it. Horror left its footprint, and we were all but born wary. If our genetic tendency to OCD and tourettes exacerbated some of those fears we were instilled with? More’s the pity.

Its hard to imagine that Dracula would get too much help for his condition either. I had a hard enough time, and my tourettes is mild enough that many people don’t notice my outward tics. Being seen as “neurotypical” means I get to hear people talk about OCD and tourettes (as well as other forms of mental illness) as though I don’t have those conditions. It means I get to hear good people talk about how some people shouldn’t be born, or how resources are “wasted” on them, or how they’re just “difficult” or “faking.” Psychology today is more advanced that it ever has been in Western medicine, we know more about how the brain works than we ever have in history, and we can treat conditions long considered untreatable, yet still the average person thinks you can cure depression by thinking yourself happy. I’ve been told, by people I loved and wanted to trust, to just “stop having tourettes” and that the existence of my condition meant my experiences did not matter. Each time this happened, I died a little inside, and retreated further inward into that same siege mentality. I know other people who retreated further, some retreating so far that they lost all contact with the world outside themselves. The stigma associated with mental and neurological illness is very real, and it kills. But as frustrating as it is today, I believe Dracula would have had it worse than I do. When Symphony of the Night takes place, phrenology and mesmerism were still considered viable practices. When Dracula would have been raising Alucard in the 15th century, the term “psychology” had only just been coined by Croatian humanist Marko Marulic and the obsessive and intrusive thoughts associated with OCD were considered to be the result of demon possession. The fact that by pure coincidence Dracula DOES associate with demons wouldn’t have made it easier to get an accurate diagnosis. Even if Dracula and Alucard had the vocabulary to talk about their possible conditions, it is highly unlikely they would have turned to any of their contemporary “experts” for help.

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or a neurological anxiety disorder.

I descend from communities called monsters, demons, animals, inhuman and even, specifically, vampires. I descend from people told that they were defective, that their minds were defiled by actual demons, and that they were not fit to be with “normal” people. It is easy to see Dracula in a more sympathetic light this way. How many families were destroyed because of those labels? How many people were killed because it was all too easy to call someone a monster when you have a whip in one hand and a cross in the other? Each new generation of Dracula that is reborn carries the memory of persecution and violence the previous generation of Dracula suffered. Dracula’s story could very easily be retold as a metaphor for my own family, and the families of countless others.

But Dracula’s story isn’t being retold, and as we will see in the next update, there are limits to what this potential sympathy will buy from us. Dracula is a victim in some ways, but he is also an abusive figure in the game’s narrative. His son, Alucard, not only witnessed the tragic murder of his mother at the hands of an angry mob, but was then raised by Dracula to hate himself. While each player has control over how their Alucard explores the castle and how he responds to the obstacles he encounters, the aspects of Alucard they cannot control show clear signs of a victim of emotional abuse. Next time we will look at Alucard, and how a history of abuse has shaped our “half-monster” hero.

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3 Responses to Castlevania: Symphony of the Mike Part 1 – OCDracula

  1. Pingback: Castlevania: Symphony of the Mike, Part 2 – A Miserable Pile of Secrets | Video Games of the Oppressed

  2. Pingback: Castlevania: Symphony of the Mike Part 3 – | Video Games of the Oppressed

  3. Pingback: Castlevania: Symphony of the Mike Part 3 – Inverted Hassle | Video Games of the Oppressed

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