In September 2008, THQ published de Blob, a sleeper-hit painting puzzle-platformer. In it, the titular character Blob liberates Chroma City from the tyranny of Comrade Black, an oppressive dictator. Released almost 2 decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War references in de Blob inject a deep vein of humor for players who recognize them. The struggle between a rebel “Color Underground” and the authoritarian state, the creative propaganda employed by INKT corporation, the use of police/military figures as enemies, the final boss fight in space (to represent the space race), and other aspects all serve to amuse historically aware players.
But is de Blob actually a story about a capitalist revolution against USSR-style communism? Despite some of the more blatant imagery, a number of game elements suggest that Blob is actually fomenting a Communist Revolution. The Lenin of Chroma City, if you will. In fact, two interpretations – that Blob is alternately Capitalist or Communist – could generally cite the same exact pieces of information to support their arguments, and both are correct.
The discussion starts with Blob, the very protagonist. His very name and being is a reference to the 1958 horror movie The Blob, where an extraterrestrial meteorite slowly consumes its environment, turning everything into a singular being, a singular existence. The movie is widely understood as a metaphor for the Cold War, where there is Communist vs. Capitalist, or Blob vs. non-Blob. In the game, there is “color” versus “ink”. Just as The Blob begins with a meteorite crash, de Blob‘s opening cutscene shows Blob crash-landing in Chroma City. The results? He turns everything into color to reflect himself.
Blob possesses the main trait of ‘creeping Communism’ – it consumes everything it touches. It’s not even an active ability that Blob (or the Player) must focus on. If Blob touches a building, it turns his color. If he touches a Graydian, a citizen (Raydian) encased in a gray suit, the Graydian automatically is released from its suit. Sure, the Raydian cheers and is happy, but brainwashing/propaganda (which I’ll go into later) can explain it away.
The Borg from Star Trek – “you must be assimilated” – comes to mind. Just as the West saw Communism as a slowly advancing terror on the world map, especially in the late 1940s and 1950s, Blob’s enemies see him slowly infesting neighborhood after neighborhood of Chroma City. And it all occurs behind the false veneer of Blob’s encouraging smile.
Yet a Capitalist narrative could use much of this information for the opposite argument. Blob doesn’t just consume; he absorbs. He obtains color from his surroundings. This is why ink is so harmful – his body automatically, passively absorbs it, and the ink is so toxic that it slowly kills him. Moreover, as one plays de Blob, one is required to use a diversity of colors as they complete story missions. Once Graydians are freed, their bodies take on the full color spectrum. Graydians themselves are an assimilated collective that he destroys. The diversity of color that Blob engenders creates a liveliness that sharply contrasts from the popular cultural image of Communism – a bland, uniform, and drab existence. In this way, the gray-ness of Blob’s enemies reflects our cultural understanding of life behind the Iron Curtain.
Blob, in a “Capitalist” or “Western” view, reflects the Melting Pot perception of America. The protagonist is an amalgamation of everything he encounters, everything he is exposed to. Just as American culture is constantly shifting thanks to internally-generated cultural movements and externally-generated immigration flows, Blob shifts as he encounters colors. His own body color, with 8 variances (Red, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Orange, Green, Brown, and Clear), constantly changes as a result of new injections of colors. In this way, immigration is analogous to color in how it changes culture or Blob, respectively.
The Antagonist – Comrade Black
There’s ample fodder for a marxist view that Comrade Black, despite his name, actually represents the worst of capitalism. Marxist scholars in International Relations generally focus on the detrimental effects of capitalism, and Black is a huge mine for this view. To begin with, he is the leader of INKT Corporation. That INKT is a corporation implies that it represents capitalism, and the effects of ‘INKT capitalism’ are easily apparent. The ink is a huge environmental hazard, infesting waters and poisoning the populace (Blob is poisoned whenever he encounters ink). It is akin to crude oil in this sense – like an oil slick in the sea, it causes huge environmental damage. But would a capitalist INKT care? Of course not! INKT even uses ink freely in weaponry (bottom row)!
Marxist scholars can frequently point to cases where multinational corporations significantly degrade environments in less-developed countries for economic gain and resist all attempts to force accountability. A classic case is the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster in India. Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), the Indian subsidiary of the US-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), had an industrial plant in Bhopal, India that produced pesticides. The process used a highly toxic gas as an intermediate input. However, the UCIL ignored regulations and allowed the safety mechanisms to fall into serious disrepair. The result? A massive leak. The gas cloud caused thousands of deaths, and the environment surrounding the factory is still toxic today. (It would be akin to living near the Chernobyl site, but with toxic gas instead of nuclear radiation). UCC denied all liability, pinning the blame on a ‘disgruntled worker’, and even 30 years after the disaster, neither the UCC nor its now-parent company, Dow Chemical, will admit to liability or pay for damages and restoration.
The ink that INKT uses pollutes water supplies (as seen in top row), and is highly toxic to residents. Yet INKT is apathetic to the damage, and actively sprays ink on protestors. Their weaponry is all designed around covering enemies in ink, poisoning them. In this manner, INKT takes the concept of a soulless, capitalist corporation in a 3rd world country to the extreme.
Yet there are plentiful pieces that present INKT as a totalitarian communist state. In the opening scene of de Blob, we see Comrade Black leading a massive army (right).
If anything, this seems reminiscent of a communist dictator in the style of North Korea (left)
The similarities continue from there. INKT presents a uniform, monolithic, authoritarian image. This hews more closely to ideas of communism (at least as we know it from the Cold War) than it does to capitalism (where money corrupts).
In addition, we see several sides to INKT that portray a communist totalitarian state. All citizens are hurdled into facilities where they are transformed into drab Graydians. It is evocative of state prisons that one might’ve found in Siberia during the Cold War, or North Korea even today.
In a cutscene, we also see an office building where the Graydians slave away, becoming brainwashed. It probably isn’t all that different from the Ministry of Truth that Winston Smith works at in George Orwell’s novel 1984.
Propaganda & The Space Race
Both INKT and Blob’s ally, the Color Underground, make notable use of propaganda to prop up their side. INKT, with its control on government and information, uses the news to communicate its side. The news anchor is an Inky (member of INKT), and interviews in the news segment show INKT army members putting Blob down.
In the second image, an INKT soldier shows a drawing where Blob cowers, crying, before the might of the ‘mighty’ INKT soldier. As seen by the smiling sun, this situation is a ‘good’ one.
This fits within either ideological narrative: INKT, the capitalist corporation, uses its money to buy the news media according to a marxist. A capitalist would instead argue that INKT is exercising the same powers that any communist totalitarian state does. After all, North Korea has its own state-controlled news channel, and outside (read: Western) countries’ media organizations have little presence.
Similarly, Blob’s image of freeing oppressed citizens fits within either narrative. The marxists claim that he’s supporting the working-class, fighting against the capitalist INKT. The capitalists claim that he’s revolting against the communist totalitarian regime. The image (below) works either way.
The use of the Space Race, on the other hand, tilts de Blob firmly towards the Capitalist narrative. Historically, the Space Race was a contest between the US and USSR to be the first to send increasingly complex satellites into space. After all, satellites in space could carry nuclear weapons which the other side could not defend against. If we are to strictly follow history, then because INKT goes into space first via a massive shuttle, it is the USSR in this scenario. (Although, since INKT initially came from another planet, this comparison is very murky.)
Blob is a revolutionary figure. Through his abilities, he enforces the status quo of Color, constantly influencing his environment to reflect himself. He’s almost akin to a ‘creator deity’, in a sense.
While de Blob is targeted towards young children who likely don’t recognize the Cold War undertones of the game, Blob’s inclusive image as a likable creature is enhanced by his lack of clear ideology. There is no reason why characters need to have a great ideological vision, and this way, nobody feels alienated or villified by de Blob‘s narrative. The game is a near-perfect blend of capitalist and marxist undertones.
de Blob subtly forces players to recognize potential daylight between themselves and the protagonist, yet it doesn’t ruin the immersion. Instead, it challenges players to use Blob as a vehicle to express themselves. The painting mechanism enables gamers to turn the city into a reflection of themselves through art. The colors you choose and the ways that you utilize each color, combined with a soundtrack that changes instruments based on Blob’s color, turns de Blob into a deeply personal experience. Whether a person sees Blob as an anti-Communist rebel or a proletariat representative, your own opinions, combined with the free expression of using the world as one’s personal canvas, means that each player can control his/her own narrative.