Why Bioshock is Important

No Gods Or Kings, Only Man


“A man chooses, a slave obeys!”

-Andrew Ryan


Quick disclaimer there will be spoilers here after all it is a nearly decade old game


Games are an intrinsic part of entertainment culture today; it’s an exciting prospect, placing video games in the same conversations as films and books when it comes to story and character development. Video games are now more widely considered an art form.

This wasn’t always the case, in fact not too long ago gaming was seen as merely a hobby or something teenage boys did in their darkened rooms. Let me take you back to 2007, a different time for video games; not that story and games were strangers at all, I wouldn’t say that, but nobody was talking about them in the way we do now.

But before we go to launch, first let’s go back further still to 2004 when Bioshock was first announced. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox generation was approaching its end and, while we had the likes of half-life 2 and Halo 2 to keep us busy, games were certainly not all that discernable from one another, there are a few exceptions of course, this was also the year Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released. But for the most part games were about shooting the bad guys and moving on.
Not much was revealed about Bioshock at this time, but we did know that Ken Levine, the man behind System Shock 2, was involved and the words “spiritual sequel” were being thrown around a lot. All of the concept art being shown at this point was of strange crablike monsters and laboratory environments, it was all very System Shock-like.
There was not much to go on other than the assurance from Ken Levine that Bioshock would not be a related to System Shock but would keep some of it’s core concepts like player involvement and environmental story telling.

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It would be two years before we saw and heard anything more of Bioshock.
E3 2006 brought with it the unveiling of the new console generation: the Wii and PlayStation 3.
Xbox 360 as announced not too long before and, while all systems were pushing exclusives that showed off what the new generation could do, one trailer in particular stood out from the rest. Bioshshock’s debut trailer was a sight to behold, there were no brightly coloured sci-fi lasers to be had here; no, Bioshock showed us something unique, Rapture, the underwater city, a decadent art deco Atlantis. We also caught our first glimpses of plasmids, Big Daddies and Little Sisters not to mention just how stunning that first trailer was to look at.

Bioshock had a lot of hype prior to release and all were astounded by not only the graphical quality, but the writing for the game as well, characters were not two dimensional archetypes that we were used to in shooters and the story and world were just so intriguing. Here was a game that was claiming to change the way we perceive video games and asked that we perhaps take the field of gaming more seriously. It was single player only, which did make it stick out like a sore thumb a little at the time. It would be far to say Bioshock had a lot to live up to with the claims being made and sharing some of it’s DNA with System Shock.

The first thing that strikes you about Bioshock is obviously the graphics, the plane crash right off the bat and emergence into the fiery water at the foot of a lone lighthouse has become an iconic scene in gaming and on my first play though I sat still in the water for longer that I’d like to admit waiting for the game to start. I’d never seen a game that looked that good I genuinely thought I was still in the cutscene. Moving through the burning water is a spectacle that few games even now can top but the game itself transcends its graphical majesty as you enter the Lighthouse and descend to Rapture, offering one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had. Once inside the lighthouse and the bathysphere drops down into the depths of the ocean we are introduced to Andrew Ryan and his ideals “I chose the impossible…I chose Rapture” Ryan proclaims just before we see Rapture for the first time.

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Our first glimpse of Rapture

For it’s not the graphics that set Bioshock apart from the other shooters at the time, it is the story and characters that exist within the submerged walls of Rapture that keep you coming back. Andrew Ryan is the driving force behind the Randian Objectivist utopia in which Bioshock takes place, dealing with some rather heady philosophical ideas. Bioshock doesn’t hold the players hand in revealing these ideas but nor does it punish anyone who is unfamiliar with Ayn Rand. The Randian Objectivism portrayed in Bioshock is presented to the player as they explore rapture and learn why and how it came to be and the inevitable downfall that occurred. Andrew Ryan envisioned Rapture as a safe haven for like-minded folk away from the world on the surface which, in Ryan’s view, was not serving the common man as he ought to be served; “is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow” the world has become awash with religion, politics and imperialism everybody works to serve others and be served by others not for themselves.

What Ryan doesn’t predict, be it through some oversight or perhaps his naivety, is that there are flaws in this ideology. Noble as his ideas might seem a hierarchical structure must be in place for things to run effectively and even in a city as fantastical a place as Rapture where scientific breakthroughs have no parallel, largely due to the lack of ethical restraints thus the games powers, or “Plasmids”, were created. In fact even the Plasmids are an objectivist creation they serve only the user and in order to gain Plasmid powers they must be injected by yourself it is all in order to serve you. The cracks in Ryan’s Somebody has to be help accountable for the welfare of the city itself, maintain it’s pipes and scrub the toilets which in a city built to have man serve themselves it is no wonder then that a revolution takes place, on new years eve 1958 to be precise.

bioshock-andrew-ryan

It is around a year after this revolution that we find ourselves entering rapture, gone is the utopian society Andrew Ryan wanted. The city has fallen into disrepair walls and windows are cracked letting the ocean around you trickle in and dead bodies litter the environment. Those who are still alive have mostly gone mad, the inhabitants are tearing them selves apart both figuratively and physically, the Plasmids which were designed to better the user have become an addiction and overuse of them created splicers, people who have changed their DNA so much they barely resemble the people they once were. It is the people they once were that stand out in Bioshock, all too often video games treat it’s enemies as cannon fodder there is no real reason for their existence other than to block the players progression for a while. Splicers on the other hand were people with a story of their own. Rapture itself tells a story, from the destroyed art deco interiors and littered bodies, that the player must piece together by them selves there are no cutscenes in Bioshock and the more exploration one does the more Raptures past and flaws become apparent.

Audio logs can be found all over the environments and while audio logs were certainly nothing new in games and neither is lore but the writing and voice acting was so good that it just brings rapture too life in a way video games seldom did at the time. From listing to the run of the mill inhabitants talking about mundane things, to talk of the fall of Rapture and the worship turned hatred for Andrew Ryan once the population realise that Rapture was a fallacy and they are now stuck there.

Big Daddies. The heavy hitters of rapture

Big Daddies. The heavy hitters of rapture

The one beacon of hope is Atlas. Atlas is your guide through Rapture you almost build a relationship with the voice on the other end of the radio from the moment he asks, “Would you kindly pick up that radio?” Gameplay in Bioshock takes a back seat to the story the gunplay is passable but certainly not revolutionary and switching between gun and plasmid is a little clunky it was certainly not the refined military shooter Call of Duty was becoming. But that was OK because it is such a joy to explore, to look and take in all the sights and sounds Rapture has to offer, from it’s cast of characters such as Sofia Lamb and Sander Cohen you are asked to make moral choices all throughout, do you help or harvest the Little Sisters; do you, as Andrew Ryan would, serve your self or do you serve others and hope that in return they will assist you.

The Little Sisters serve as the obvious moral dilemma, harvesting them is ostensibly the evil choice but the pay off is that you get more for yourself and saving them has less of a reward. So the moral choice is in you hands do you harvest a Little Sister to serve yourself or save them and work towards the greater good? It could be argued that saving Little Sisters redeems some of Raptures transgressions, bit by bit by restoring and bringing back some innocence into city.

Little Sisters they might look sweet and innocent but appearances can be deceptive

Little Sisters. They might look sweet and innocent but appearances can be deceptive

Choice and free will are the name of the game here, and as you work your way through rapture being aided by your new best friend Atlas to find Andrew Ryan one of the best twists in gaming blindsides you. “Would you kindly?” is one of the most jaw dropping moments I’ve had in gaming the realisation that everything I’ve done up till that moment had been orchestrated and controlled by someone flawed me. It’s not that it is a particularly original twist but the fact that Bioshock does such an amazing job at building it’s world and characters it invests you more so you don’t see it coming. What’s more impressive it that it extends past the game when you realise that this is something all games ask of you, as gamers we mow down crowds of people we go off on endless fetch quests and we do so without question or thought to the contrary.

There are problems with Bioshock of course, I am not stating that it is perfect in anyway, there area few plot holes and the gameplay as I mentioned is often clunky. But it is undeniable that Bioshock helped put gaming as a medium on the radar. It also changed the priority of gaming, shooting and killing the most people you could was no longer the main focus. Gamers want to lose themselves they way you do in a book, we want to be told stories and feel for characters and we want a little intelligence expected of us from our games.

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Without Bioshock games such as The Last of Us would perhaps not have been met with such widespread acclaim or perhaps not have existed in the first place, and that is no mean feat to pull off. So would you kindly join me in giving Bioshock the respect and credit it deserves.


– Dan P

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