BioShock – 5 Elements of Game Experience

Posted: February 4, 2013 by milesluttrull in Uncategorized
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This post will focus on the five elements of game experience (visual, aural, motor, mental and learning) as they are featured in the first hour of BioShock gameplay. Due to technical difficulties this first post will not feature photographic documentation (yet).

Visual Experience

BioShock takes place in the underwater metropolis, Rapture.  There is no natural sunlight in the game – even for the brief period during the introductory cut scene when the player is above the water, it’s night time and the sun is nowhere to be found.  Instead, rapture is illuminated by artificial light sources, providing a dull-orange glow to rooms that are often pale beige or gray.  In contrast to this artificial orange, blue and silver light penetrate prominent glass walls and windows that reveal the outer seascape.  The game is riddled with ominous shadows and darkened rooms, creating an environment where enemies seem always to be lurking just out of sight in the shadows. This incompleteness of lighting further exemplifies the decompositional state of Rapture’s failed utopia, creating an interesting visual contrast in which the player feels to move through this space of negotiation between the remnants of Rapture’s hopeful project and the rise of its failed reality.

Aural Experience

There is never a silent moment in BioShock. Whether it is simply the benign trickling of water or the psychotic ramblings of unseen enemies, the aural elements of BioShock are the foundation of the game’s foreboding ambiance. During my preliminary play through  I opted to turn on the subtitles for the spoken text. At this point I am still unsure if this was a wise decision – while it certainly adds to the creepiness to be able to discern precisely what the “splicers” ramble on about, the very act of having to read the text functions to remove me from immersion in the game.  It points to the predetermined nature of the game (that the text is displayed completely before the speaker has finished uttering it) and seems to remind me that the characters are fake and the action is not “live.”     Despite my own inclusion of subtitles, I have found the audio component of the game to be most compelling thus far. It is the engine of animation for the game’s characters – for both present enemies and those who exist only in voice via radio.


Motor Experience

The motor experience of playing BioShock is not unlike most other first-person shooter games. Movement and actions are centered around the WASD keys and those in close proximity. The mouse is used to perform attacking functions (shoot, hit, electrocute)  cycle through weapons, and is the primary way to look around or view the players environment.  My experience in computer games has caused this kind of game interaction to be second nature – just like typing on a keyboard. Thus far, BioShock has not deviated from this traditional motor control system in a significant way.


Mental Experience

BioShock offers complex mental stimulation in its game play.  Outside of combat, the player is placed within an ideological struggle for a Utopian society. While the Rapture experienced in the first hour of gameplay is brutal and horrific, there remains something appealing about the desire to create a better society – the quiet presence of a hope that Rapture can be redeemed. BioShock confronts the player with deeply philosophical question – what is the good life? What is the good society? Is there a new morality in this chaotic experiment?

Combat experience offers a comprehensive platform that goes beyond a simple point-and-shoot mechanic. Interactions with enemies are ripe with possibilities. What’s more, a player cannot simply adopt a singular style of play and steamroll through the game because a) each combat interaction is relatively unique and b) resources exist in such a limited quantity that innovation in decimation becomes a necessity.  Bullets must be used sparingly and wisely because there aren’t enough to use on every enemy; the same goes for plasmids. Beyond this, the game environment becomes a component of the combat experience – the electricity plasmid can electrocute enemies who stand in water; machines can be hacked and used to fight against enemies.  Failure of a game objective seems more likely to be due to poor pre-planning than lack of mechanical prowess.



I am still learning how to play BioShock.  While the mechanical aspects of gameplay are already learned from past experience (ie. how to shoot, move, change weapons), my particular application of these skills in BioShock has yet to be particularly efficient. My first hour has left me very low on ammunition and plasmids and soon I will be faced with the necessity to learn to adopt a more sustainable play style. Suffice to say there is a lot to learn – not only pertaining to increasing game skill, but also to uncover about Rapture’s past.

  1. suzannescott says:

    Your descriptions of Bioshock’s visual and aural experience are eloquent, and in particular your discussion of the impact of the subtitles is thoughtful and detailed. I would have liked to see you expand a bit more on the process of learning the game, or how the game dictates or designs that development. Also, be sure to add in your images when you have a chance…and let me know if you have further tech issues on this front.

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