Changing the Gameplay and Narratives in Bioshock

Posted: February 18, 2013 by phinnthehuman in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Times below in parenthesis refer to times in the video above. Video starts at 0:00:54

This portion of my playthrough of Bioshock focused on the Fisherman’s Wharf and Arcadia levels. I had finished with the hospital and introduction levels, and was now getting into the meat of the game. Big Daddy fights came more frequently, and I received my first gift from the little sister I saved last time I played (23:43). I was rewarded for my previous choice, and incentivized to continue saving the Little Sisters.

Gameplay Mechanics

This session utilized a new gameplay mechanic: taking pictures of enemies to give me bonuses against them (22:49). This significantly changed the way I had been playing the game so far (kill enemies as soon as I saw them) and forced me to adapt my strategies. I was only forced to take a couple of pictures of a type of enemy, and then I was free to neglect the camera tool if I wanted to. The benefits of taking pictures of enemies (combat bonuses and new powerups) greatly outweighed the costs (possibly taking damage while trying to use the camera), so I continued to use it. The notion of taking pictures of enemies on the battlefield while they are trying to kill you is somewhat ridiculous, yet I was compelled to do it (1:27:15). In this way, Bioshock kept the core mechanic of the game (killing enemies and gaining powerups) interesting by twisting both of them and forcing me to try different combat strategies, such as sneaking up on enemies to snap pictures or stunning them and then taking out my camera while they were immobilized.

The hacking mechanic, which easily gets boring after a few times, was also changed a little. Not only did the hacking challenges start getting harder, but I received a powerup that healed me and gave me energy (Eve) every time I successfully hacked something. By tweaking the incentives and difficulty level of the hacking minigames, Bioshock stopped me from getting lazy and bored of the mechanic.

Embedded and Emergent Narratives

Bioshock does a very good job of blurring the line between Embedded Narratives (pre-existing elements of play, such as cutscenes) and Emergent Narratives (interactive elements of play). In the climactic scene of the Wharf level (58:45-1:01:00), I was stuck on the second floor of a building while my ally was outside. I had activated a button that would allow him to reunite with his family, when suddenly the building was put into lockdown mode and an evil voice told me that I couldn’t do anything to help him. My ally was attacked by multiple enemies, one of which tried to hit me through the glass. I exited the room as soon as I could to go outside and continue the story, killing these enemies as I went. The transition from the emergent narrative of me entering the room and pressing the button to the embedded narrative of me watching my ally get attacked BACK to the emergent narrative of me killing his attackers and progressing the plot was seamless. I was able to move and try and shoot the glass while he was being attacked, as a sort of interactive cutscene, and it felt like I was still playing. Bioshock uses this kind of mechanic repeatedly throughout the game, and it allows amazing things to happen that would otherwise be impossible, yet doesn’t make me feel like I’m not involved in the narrative. I never sat back took my hands off the keyboard, waiting for the scene to play out. Rather, I acted like  a normal in-game character would – I tried to get a better view through the glass to see what was going on so I could help my friend. By being unable to control events for a few seconds, I was somehow drawn deeper into Rapture, instead of remembering that I was just sitting in a chair.


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