Bioshock story debate

I always feel bad for having not played Bioshock, because everyone talks about how great it is. Last time I didn’t play a game (I was busy, I was playing nothing bar Sims 2) it was Portal, which I have now played and think is totally fabulous. Meanwhile, the comments here make me wonder if I did the right thing, after all.

I got my boyfriend to play through the first section (on Expert, because he’s like that… I’d only ever play on Easy!), and noted with some amusement things that he didn’t get…

“Somewhere, beyond the sea,
Somewhere, waiting for me,
My lover stands on golden sands,
And watches the ships that go sailing…”

The background music in Rapture was highly ironic– it encouraged the idea that this place was a perfect Metropolis paradise, suffering from an Atlantean perfection-destruction, yet somehow still a long-lost lover.  I arged with my boyfriend as to when it was set, and finally read that it was an art-deco world that hadn’t changed while the rest of the earth was having fun with flower children.

I was intrigued by the ADAM/EVE thing, and still don’t properly understand.  Some form of currency and “Mana.”  Got it.  Plasmids are power-ups.  You get cool and exciting ways of doing stuff, like using your fire power on the oil, or your electric power on water.  Then there are these Big Daddies and Little Sisters.  You either save them all (thumbs up for being nice/gullible), or harvest them (which gets you superfluous ADAM).

But reading these reviews, it sounds like I would have been bored to tears with the tedium of the game, and its entire saving grace would have been that it was a rich, interesting world to explore, with lots of quaint illustrations and mottos littered around.

To me, it sounds as if Bioshock still suffered from the Gameplay/Narrative divide.  There was all the evidence of the story background, there were things to discover along the way, but it sounds as though (note, this is my naieve judgement, having not played through the game) much of the game was repetitive, with the player hitting certain points and finding him/herself unlocking the next story point accidentally.

So now I’m sitting and thinking… if there’s all that repetitive gameplay, all that time doing the nuts and bolts of “kill them before they kill me,” grind between the plot points, what happens if we take that away?  Does the story suddenly become very basic, or very complex?  Would the game suddenly become boring, or would it still recieve as glowing a review (it would still have the rich setting and all the implicit history)?

Also, why does the player’s revelation during the second act hit so hard?  Why does the imposed linerness stand out so much to some players?  Does the promise that your choices affect your game end up revealing that you have no choice after all?  Is that the theme?  Finding out that people can control your actions by saying, “Would you Kindly,” doesn’t make a joke about how you’re playing a game and you know there’s a path you have to follow, and make you feel okay about that.  It points out the very thing you’d rather forget!

In a well written piece of tragedy, you want an actor to totally agree with the stupid, idiotic thing their character does to screw everything up; you want the audience moaning, “I wish he didn’t…” any yet knowing that if they were the main character with the same background, they would have done the same thing.  Therein lies Katharsis; therein lies satisfaction.

So this sends me back to my research topic with renewed passion.  How can I create a game that is full of Katharsis, that is engaging, that is full of questions waiting to be answered, that is full of suspense, where the Gamer has no choice but the obvious choice, and never wants for anything else?  And do I have to have enemies that you gotta shoot? 😉

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