BioShock – Blurring the Line Between Rule Types

Posted: February 11, 2013 by milesluttrull in Uncategorized

This second play journal post will focus on BioShock gameplay as a site of negotiation between the three types of games rules: operational, constitutive, and implicit. 

However, I’m going to start this post with a brief aside about the anxiety I felt at some points while playing BioShock. Generally speaking, I am not a particularly anxious person – but there were certain points during my play experience when I noticed a markedly elevated heart rate and general paranoid sentiment. I’m talking about walking down a dark hallway, with as much caution as possible, listening to the growing ferocity of the psychotic rambling of a group of splicers – how many of them are out there, and where and when they will make their move – I don’t know. But I do know that they’re getting louder and closer.  Then, when they do finally emerge from the mist, the pack of them beats me within an inch of my life and, while I survive, my resources now feel too depleted to take on this new set of voices that have already begun echoing down the halls of Rapture’s asylum. 

It’s not simply the distopian character of BioShock that causes this intense foreboding. Fallout features content no less than equal in absurdity – but I think the significant element here is a feeling of helplessness or being trapped. Whereas in Fallout, I can experience a more autonomous playstyle, choosing not only what, but when I want to experience certain content, in BioShock, I feel like I’m trapped in their maze, subject to whatever curve ball the game throws my way.   

As such, my game experience has been liminal journey, straddling life and death.  This is how I emerged from the first “boss fight”:


No bullets, no plasmids, almost no health.

Moving onto the rules in BioShock. I found the games’ use of the fire plasmid to demonstrate an interesting intersection between the types of rules.  While the plasmid function at this point may be considered an operational rule because it is definitively outlined as it is introduced, the use and application of the fire plasmid took on a much less explicit role.  

Take, for instance, fire’s application to oil: 

ImageThe oil catches on fire and burns the enemies that stand in it.  While this is a reasonable logical progression, it is certainly not explicitly stated. It is something which must be figured out by the implicit rules of the game. The discovery that fire will ignite oil is an incredibly helpful bit of information, allowing the player to turn the environment into his/her own weapon. However, it remains an unnecessary component of gameplay and as such its lack of formal introduction may be justified. 

However, in this second application, fire’s effect on ice proves necessary to progress in game play:

ImageAn Ice-wall blocks entrance to this hall way

ImageUsing Incinerate melts the ice and reveals the pathway necessary to progress in the game.

In this way we can see the emergence of rule complexity within BioShock. Incinerate adheres to the constitutive rules of the game, namely the pseudo-physical laws of the game in which plasmid powers can effect the game environment. However, the dynamic applications of its use remain largely implicit even as they become increasingly necessary for basic game progression.

I’d like to end this post by expressing my appreciation to the developers of BioShock to allow me to mull over my first serious game decision, to spare or sacrifice the Little Sister, with two bottles of wine and a pack of smokes: 


Albeit a little too French for a patriot like myself, but appreciated nonetheless. 





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