Space and Narrative in BioShock

Posted: February 18, 2013 by milesluttrull in Uncategorized

This third post will explore the relationship between narrative and space in BioShock.

Space in BioShock is largely organized around various narrow hallways which separate larger, maze-like rooms.  The player rarely has unrestricted movement, almost always being limited by a close wall, closed door, or oblong pile of decor. This can cause combat engagements to feel forced, almost as though the limit on the players spacial agency instills a feeling of victimization more often than  the aggressor. But, stepping away from combat, how does the space of BioShock set the terms of and organize the narrative experience?

First we must address the complex narrative style of BioShock. At base, the narrative of BioShock is embedded — the elements of narrative are inherent and unaffected by gameplay. BioShock is not a sandbox style game. The allowed deviation from a predetermined gameplay experience is largely minimal and seemingly has no effect until fairly late in the game, at which point a variety of scenarios may occur depending on the previous choice of whether to harvest or free Little Sisters. Although I’m not even sure much narrative deviation will occur then, because I’m still creeping my way through those narrow hallways.

An argument can be made, however, than BioShock features at least elements of emergent narrative. Emergent narrative generally refers to the player having options of how, when and what narrative emerges from the game. It is clear enough that the player does not effect what narrative emerges, but there is a semblance of agency in when and how that narrative emerges.

The narrative is mostly organized around interactive cut scenes that are triggered when the player enters a certain area. As the player continues to move through space, the narrative develops.  In this way, the narrative is woven into the space of the gameplay, creating an experience the seems to afford more player agency than is actually being allotted.  That is to say, BioShock’s narrative is predominately embedded, but its more dynamic introduction through connectivity to game space creates a pseudo-autonomous, and hence emergent narrative experience. 


((Pictures to come – more technical difficulty)) 


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