Why Bioshock is a game of significance
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
It can be argued that video games are the ultimate creation as to stand out, they must successfully incorporate elements from other media and fuse them with their own unique interactive ingredients. Games that have been considered significant must also push the envelope to encourage discussion about them as an interactive medium, as a result of dozens of hours of craft and possibly as an art form. This report sets to outline why Bioshock deserves a spot among some of the finest video games ever created. Set in the 1960s, Bioshock sees players take the role of Jack, a man who has just survived a plane crash and finds safety on a remote lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. Upon inspection, Jack finds much more than a remote and deserted building.
“Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?” Andrew Ryan asks, his introductory monologue ringing through the elevator on the way down to Rapture – a society formed around removing the restrictions of government and allowing man’s endeavours to continue unhindered by society. This view on life is known as objectivism and was popularised by Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged. Objectivism is the political philosophy which follows a few simple ideals:
· Follow reason, not whims or faith.
· Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
· Earn genuine self-esteem.
· Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
· Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value.
Much of Bioshock’s conventions are inspired by and adopted from Rand’s work, with Andrew Ryan being a pseudo-anagram of the author and the names of other characters having obvious links to Rand, including Jack’s audio accomplice, Atlas, a nod to Atlas Shrugged. However, Michael Clarkson claims that Bioshock is “the only popular work in recent years to give Rand a drubbing.” By the time Jack has arrived in Rapture, the city has fallen into chaos. Its citizens have run amok and have seemingly gone insane. 2K’s 2007 release aims to criticise objectivism and point out than it would be impossible for everyone to subscribe to this philosophy because for society to function, someone must perform menial tasks that would repulse the majority of people and that ultimately, someone will eventually take charge and control the masses to prevent anarchy. This proves to be exactly what Andrew Ryan has done. The act of holding up a mirror to society is common in other media forms, but is rare in video games, making Bioshock stand out in the landscape of gaming at the time. Standing out and reinventing the wheel is one of the staples of significant games, and Bioshock pulls this off with aplomb. (aynrand.org, 2019. Clarkson, 2009. Robertson, 2016)
Bioshock also provides the player with an increasingly difficult moral choice which is prevalent throughout the game. In Bioshock, Jack can acquire different superhuman powers which are enhanced through something known as ADAM, which has the ability to rewrite human DNA. ADAM is possessed by Little Sisters – young girls who are protected by colossal robots known as Big Daddies. The dilemma found in Bioshock is that Jack must both kill these children and harvest their ADAM to increase his power and make the game easier (triggering the wrath of a Big Daddy in the process). The other option is to save the Little Sisters and get considerably less ADAM, making the game much more difficult. This kind of moral dilemma ties into the mechanics perfectly, making it an admirable design choice for the game. The dilemma is also one of the first of its kind, introducing the idea before franchises such as Fallout, Mass Effect and Telltale games. (Robbins, 2019. Vgchartz.com, 2019)
Following the release of Bioshock, multiple discussions have been had regarding the games significance both inside and outside the world of gaming. In his thesis The Ludic and the Narrative in Bioshock: A Case Study Examining the Place of Video Games in Academia, Nelis writes “The place of games in academia is not something that should be limited to a particular department or discipline; it is something that should be used as a platform to elevate the wider discourse surrounding games and gamers and enrich the production of games as an immersive and expressive medium.” This authoritative statement on the significance of the game as an article to be studied by disciplines other than those in the media goes a long way to validate Bioshock and video games as a whole. (Nelis, 2013)
An eternal question that Bioshock makes a good case for is whether games are art. Roger Ebert famously said that games could never be art because they give ultimate control to the player. His statement of “Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices” is something that Bioshock manages to fulfil with its conclusion, where Jack meets Andrew Ryan and it’s discovered that any and all decisions the player made up to this point were all for naught and the ending you encounter was inevitable. This successfully fulfils Ebert’s criteria for art, which strengthens the argument that the game itself is art. (Suderman, 2016)
One of the most import aspects of media is its beginning and its end. Psychologist Murdock discovered that participants that were asked to recall words from a list were able to recall words from the beginning and end of the list more frequently than in other places on the list. This birthed the psychological theory known as the serial position effect. This effect has proven invaluable for media creators as it has indicated that the most important sections of their creations should be the introductions and conclusions, since they are more likely to be remembered by consumers. Bioshock has implemented this greatly. The games introduction where Jack descends into the city of Rapture is a mesmerising and memorable experience. The juxtaposition of Rapture’s stunning, open vistas against the dark and claustrophobic lighthouse above it offers relief to the player, despite its underwater environment. However, once Jack’s vessel stops its descent, things take a dark turn. The player can see one of the enemies from the safety of their chamber, watching as it eviscerates another citizen of Rapture, who is begging for mercy. It’s at this moment players learn what they’re truly in for over the next few hours of gameplay. The ending also includes a shocking revelation that washes over the player, throwing every task and objective Jack has completed into question. The player learns that every action Jack has taken throughout the game has been subliminally encouraged using classing conditioning (or Pavlovian conditioning). This twist in the tale serves as one of the coolest endings in video gaming history, with its subtlety being applauded on many occasions. (James, 2019, Mcleod, 2008. Mcleod, 2018. Smith, 2015)
In conclusion, Bioshock deserves to be classified as one of the most important video games of all time because it pushed the medium forward as an art form by being a strong argument that video games can be art and as a craft by providing a scathing and accurate commentary on Objectivism. As a result of its excellent execution, Bioshock sold 4.68 million units across all of its platforms and achieved an average Metascore of 95, while also holding the joint-highest score on PC. (metacritic.com, 2019. vgchartz.com, 2019)
aynrand.org. (2019). ADVANCING YOUR POTENTIAL. Available: https://www.aynrand.org/ideas/overview. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Clarkson, M. (2009). BIOSHOCK. Available: https://www.critical-distance.com/2009/06/17/bioshock/. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
James, A. (2019). Coolest plot twists in video game history. Available: https://www.grunge.com/43929/coolest-plot-twists-video-game-history/. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Mcleod, S. (2008). Serial Position Effect. Available: https://www.simplypsychology.org/primacy-recency.html. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Mcleod, S. (2018). Classical Conditioning. Available: https://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
metacritic.com. (2019). Search. Available: https://www.metacritic.com/search/game/results?sort=score&plats=1&search_type=advanced. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Nelis J. (2013). The Ludic and the Narrative in Bioshock: A Case Study Examining the Place of Video Games in Academia. Available: https://knowledge.library.iup.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2061&context=etd. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Robbins, J. (2019). 18 Super Messed Up Decisions Video Games Have Forced You To Make . Available: https://www.ranker.com/list/moral-dilemmas-in-video-games/jason-robbins. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Robertson, J. (2016). Why Bioshock still has, and will always have, something to say. Available: https://clicknothing.typepad.com/click_nothing/2007/10/ludonarrative-d.html. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Smith, D. (2015). This is the best opening to a video game ever.Available: https://www.businessinsider.com/bioshock-opening-is-the-best-video-game-introduction-ever-2015-4?r=US&IR=T. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
Suderman, P. (2016). Bioshock proved that video games could be art.Available: https://www.vox.com/culture/2016/10/3/13112826/bioshock-video-games-art-choice. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
vgchartz.com. (2019). Bioshock. Available: http://www.vgchartz.com/game/7023/bioshock/?region=All. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
vgchartz.com. (2019). Fallout 3. Available: http://www.vgchartz.com/game/6992/fallout-3/?region=All. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
vgchartz.com. (2019). Mass Effect. Available: http://www.vgchartz.com/game/7635/mass-effect/?region=All. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.
vgchartz.com. (2019). The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series.Available: http://www.vgchartz.com/game/71272/the-walking-dead-a-telltale-games-series/?region=All. Last accessed 4th Feb 2019.