Saturday, January 26, 2008

Critical Casts Episode 2

This week, I address game design issues, elements, and problems from a variety of different angles. Get in on the discussion, and get started on the hands on application. There are adapters to buy, games to try, and a design challenge that may blow your mind.

Download Critical Casts 2 HERE.

Show Notes....

Wiimote + Bluetooth
Neo*RPG (I'm going to try and post my design postmortem document as well)

Guitar Hero Type Games

Hybrid Game

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Critical Casts are GO!

This is the first go at it. I'm starting off small and controlled and fully intend on ramping up the content and excitement in the coming shows.

In the cast, I run through the concepts behind future segments for future casts to give you a glimpse at the scope of Critical Casts.

Also, I plan on getting guests to be a part of the show with me.

Listen to the podcast here.

You can check out a permanent link to the feed over to the right under Critical Casts.


Thanks and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

[insert game here] Discourse

This is a rough draft of a project I'm working on. I'm trying to present all the current conversations on BioShock all in one place.

This BioShock Discourse contains a branched/interconnected presentation of the essays on this blog. I encourage everyone to check it out here for a non-linear way to read critical essays.

Look at the end of the gray panel to the right for a permanent link to my [insert game here] Discourses.

Feedback would be much appreciated.

Look. Don’t Touch.

Like Marxist criticism, the most successful Feminist critique of a game involves analyzing how the range of player functions that affect female characters directly or indirectly reveal the operations of patriarchy. When the player is encouraged or forced to play in a way that depicts men as strong, rational, protective and women as weak, emotional, submissive, and nurturing, then the game can be said to support and reinforce patriarchal genders roles and ideologies. Patriarchal values work to oppress women, and all feminist theory and criticism works to promote women‘s equality. A Feminist analysis can become more complex when finding examples of actions toward women if a game doesn’t feature any women or the game allows for limited interaction with women. Writing essays about such games often leads to finding evidence by absence. In other words, a Feminist critic’s central piece of evidence may be what can’t be done to women instead of what can.

BioShock depicts women as weak, emotional, submissive, and nurturing and men as strong, and protective thus conforming to traditional patriarchal gender roles through its fiction, narrative setting, and the limited range of interactivity with the female characters.

In the first twenty minutes of playing BioShock, the player is forced to exist through the masculine context of a first person shooter when he/she acquires the pistol. Guns are commonly thought of a phallic symbols of masculine power, and being set in a game and a world where the perspective is aligned down the sights of one’s weapon centers the point of view to one of violence. As I have delineated in the New Classical essay on BioShock, shooting is the primary function. In other words, shooting, or in general combat, is the action the game achieves significance and meaning from. To beat BioShock, players have to be ready to fight not indirectly, not with words or emotions, but in physical, violent, direct combat. This male centered point of view is compounded with the idea of the male gaze: the idea that the man looks, and the women is looked at. Under the male gaze, the man has the power to define, explain, and take control of the world around him. And in BioShock, the player (who may have passively assumed the role of the male character at the game’s outset for lack of an alternative) actively controls the world of Rapture through their directed gaze. All interactive objects in the game get “named” when the player aims their view at it, or “gazes” at it. And without regard or regret, the player takes whatever he wants. Wine, chips, power bars, money, EVE, ect. With every item the player gains access to a short description and instructions on how to use it, thus the player effectively names, explains, and takes control over the world of Rapture under his/her gaze.

It starts with the commodification of the Little Sisters. As I’ve detailed in my Marxist essay on BioShock, the player is taught to think of the Little Sisters as an object of financial gain. In this case, it’s not money that is up for grabs, but the more rare Adam. Like the patriarchal male, the Big Daddys have no other function, but to wander around Rapture protecting these Little Sisters from harm. It is clear how the male/strong female/weak patriarchal ideologies are exhibited here. When a Big Daddy is removed from the picture, the little sister is left as a prize for the taking. Literally, the player snatches the girl up in one hand like an object and proceeds to either save or harvest her. With either choice, the Little Sisters resists crying out “No. NO. No!” In these mini scenes, the male protagonist overpowers the Little Sister, paying no mind to her cries. Even those who consider themselves kind hearted choosing to save these Litter Sisters, by repeatedly ignoring the “no” the player asserts his/her dominance through force. The choice of rescue or harvest is what many believe to be the central moral choice in BioShock. Regardless, the manner in which the player obtains this power of choice reveals a flaw or weakness in Tenenbaum’s character that unfortunately stretches the believability of the plot while reinforcing patriarchal ideologies.

Initial impression of Tenenbaum depict her as a woman whose life style flies in the face of the patriarchal woman. As a scientist, Tenenbaum is both logical and rational. Furthermore, when first introduced in BioShock, she is seen firing a pistol at a splicer that was hopping to harvest a conveniently unprotected Little Sister. This initiative gives her character a clear sense of protectiveness, another quality that is attributed to males in traditional patriarchal views. However, even within this initial encounter, Tenenbaum begins to artificially morph falling into the patriarchal gender role of women.

As we learn throughout the game, Tenenbaum is very protective of her Little Sisters. And like her introduction scene shows, she’s even willing to fire upon others who seek to harm her little ones. I find it strange that just moments after firing at one man’s attempt to reap precious Adam from a Little Sister, Tenenbaum becomes unwilling to fire at the next (the protagonist/player). While this change of heart benefits the player, the shift in Tenenbaum’s behavior is clear. Instead of defending the Little Sister with her pistol once more, Tenenbaum attempts to convince the player not to harvest the Little Sister by appealing to their emotions: “have you no heart.” Appealing to emotions further positions Tenenbaum into a more traditional patriarchal female role. By giving the player the power to rescue or harvest, Tenenbaum effectively relinquishes power over the very last thing she seeks to protect down in Rapture. In such a short period, Tenenbaum moves from exhibiting the active role of the protector, to the passive and submissive role of one who watches as her fate is decided by a man .

Throughout the rest of the game Tenenbaum guides the player through various tasks and objectives. She tells the player what to do, and the player does it. Simply by playing through the game, the player fulfils the typical patriarchal male role of a strong, proactive, decisive force. A obvious counter argument to this assertion is that all the characters in the game communicate through messages on the ACCU VOX personal voice recorders including males characters like Ryan, Atlas, and Cohen. This is true, however, the difference between Tenenbaum and all the other male characters is, the player never meets Tenenbaum face to face, and there isn’t any significant interaction between them according to the hierarchy of functions (see New Critical essay on BioShock). When the player first meets Tenenbaum, she’s positioned on a balcony high above the floor that removers her from the scene and obscures her from the player. The balcony also prevents the player from getting close to her and standing face to face as equals; a stance of equality. Towards the end of the game, when the player is rescued and brought to the hidden orphanage where the cured little sisters live, Tenenbaum can only be seen in a dark room and obscured by glass. When players finally meet Ryan, Atlas, and Cohen, it is face to face. Also, the player can interact with these male characters through shooting or some other act of violence, which is BioShock’s primary function. Even though changing the world of Rapture through physical violence supports the traditional view of males according to the patriarchy, shooting and violence is still the most meaningful and significant action for BioShock.

Tenenbaum’s acknowledgement of her femininity is revealed gradually through her voice messages. In these messages, she comments on her personal, internal transformations in regard to her feelings towards the Little Sisters. Tenenbaum acknowledges that she is a woman, and she recognizes her maternal instincts: “These children I brutalized have awoken something inside that for most is beautiful and natural, but in me, is an abomination…my maternal instinct.” By the end of the game, Tenenbaum becomes a regular “Mother Goose” as Fontaine refers to her as in a derogatory way. By embracing her emotions and assuming a strong nurturing role that not only takes care of these little girls but the player as well, Tenenbaum fulfils the traditional patriarchal role of woman. The Mother Goose name stems from the collection of stories and fairy tales that are most known for such stories as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Though these stories have been told, tweaked, and rewritten several times, all versions feature women that are virginal, submissive, weak, and dependant on the heroic, possibly violent, actions of a male character in order to save them. In this way, the Mother Goose stories reinforce the same patriarchal values that are evident in Tenenbaum’s transformed character.

Rapture is a place where all offensive, non-aggressive plasmids are advertised toward men, not women, through cartoons advertisements that reinforce patriarchal gender roles and the overpowering of women through force. In the short cartoon advertisements for the decoy, telekinesis, winter blast, and vortex trap plasmids, a man is depicted as using plamids against women, some of which are even depicted in house clothes wearing an apron or aggressively wielding a rolling pin. Images like these show that for the people of Rapture, women are expected to work in the home doing tasks like cooking and cleaning. In the telekinesis cartoon, a women is shown in clothes that reflect “going out on the town.” However, in the cartoon she’s throwing a wine bottle at the male character. We can infer from the character’s expressions that the women is out of control and therefore probably intoxicated and the man is just an innocent victim of abuse. Perhaps, what is worse about this particular cartoon is how the short male figure uses force to counteract these women. Upon retaliation, the males have a smug “you had it coming” expression on their faces. In the examples where men are attacked with plasmids, they are dressed more formally reflecting jobs and activities that exist outside the home. The men that are shown range from football players, police men, (well dressed) thieves, and business men in suits. Though both men and women at attacked in these cartoons, the subtle differences in their depictions expose the patriarchal workings.

Rapture is a place, perhaps an all too familiar place, where science and surgery are used to bolster one’s cosmetic appeal. It’s a place where women like Diane McClinktock looses all attention from powerful men like Andrew Ryan after suffering physical damage to her face: “Ryan didn’t come to see me since the New Year’s attack. Not once.” And later, after being mutilated by Steinman, Diane is stood up by just about everyone: “Stood up! Again…Second time this week.” It’s a world where doctors like Steinman convince women like Diane with promises of beauty: “He told me once the scar tissue was gone, he was going to fix me right up. Make me prettier than any girl I’ve ever seen. He’s sweet all right.” Dr. Steinman revealed in one of his private recordings that he has grown “tired” of surgically altering each female patient to the same “ideal” form of beauty: “I’ve spent my entire surgical career creating the same tired shapes, over and over again: the upturned nose, the cleft chin, the ample bosom.” For Rapture’s women beauty is serious business as evident by the words smeared in blood on the walls in at least three separate locations within the Medical Pavilion: “Adam denies us any excuse for not being beautiful.” And the pursuit of this beauty is endless and empty as Steinman admits: “I am beautiful yes. Look at me, what could I do to make my features finer? With Adam and my scalpel, I have been transformed. But is there not something better?” In the end, after being angry at the “bandits and terrorists” that caused the attack in the first place, Diane contemplates telling them how they “ruined everything” for her. She practically admits that without her looks, she’s nothing. She considers confronting the responsible people not for justice or revenge, but so that maybe she’d “feel better.” Once again, the emotional woman falls in line with patriarchal view of women.

Rapture is a place where women like Anya Andersdotter uses sex to drag information out of men: “I had to go jungle-style with that filthy ape for three weeks, but he finally spilled the beans.” It’s a place where honest business propositions and scientific ventures like those of Tenenbaum’s, are scandalously mixed with sex: “Why a guy like Fontaine would waste his time with that spooky Kraut when he could be getting’ the gravy from any dish he chooses is beyond the understanding of this paparazzi” - Paparazzi. It’s a place where beauty makes you a women, and if you don’t have that, then you’re just as well off as the monstrous splicers. It’s a place where women are forced to play in a man’s world according to his rules, and there’s nothing the player can do about it. And what’s worst of all, Rapture is a place that is like our own in many ways.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sorry Sister. It’s just business

Like Psychoanalytic criticism, Marxist criticism can seemingly critique a game by looking solely at a its fiction. However, both of these critical modes, in relation to videogames, achieve a deeper, more profound level of analysis when the elements of interactivity between the game and player are taken into consideration. Many Marxist critics of literature believe that film, literature, art, music, and other forms of entertainment such as videogames are the primary bearers of cultural ideologies. While we’re being entertaining by these medias, our defenses are lowered making us all the more susceptible to ideological programming. A Marxist critic of videogames looks for how a game supports or condems capitalist, imperialist, or classist values. Perhaps the best and most obvious place to look toward in games is the role and function of money. Some games represent money with actual U.S. dollars or some other form of real world currency. Others use fictional currency from bell, to gil, to star bits, or even points. What the player can purchase, how these items or services function, and how the money circulates within the game world all become important areas of analysis.

In BioShock, Andrew Ryan preaches the ideals he has infused into Rapture over several recordings. Building a city based on free enterprise, using the drug like plasmids to stimulate the market, and leading the lower classes to rise up against Ryan’s regime are all topics that have more than enough support for their own essays critiquing BioShock’s fiction in a Marxist mode. Rather than analyze BioShock’s fiction, I believe analyzing the role and function of money and other forms of currency in BioShock exposes the greater ideological work that is more subtle within the game system. Andrew Ryan set off against the odds to create Rapture like a true American. A true rugged individualist. And supporting his ideals is a game structure that transforms the player into a proponent of the American dream and capitalist values by encouraging consumerism and rugged individualist ideologies.

Before discussing how the function of money shapes the player, we must first identify the two types of currency in BioShock and how the player obtains each type. The most obvious type is the U.S. dollar; good old fashioned American greenbacks. Money can be found scattered in various locations throughout Rapture from overturned cash registers to hacked safes. Money can also be recovered from fallen enemies. Surviving a battle with a splicer easily transfers into monetary gain as felled foes often yield quick cash. Psychologically, the positive feeling from de-stressing after a battle becomes associated with the positive feeling one receives from monetary gain. The more time players spend in Rapture, the more they grow to feel that they need money to survive.

The other form of currency is Adam. Nearly everyone in Rapture seems to never be able to get enough of it. Unlike the dollar, Adam can only be obtained in three ways; as a gracious gift from Tennenbaum, from saving a Little Sister, or harvesting a Little Sister. The walking armored protective force known as Big Daddys protect the Little Sisters from greedy attackers. Because the only way to get to a little sister is through one of these lumbering beasts, taking on a Big Daddy is a risk that most of the remaining citizens of Rapture aren‘t willing to take. This risk is the core component of the ideology of rugged individualism, which is the cornerstone of the American dream. By putting your interests before the Big Daddy’s and possibly the Little Sisters (if you choose to harvest them), the player effectively participates in the oppressive ideology, which romanticizes the individual who ventures forth attempting goals that are risky or not easily achieved.

I assume that most players of BioShock go out of their way to defeat the Big Daddys to obtain Adam from the Little sisters. And by “go out of their way” I mean doing anything lies outside of the strict actions that are necessary to compete the objectives and beat the game. After all, the player doesn’t need any additional Adam to beat the game. All the plasmids the player needs to access areas and complete necessary mission objectives are provided by the game. The electrobolt, incinerate, frostblast, and telekinesis plasmids all come free of spending any Adam. And so we are brought to the essential question of this essay: Where does the drive to obtain money and Adam come from? Some might answer that they need money to buy ammunition and health so they can effectively do battle with the Bid Daddy’s for the moral purpose of liberating every Little Sister in the game. Others might say that they’re simply going for the achievements. However, for a Marxist critic our actions, subjectivity, and what we think are all products of the socioeconomic system we are a part of and the ideologies it supports. In this case, the player is hard wired into the system of Rapture, which is a product that stems directly from America (fiction-wise and videogame-wise). As a part of the system, the player wants more Adam because of the prevalent ideology of consumerism (“shop-till-you-drop-ism”) another cornerstone of the American dream. The player needs money and Adam because they must spend it to obtain plasmids, ammunition, and other desired items. In the same way consumerism says “you’re only as good as what you buy,” BioShock says, “you’re only as good as how many upgrades, ammo, and plasmids you have.” Such an ideology is present in American today, yet many gamers don’t have the luxury to purchase and obtain everything they want. But in Rapture, the player recognizes that they can buy everything they want as long as they have the cash and are willing to do anything to get it.

BioShock features many strict, linear objectives that don’t give the player much room for customization, personalization, or to revel in any emergent gameplay. After all, when the task is little more than go to room “x” and examine the glowing, golden item in order to “build a bomb,” all players walk up and hit the “A” button the same way. Dispensing of enemies would fall into the same result if the game didn’t feature a variety of weapons and plasmids for the player to “take their pick” and thus personalize their own style of combat. The player who desires to express their subjectivity, or selfhood in the world of Rapture, must secure a set of plasmids and abilities they can call his/her own. The game does a completely overt yet subtle job of advertising the variety of plasmids that are just out of reach from being obtained by the player by literally exposing the players to advertisements. The recorded testimonials and the pop art style1940s posters, on the surface, only seem to inform and entertain the player of the history and people of Rapture. However, as I’ve noted above, being entertained allows powerful ideologies to bypass our defenses and shape us more powerfully and quickly than we could ever imagine. Consumerism is an ideology that convinces us that we are only as good as what we buy. And with plasmids on sale that can physically alter our genetics to actually become more beautiful, or more powerful, the player is only as good as his plasmid arsenal. This internalized ideology efficiently transforms the player into someone who commodifys people, like the Little Sisters, by relating their lives or liberation to how much Adam can be obtained. Before the first “harvest or not to harvest” choice, Atlas informs the player of the Little Sister’s evils while Tenenbaum ensures us that they’re still innocent little girls inside that can be saved. However, both speak of the Little Sisters humanity in the same breath as how much Adam that can be obtained from them. Tenenbaum’s assurance that she’ll make it “worth [the player‘s] while” to save the Little Sisters only further develop how the player commodifies them. “Sorry (little) Sister. It’s just business.”

Rapture was built on the principles of free enterprise, and it is obvious that the entire game world revolves around money: “I should not need to remind each and every citizen of Rapture that free enterprise is the foundation upon which our society has been established”- Andrew Ryan. From the players subjectivity, to the maintenance of their health, to the “bribe the authorities” function of the Bot Shutdown Panel, all of these actions require money: “Money is used primarily to purchase items at Vending Machines, but it can also be used to automatically succeed at hacking, get health from Health Stations, and turn off Security Alarms at Security Shutdown Panels. There may be other uses for money as well.” To think otherwise is clearly a perversion of the mind according to Ryan: “On the surface, the Parasite expects the doctor to heal them for free, the farmer to feed them out of charity. How little they differ from the pervert.” It’s important to note that it is not necessary to buy anything to beat the game. Spending money is all optional, yet to the player who is a product of Rapture’s ideologies, spending money is a must. To encourage spending, several structures were put into BioShock. The player isn’t allowed to carry more than 500 dollars at any one time. During my play through, I found that I had to abandon lots of cash because I simply didn’t have room in my virtual wallet. At the next opportunity, I mindlessly bought anything I could to keep my wallet from reaching the limit too quickly again. To further encourage the player to spend is the proliferation of vending machines in Rapture. Everything in Rapture revolves around these vending machines, so much so that this fictional city puts to shame the streets of Tokyo. Rapture is a world where in order to swap out plasmids and gene tonics, an action similar to changing clothes, players have to visit a “Gene Bank.”

Of course the ideologies that make up the American dream and Capitalism aren’t foreign to many of us. Many of these ideologies are supported by the majority of Eastern and Western games. To think it’s only natural, however, for games or even the world to operate under such ideologies, is to fall into powers much greater than what can be found in this videogame. Don’t be mad. You haven’t been tricked. It’s just business.

Death, Milk, and Diving Suits

For those who aren’t careful, a Psychoanalytic critique of a game appears to only be concerned with the fiction of a game and the relationship of the characters. Unless the game is Psychonauts, most games seem to have little to nothing to do with the human psyche. Neglecting how the game fiction and the gameplay (or game rules) come together to create the Psychological work in a game is a common pitfall. Another easy pitfall is to get wrapped up in Psychoanalyzing the developers of the game, or what may be infinitely more embarrassing, accidentally analyzing one’s own psychological state while trying to pass it off as an analysis of the game. Though it is true that the fiction of a game is an important part of any Psychoanalytic analysis, the gameplay is where the most profound sources of material because the interactivity of the game can influence and transform the player in more powerfully subtle ways than a passive medium. In the following essay, I intend to highlight the psychological work of BioShock that goes beyond the fiction and is backed by the gameplay experience of the player.

To begin, I’ll discuss the death work BioShock. Sigmund Freud theorized that death is biological driven. He called this the death drive in attempt to explain the wide spread self destruction found on this planet (death work). In a nutshell, death work is psychological and physical self-destruction. The evidence of this work can be seen in the individual who destroys him/herself by over eating or over dosing, as well as on the national level where whole nations are constantly at war. Death is a serious matter that we, the living, have no experience in. Yet, despite it being mysteriously and inescapably bound to the end of our lives, death is a force that is perhaps too terrifying for us to deal with. This is why we fear it. Knowing this, it is easy to see how death and the fear of death, shapes our psychology. After all, in Freudian psychoanalytic theory, fear is a key driving force.
In BioShock, death work is evident in the fiction and behavior of splicers. Splicers are genetically mutated citizens of Rapture that are addicted to Adam and the power that is gained from it. Adam is the “genetic material that makes Rapture go round.” Tenenbaum revealed, however, that Adam is a drug that destroys the user: “Adam acts like a benign cancer, destroying native cells and replacing them with unstable stem versions. While this very instability is what gives it its amazing properties, it is also what causes the cosmetic and mental damage. You need more and more Adam just to keep back the tide. From a medical standpoint, this is catastrophic.” Aside from turning the user into a monster that will do nearly anything to obtain more Adam, hallucinations (visions of ghosts) are a common side effect: “Seems like some poor blighters have started seeing ghosts. Ghosts! Ryan tells me it’s a side effect of this plasmid business.” -McDonagh. Ultimately, using Adam ensures one’s psychological destruction. And that’s just the intangible destruction. In the game, splicers behave in a highly self destructive manner. In game terms, the failure of these enemies to assess the battle situation or even their own life and act in self preservation is simply poor AI. But, as part of a Psychological critique, these splicers are characters that consciously and actively throw their lives away. Skilled players can take on large numbers of these adversaries without problem. Even if the splicers didn’t know that they would be no match for the player, surely witnessing previous splicers easily fall to the player in one shot would inform them otherwise. In their rabid state starved for Adam, splicers can also attack Big Daddy’s hoping to harvest the protected litter sister for their next fix. It is very clear to the player, and to all citizens of Rapture that attacking a Big Daddy is a dangerous affair. These splicers are suicidal. Such behavior functions as self destruction on the psychological and physical level.

When analyzing people and material, Psychoanalytic critics and theorists have to be careful not to conceptualize the death drive to avoid moving death away from the world of actions, reactions, and responsibility. Turning death into an abstraction makes blunt its powerful force and by extension works to undermine a significant portion of our psychological frame work. If death is the greatest fear that frames, organizes, supports the existence of other fears (fear of abandonment, fear of intimacy), then removing the impact of death, or worse, removing death itself would work to destroy one’s identity or selfhood. In BioShock, the function of Vita Chambers remove the consequence of “death” in battle, thus turning it into an abstraction. According to the description of the Vita Chambers, “If you are killed by the hostile denizens of Rapture, you will be revived live and whole at the last Vita-Chamber you passed.” The gameplay in BioShock is structured in a way that when the player falls in battle, the game doesn’t reset back to a previous state to give the player another chance. Instead, everything remains as it was, and the player has only to jog back to where he/she fell and resume the battle refreshed of health and a little bit of Eve: “Some of your health will be restored, and you will always have at least a small amount of Eve.” Besides dangerously destroying what little game was present in BioShock by destroying a major structural consequence (based on the Classical game model), death becomes a joke. Without consequences, players quickly learn and fall into habits of taking what would be foolish risks in any other game. Snapping photograph after photograph while turrets and enemies attack you from all sides isn’t dangerous. Striking a Big Daddy from behind with a wrench just to taunt him is a fun game. And in a world where bombs, projectiles genetics, and guns rule, “wrench-revive-repeat” all opponents becomes an equally viable strategy. Falling into any of these or similar patterns works against any identity that exists between the player and game. Like whimsical, make-believe, fairy tale magic, Suchong refers to the Vita-Chambers ability to resurrect the dead with the word “poof:” They keep saying plasmid reconstruction this and quantum entaglement that, and then poof, dead people come back to life.” Suchong was a skeptic for good reason. Can there be life without death?

Freund’s theory of the superego, ego, and the id are represented by Ryan’s rules of Rapture, the player’s freedom of choice within the gameworld, and the Splicers that greedily roam Rapture respectively. The Superego by definition consists of the internalized social values that determine our sense of right and wrong in a particular culture. All of Andrew Ryan’s comments, ideas, rules, and regulations make up BioShock’s super ego. Hacking the vending machines is bad. Free enterprise is good. Big Daddy’s and little sisters are disgusting but necessary. Atlas also shares his views of what is right and wrong. From the beginning of the game, the player learns that plasmids are good and little sisters are little “Frankensteins” that can be disposed with without any ill feelings. True to the Freudian model, the id is directly opposed to the superego. The id is our instinctual selves and is singularly focused on fulfilling forbidden desires of all kinds without consideration of consequences. In BioShock, the id are represented by the splicers who only have a desire for Adam. As I have noted, Splicers will even throw themselves into the jaws of death in attempts to secure Adam from the Little Sisters. Representing the balance between the superego and the id is the ego, or the player of BioShock. The player is the conscious level of the game that experiences the world of Rapture through his/her senses. Because the game is in the first person perspective, they experience the world in a very intuitive natural way. In the game, the player hears Ryan prohibit hacking, yet he sees splicers hacking turrets and other machines, and has to determine for him/herself how to proceed. In this way, the player is the embodiment of the conflict between Ryan and all the orders he/she receives from the many characters who hold power over him/her, and the Splicers who relentlessly pursue Adam. As Freud states, the relationship between the superero, ego, and id speaks to our culture (in this case the dystopic Rapture) and ourselves. By indulging in the forbidden acts around Rapture, and taking out or restructuring the power structures by killing Ryan and Fontaine, the player literally balances out the super ego and the id by playing BioShock.

The family is very important in Freudian Psychoanalytic theory because of the how each member’s role in the family greatly shapes who they are. BioShock contains a very interesting family structure. The family I referred to is not the artificial family flashed in photographs triggered by Fontaine sinister control over the protagonist. And it is not Atlas’ family that was supposedly killed just before being rescued in the fishery. The family I will discuss is both more subtle and more obvious than that. The BioShock family I intend to discuss is made up of the Little Sisters, Big Daddys, Mother Goose (Tenenbaum), and the player. The Little Sisters are innocent little girls whose only concerns are harvesting Adam, finding angels, being tucked in for “beddy” time, and alerting the Big Daddys of any threat. The Big Daddys are the father figure; large, strong, protective. Tenenbaum is the mother figure. Her role throughout the game is of a more passive nurturer who would rather spare words than lift a finger to protect her “children.” So where does that leave the player? The player is the big brother who completes the oedipal conflict and sibling rivalry relationships. According to Freud, an oedipal conflict consists of competition with the parent of the same gender for the affection of the parent of the opposite gender. The player discovers early in the game, that Tenenbaum will make it “worth [their] while” to spare the little sisters instead of harvesting them. For many players, this promise of pleasing “Mother” is all that is needed to save every little sister they come across. In order to save more sisters and make Tenenbaum happier, the player must destroy his father, the Big Daddys, in combat the primary function of BioShock. What is interesting about this bizarre family is the player can choose which core issue they want to embody. When they save a little sister, they participate in the oedipal conflict. When players harvest the little sisters, they’re acting out of sibling rivalry in an attempt to punish the Little Sisters for taking away the attention of mom and dad. If they do both, then they personify both the oedipal conflict and sibling rivalry (and should seek help immediately). Of course I’m only joking about seeking help.

If you’re not completely convinced of the existence of the bizarre family relationships of BioShock, remember that the player cannot harm the Little Sisters outside of the saving/harvesting them. Unlike virtually every other object and surface in the game, shooting or striking at a Little Sister produces no sound effect or reaction from her whatsoever. What’s significant about this restriction is that the only way to affect the Little Sister is tied into the same decision that will either please Tenenbaum or not. In other words, the player is bound to interact with Little Sisters in ways that reinforce the physiological issues. Furthermore, by transforming into a Big Daddy, the player assumes a role that is physically and emotionally removed from Tenenbaum. When gathering the Big Daddy parts, Tenenbaum comments on how disgusting and monstrous the Big Daddy’s are as well as their repulsive stench. In other words, the Player becomes the father figure the player has fought so hard against (even when there’s no little sister present) as part of his inescapable psychological destiny. The Big Daddy armored diving suit that the player wears shields him/her from bullets and emotional intimacy as the guilt from disobeying “mother” by harvesting the sisters, or from destroying “father” haunts the player into becomes what he/she hated most.

After practicing killing your father over and over with each Big Daddy, killing Ryan, the protagonist’s actual father, seemed like no big deal. But you’re not the only one with desires for the mother. Fontaine, during a moment of exhilaration after splicing up for the first time exclaims: “This stuff is the mother’s milk…” We’ll just leave Fontaine be for right now. I won’t even get into an interpretation of the protagonist’s romp through Rapture as part of dream. That’s another essay for another time. Hopefully this essay helped to reveal the physiological work within BioShock. If you’ve come to this point and aren’t convinced about anything I’ve discussed, well….as a true psychoanalysts would say… you’re just repressed.

BioShock: An RPG in Disguise

“What we’re trying to do is to redefine what it means to be a first person shooter. Our goal is to put a stake in the heart of all those clich├ęs you’ve been playing for years in first person shooters. Linear corridors. The very static environments. And the Cookie cutter AIs. Now, we understand that that’s a pretty lofty goal. And it will really be up to you guys [gamers] to decided if we succeed.” Ken Lavine, creative director of BioShock.

Between BioShock’s story and its gameplay, there is more than enough material to fill multiple Structuralist essays. The transfer of masters from Atlas to Ryan to Fontaine to Tenenbaum and finally to a little sister is an obvious structure that governs both the story of BioShock and the narrative of the gameplay. Instead, I’ll spend my time analyzing the structures and their functions within BioShock’s shooter style gameplay to illustrate that the game Lavine created deconstructs itself revealing a product that is more comparable to an RPG than a modern shooter.

On the surface, BioShock appears to feature many of the same structures as a conventional FPS. Guns. Shooting. Strafing. Crouching. Players collect several types of guns that are analogous to the conventional repertoire of FPS ordnance: Pistol. Machine gun. Shotgun. Grenade launcher. Sniper. In battle players take on humanoid enemies called splicers. Like any FPS, head shots do more damage than chest or limb shots. And like any FPS, collecting and conserving rare and powerful ammunition is key to having the power to take on strong adversaries.

When these structures are put into the context of the game, however, they shape the gameplay towards functioning more like an RPG than a first person shooter. Like many Japanese RPGs, characters have a variety of attacks that generally fall into three categories. Attack. Tech/items. Magic spells. In BioShock the wrench is the players attack function. This object represents the most basic type of attack, and, likewise, is inexhaustible. Guns are like items or technical machines that have limited used. The only difference between these items and spells in a traditional RPG is that they draw from separate types of “ammo.” Items usually are collected by quantity with each unit representing a single use. Spells usually require the magic points, consuming a fixed amount per spell. In BioShock all plasmids draw from a supply of Eve, which are functionally analogous to magic points. The guns of BioShock consume ammunition. Like items each bullet has a one time use, and each type of ammunition is compatible with a specific gun.

One of the dominant strategies for battling enemies in almost every RPG is one I call “attack-attack-heal.” This strategy involves exchanging blows with your opponents and healing when your health falls too low. This strategy is also present in BioShock. Unlike conventional shooters like Halo3 or Call of Duty 4 in which players regenerate their health as long as they‘re not attacked for a shot period of time, in BioShock when a player is injured they stay injured until they do something about it. Without the ability to carry around health restoring food (gin, beer, chips, cream-filled cake, pep bar, scotch, vodka, whiskey, or wine) or any healing spells, First Aid Kits are the most convenient method of healing. This strategy is encouraged and made convenient by the “b” button that is exclusively designated for healing (based on the Xbox360 control scheme). Because the level design doesn’t create an effective cover system against the various types of assailants, taking hits is as unavoidable as falling into such an RPG like healing pattern.

After battling splicers or Big Daddy’s, players can examine the fallen bodies to obtain items or money. One routine that is quickly and easily established in BioShock involves searching these bodies to retrieve any goods they might hold. This routine mirrors being rewarded with money and items after battle that is found in nearly all RPGs. Furthermore, the ability to examine nearly every container in BioShock for small rewards, leads players into developing the habit of systematically checking every object in every room. Because BioShock has no consequence for such a meticulous habit, there’s nothing to discourage the player from this routine.

In BioShock characters can customize their abilities through four types of slotted upgrades: Plasmids, Physical Tonics, Engineering Tonics, and Combat Tonics. This feature is analogous to equipping armor or other accessories to increase player stats. Also, in BioShock players can level up the offensive power of their weapons by repeatedly photographing various creatures of Rapture: “Taking enough pictures will give you various bonuses against the type of creature you’re photographing.” This function is similar to grinding in a traditional RPG.

In the later stages of many RPGs, the separate functions between attacks, spells, and items begin to merge into one another. Some weapons will have magical properties allowing the player to strike and deliver the effects of a spell. Some items work like one time use spells. And some spells are just a series of physical attacks. In BioShock, the same overlapping of functions occurs. Some Physical Tonics offer bonuses for taking and dishing out physical damage: “Bloodlust heals your body and your mind as you swing. Be red in tooth and claw with Bloodlust.” Another tonic gives the player the ability to automatically shoot out an electric blast when he/she is struck by a physical attack. This blast has the same effect as using the Eletrobolt plasmid. There is also an upgrade that gives the wrench attack a random chance of freezing enemies. These upgrades that merge attacks and plasmids are analogous to the merged attack and magic functions from a traditional RPG. The Chemical launcher (tech/item) is a weapon that can launch fire, electric gel, and freeze gel, all three of which act like their respective plasmid (magic). The electric buck shotgun ammunition functions as a shotgun shot and the Electrobolt plasmid. The exploding buck overlaps with the Incinerate plasmid much in the same way. This overlap of function deemphasizes the design put into the separation of Eve consuming plasmids versus ammunition consuming weapons.

In BioShock the player can only carry 9 Eve hypos (refill packs) at a time: “An EVE Hypo fully fills your EVE bar, so that you can use your Active Plasmids.” This puts a limit on how many times the player can use any active plasmid ability. Eve Hypos are much harder to come by than food, First Aid Kits, and money. This scarcity naturally developers into a lack of EVE, a lack of using Plasmids, or players that use their plasmids cautiously. Also, the player is limited to how many different types of plasmids they can carry and use at one time. Until the player expands their plasmid slots, they’re stuck with a very limited number. It is common toward the beginning of the game for players to regret switching out one plasmid for another after coming across a plasmid specific event. Such a balance of limitations increases the significance of character customization. However, the overlap of plasmid functions in BioShock’s weapons deconstructs this balance. Because each weapon and each type of ammunition has separate (and generally higher) limits of use than plasmids, which draw from the same “ammunition” source (Eve), the dominant strategy shifts towards the heavy use of weapons over plasmids.

Finally, like most RPGs, BioShock features an overly ambitious story that is presented to the player in a way that is mostly separate from the significant functions of the gameplay. Unlike conventional shooters, and much like most RPGs, BioShock forces the player to run around the city of Rapture performing odd ball tasks. Throughout the game the player is a servant to their current master. Run and get this. Go and get that. Take a picture of him. Go kill her. The majority of the objective based gameplay structures fall under a few types. Fetch quest. Escort mission. And defend the zone. Though the latter two types are conventions for many modern first person shooters, the majority of the missions structurally are fetch quests, a mission type that are common in RPGs.

Ken Levine set out to “redefine” the first person shooter. He made sure to pack the game with many shooter like elements. However, in the end, BioShock plays more like a conventional Role Playing Game than a revolutionary First Person Shooter.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Aims of BioShock: Shoddy Shooting

For a New Classical critic the degree to which a game’s formal elements promote its primary function is a measure of its success. Such a critic views all games through the lens of the principles found in Classical game design whether a game is made under a Classical or Western design. When approaching a New Classical critique of BioShock, I ran into a number of issues. Because Western designed games prioritize game-story and the overall “experience” over its gameplay and mechanics, I had to consider if a New Classical critique misses the core of such games? On the other hand, I had to consider if I had enough experience to critique BioShock’s experience or story otherwise. With games borrowing from various other mediums (books, music, theater, movies), wouldn’t assessing a game’s overall experience require at least a working knowledge of these fields? For the purposes of this essay, I will begin with a New Classical critique of BioShock, and then move into a more free discussion of my BioShock experience in relation to other mediums (books & movies).

Hacking. Examining. Shooting. Listening. Photographing. BioShock equips the player with a variety of actions. Being classified as a shooter, shooting is indeed the primary function in BioShock. For BioShock, shooting includes anything from unleashing plasmids, launching ballistics caught with telekinesis, striking targets with a wrench, and shooting any guns. Between splicers, security bots, security turrets, Big Daddys, and the final battle with Ryan, battle is where the player finds the most meaningful encounters in the game. Comparing the range of functions by frequency of use and necessity (what’s necessary to complete the game) the hierarchy of functions is as follows:

  1. Shooting
  2. Examining
  3. Hacking
  4. Photographing
  5. Listening/Playing recordings

Now that the primary and subsidiary functions have been identified, I’ll examine how BioShock’s formal elements promote or demote shooting. Open sources of water, puddles of oil, chunks of ice, short circuited devices, security cameras, and security turrets are all designed to promote the use of specific plasmids: “Turrets can be hacked when they are unaware of you, or when Shocked or Frozen.” By shocking the water with the Electrobolt plasmid, players can electrify multiple enemies at once. Short circuited devices can be shocked into action. Puddles of oil can be ignited by using the incinerate plasmid to create a flaming barriers. Likewise, ice can be melted. And security cameras and turrets can be frozen or shocked to temporarily disable them. In a Classically designed game, these functions would be used throughout the game their combinations, frequency, and arrangement gradually increasing in complexity by creating new strategies and objectives by layering their simple functions. However, after the first few hours into the game, these formal elements either became obsolete shortly after their introduction (igniting oil), were rarely encountered (melting ice), or became a dominant strategy used in the majority of encounters (shocking cameras and turrets).

The enemies in BioShock function as dynamically moving targets that fight back, run away, and even use healing stations to repair battle wounds. Though some enemies have more obvious strategies to dispense of them with like using telekinesis against a Nitro splicers, BioShock fails to create situations that promote the use of a specific guns/plasmids by failing to offer any kind of consequence or punishment for doing otherwise. Just about any weapon out of your walking arsenal can be used on any enemy at any time. In this way, many of the functions of the plasmids and weapons overlap demoting the potential variety of weaponry. BioShock seems to have attempted to create an open world where the players aren’t restricted to having to complete a challenge in a specific way. However, by failing to promote the use of specific weapons/plasmids, there is no incentive for the player to deviate from a strategies that use a limited selection of weapons from their arsenal. In other words, BioShock isn’t structured to curb or alter some of the dominant strategies found early in the game. For the majority of splicers, the dominant strategy is strafe and shoot. For turrets, bots, and cameras the strategy is to zap and hack.

The Big Daddy encounters initially serve to break up the monotonous application of the existing dominant strategies. The Bid Daddy’s non scripted free roaming AI allows for them to show up just about anywhere you can go. Fighting one is much tougher than fighting a splicer because they feature a boost in defensive and offensive abilities. A simple “strafe and shoot” strategy or a “zap and slap” (electrobolt then wrench) doesn’t cut it. To topple these foes, players have to utilize their more powerful weapons and ammunition. Strategies like laying mines down in the Big Daddy’s path or using the Target Dummy plasmid require the player assess their enemies as well as their environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if most players find the Bid Daddy battles the highlights of the game as they represent the deepest combat (shooting) in the game. Unfortunately, the significance of the various plasmids and guns is demoted somewhat because of the function of the Vita-Chambers. Because these chambers take away the penalty of death from battle, the base level of play needed to overcome the majority of encounters in the game consists of “wrench, die, repeat.” This strategy revolves around the conservation of ammo instead of the efficient use of time.

The level design in BioShock functions more toward creating the dystopic setting of Rapture than an environment where the mechanics of shooting can be fully realized. With the Big Daddy’s roaming the halls and splicers scavenging through the corridors of their broken world in nearly every nook and crevasse, a battle can take place practically anywhere. Because Rapture was designed as a city (a series of open rooms and halls), most of the battles exist in open environments. You won’t find many objects to hide behind for cover. And even when you do, the enemies aren’t designed to recognize that you’re in cover. The splicers, security bots, turrets, and Bid Daddys attack the player in, more or lest, a direct-straight-line approach. When these enemies appear to be flanking the player or using any other kinds of battle tactics, it is merely the uncoordinated result of being attacked at once from many different sides. Even the few battles that are staged (Coen’s attack, defending Tenenbaum’s research facility, the magma room in Hepheastus, etc.) also take place in environments that lack adequate cover, visual flow, and physical flow that communicate the dynamics of power struggle from the changing positions between the player and enemy that are commonly found in shooter games.

Because the combat strategy isn’t very deep, there is a limit to how much the sound design of BioShock can support it. In other words, the sound design can’t create a level of depth that exceed the depth and involved in shooting (or any other function). The splashing sound from stepping into water alerts players that they’re standing in a puddle or pool which can lead into an electrobolt attack strategy. The foot steps on the ground or ceiling can communicate enemy position when their position isn’t visible. However, the soundscape often falls apart in the heat of battle when the environment, yelling enemies, gun/plasmid sounds, gun turrets, and audio recording all melt into a horribly unbalanced chaotic experience, which in itself is often reflective uninspired gallimaufry of combat mechanics.

A New Classical critic considers BioShock’s story and narrative elements to be inconsequential because they don’t effect “shooting” in a meaningful way. The vast majority of what Ryan, Atlas, Fontaine, Tenenbaum, or any other citizen of Ratpure says provides little information that shapes how you combat targets in the game. Thus the primary function is unsupported by the story. For that matter, the subsidiary functions are largely unaffected by the story of BioShock, because there are no consequences for excessively examining, hacking, taking photos, listening to recordings, or watching the world unfold around you. There are no drawbacks to examining and taking anything you find. The player only has strength to gain from excessively taking pictures of enemies. To cushion the consequence of not having film to complete the few objectives that require the player to take pictures, the game finds ways to supply the player with film before it’s necessary. Even when Ryan discourages hacking public vending machines, the player knows he/she can continue hacking away at any machine they can get close too because that’s what they’ve been doing since the beginning of the game: “It has been brought to my attention that some citizens have discovered ways to…hack the vending machines…Parasites will be punished.” What is necessary for beating the game isn’t that you’re helping to complete Coen’s masterpiece, but that you follow the golden arrow to the next enemy, photo-op, or object you have to examine so you can progress to the end of the game.

After reading that last paragraph you might be just about ready to dismiss my entire essay altogether. Am I actually suggesting that BioShock’s story and setting don’t matter to the game? In some ways, yes. But writing in a New Classical mode, my assessment of BioShock is limited to what works for the game (the actual interactive experience bound by rules, challenges, and consequences). This is why it was necessary to define the primary and subsidiary functions of BioShock. However, I would be doing this essay a great disservice if I didn’t address BioShock’s story or narrative from view point somewhat removed from the New Classical mode. Many swear by the depth, mature subject matter, and complexity of BioShock‘s story. Personally, I’m much more skeptical about “high concept” stories. As a writer, I’ve come across more than my fair share of overly ambitious stories filled with “deep” and complex ideas that ultimately fail because of poor execution. I’ve learned that part of understanding how to write a good story is understanding the strengths and limitations of the writing medium. “Show don’t tell” was a popular meme throughout the various workshops I attended. “Show don’t tell” means instead of telling us that character X went to the store and spent 5 minutes picking out bananas, it’s better to “show” or describe this character at the store standing in front of the crate of bananas with her arms crossed, her eyes darting back and forth relentlessly between two signs: organic 2.99/lb and yellow 2.89/lb. A proper description placed in scene (time and space) works wonders for the reader’s ability to visualize and absorb the story more naturally. But the gaming medium is inherently different, which brings up interesting issues.

Unlike passive mediums like books, music, and movies, videogames are interactive. “Show don’t tell” would more appropriately be replaced with “play don’t show” or even “play don’t tell.” This is why cut scenes are generally frowned upon. Back in the generation of Sony’s Playstation, cinematic cut-scenes where often spliced into games, particularly RPGs like Final Fantasy VII. These scene not only were graphical leaps beyond the blocky, jagged, polygonal models that the actual game used, but they often displayed daring feats of action packed heroics that the gameplay couldn’t match either. Now, our current generation of systems are powerful enough to push such graphics, and many of our leading developers are smart enough to make the most spectacular feats possible through simple and intuitive mechanics. Because of these two advancements in game design, cut scenes are becoming more and more obsolete. Ken Levine, creative director of BioShock, said himself that cut scenes were the “coward’s way out.” The New Classical critic believes the same tenets. For such a critic, it is better that the story elements in the game support the gameplay than merely coloring it, but it is best that the story is what the player plays. Of course, by play I mean meaningful interactions. Having the freedom to move your characters eyes or even walk around during “story parts” isn’t very meaningful (unless the game‘s primary function is looking/walking of course). For interaction rooted in subsidiary functions, the range of player control can easily fail to be meaningful and therefore detract from the effectiveness of the story telling. Furthermore, if there is no reaction or interaction between the player and elements or fictional computer controlled characters in the scene, then these story scenes are functionally passive. This is why a New Classical critic seeks to delineate exactly what ways a game’s story supports its primary function. Because the primary function is the driving mechanic of a game, it most likely will achieve meaningful interactions because of the consequences already built into the game. Bridging story and function in this way yields the highest chance of creating consequential and interactive story in a videogame.

So if BioShock story doesn’t support its game Classically, then how else can we consider it? I believe it is helpful to consider BioShock’s story in two parts: premise and narrative. The premise includes all the details and facts about Rapture that occur chronologically before the beginning of the game. The narrative includes all the new events and actions that the player prompts from progressing through the game. Considering these two parts of BioShock’s story, I’ll first consider BioShock’s story as if it were a book.

As a book, BioShock’s story falls for a few fiction writing “don’ts.” BioShock sets the story (premise) in the city of Rapture and describes this city through a series of audio recordings. When the player enters the game, their experience composes the narrative as they actively progress through the setting and events in the game. As for the recordings, they fail to show rapture. Rather, the majority of the recordings of the various characters literally tell the player what happened. BioShock is a game that excessively switches back and forth between what has happened in the past and what is going on in the present. This incessant switching is analogous to frequently using flash backs in fiction writing. Doing this not only weakens the readers sense of time and place within a story, but it also weakens the ability draw strong connections through scene, space, and time. In other words, it’s hard to achieve sound, and compelling story telling when the past (the context) is ostensibly given to you right before you need to know it. Examples include Suchong’s recording about the telekinesis plasmid; McDonagh’s recording about seeing ghosts; LangFord’s recording about how the thieves stole nearly everything from the office. Besides the examples of recording closely preceding their context within the narrative, the other recordings usually contain general information about Rapture that the player is responsible for filing away somewhere. When the story of the game punctuates the alternative experiences (the narrative), the player is left to organize things for themselves. During the course of the game, the player has to keep track of the narrative of their play experience, the bits of story that give immediate context to the next objectives, and the bigger picture of how Rapture fell. Managing these three stories would be hard enough in a book that‘s read linearly. But opens up the progression of listening to these recordings. The player must find the abandoned ACCU VOX personal recorders on their own. This feature practically destroys the chance of the player following an order to listening to these recordings if one existed.

I believe the main reason for shuffling these “flash back memory recordings” into the game was because BioShock exists between two mediums (at least for the purposes of this particular analysis). BioShock is a game that essentially sets characters in the middle of the climax of Rapture. By destroying Ryan and then Fontaine, the player is the prime participant in the great and violent coups of Rapture. Unfortunately, the entry point in the game had to be at such a high action point. Being place in a time where Rapture is rampant with splicers, Big Daddy’s, security bots, turrets, and other such dangers makes the game more interesting to play especially in the context of the shooter genre. However, starting the narrative where it does presents a problem. The players have to somehow understand the exposition, which traditionally contains more information and material than the climax. This simple flip-flop of structure creates a strain on the story telling in BioShock that the developers had to find a way around. Setting the game before Rapture went crazy can’t be played like a shooter. Guns weren’t even allowed during those times. Such a decision would have changed the entire genre. With the limitations set by the video game medium and the book medium, BioShock falls awkwardly in between.

Considering the story as a movie, BioShock also falls into awkward space for the same reasons that it failed as a book. The exposition had to be made up after the start of the game, and the intercalary recordings failed to show visually the expository events. Indeed the game contain rich settings powered by an acute artistic style. However, what makes the setting most interesting is that human hands created it. The drive, inspiration, purpose, and reason behind Raptures conception stems from the dastardly Ryan. Seeing the world makes us wonder what kind of man Ryan really is, and what kind of people could/would live in such a place. Yet, the scenes involved the sane human characters are all gimped or truncated in some manner. Tenenbaum speaks to the player from a balcony in their first encounter. Toward the end of the game, Tenebaum could be seen smoking peacefully behind tinted glass. Besides these brief moments, Tenebaum (like most of the characters) hid behind their voices via the recordings scattered throughout Rapture. The encounter with Langford was also behind a veil. When attempting to save Atlas’ family, Atlas could only be seen from far away. And when Fontaine went mad throwing around large heavy objects with his new found plasmid strength, he was little more than a darkened silhouette. The encounter with Ryan before his death, the two dancing splicers, and smaller moments from the events in Fort Frolic are better examples of film-like scenes. However, these scenes don’t balance out the amalgam of insufficient story telling elements.

In the end, BioShock isn’t much of a shooter, and it doesn’t have much of a story. Years of sweat, radical ideas, and good intentions fell apart in their execution much like Rapture did. Even if BioShock’s story can’t be considered as a book, movie, or a game in the terms that New Classical critics adhere to, it is useful to analyze BioShock from these angles. Ultimately, creating a mood and throwing in a bunch of ideas into a work without consideration of how they come together or how they’re executed is taking the easy way out rather than crafting a narrative that takes advantage of a particular medium. I’m not convinced that the execution (story) of BioShock is as good as anyone says. BioShock would have probably made a better book than a game.