The Rules of the Game: Bioshock

Posted: February 11, 2013 by annieewbank in Uncategorized
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In my last play journal, I mentioned that the classification of what is and what is not a game depends more on the player than on what is being played. This is especially true when it comes to rules. Games are not just good wholesome fun. We all know someone who stakes too much on the outcome of games. People play for fame. People play for money. People play to enter a certain culture. People play to escape. People play to beat others. People stake their money, their bodies and their emotions on the outcomes of games, whether physical, analog or digital. With so much on the line, is it any wonder that rules are bent and broken?

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The game will not allow me to save this woman.

A digital game is different than a physical or a board game though. It is an entirely artificial stage. There are no sudden gusts of wind to blow the ball off course, and nearly every action you can make, no matter how contrary to the stated purpose to the game, has been accounted for by the game creators.

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I can, however, save this Little Sister.Image

Don’t mind me, I’m going to loot this corpse.

Sure, you can set an NPC on fire, and it feels really subversive, but it was part of the game’s code all along. Occasionally though, games create emergence, meaning that new patterns in gameplay develop due to unexpected combinations of rules (Rules of Play gives “The Game of Life” as an example, citing the glider gun as a weapon that game designers did not create).

I’ve known “dedicated gamers” who couldn’t stop playing a game until they had every item, finished every sidequest, cleared every level. (I’m talking about video games here, obviously.) These are gamers who had no compunction about using cheat codes and walkthroughs. And really, there was no reason why they should have. Sure, they weren’t going at the game entirely on the level, and there are people who argue that the struggle is important, even if you have to die over and over again or try a puzzle a number of times. Really, most dedicated gamers can be classified also as cheaters. But if it’s an individual endeavor, if there are no implicit, social rules being broken, it really does not matter.

I have yet to cheat in Bioshock. I don’t even know if there are cheat codes in Bioshock. I am not a dedicated gamer, I’m fine with leaving levels undone or leaving items behind. I usually want to get to the next plot point as soon as possible. Casual gamers are less likely to break rules. They just are not as invested. This is true in both individual gaming and social games.

Causing mayhem is a given for a first person shooter, so you can break glass, shatter bottles, and light corpses on fire. Once, during a rampage, I lit a machine I needed on fire. I stood by in horror until it stopped flaming. It was charred black and crusty, but it still worked. I couldn’t have broken it if I wanted to. In Bioshock the game allows you to damage your environment, to destroy things, but when the flame dies down or the ice melts, the game goes on. The designers understand the desire to destroy, to ruin, to do the things that are completely unacceptable in real life. It cannot be called breaking the rules if it’s coded into the game itself. As for cheats that give you more ammo, more money or special items, well, games do not exist in a vacuum outside of real life People still want to succeed within games, even if that means going outside the stated rules.

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