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During my playthrough this week, I chose to focus on how immersed I felt in the narrative of the game. Although I realize that this video only represents a small portion of the game, and I know that without a doubt more elements of narrative would be presented to me had I played further, I felt that during this segment of play, I was often distracted by combat and hacking, and at times lost track of the story of the game. Bioshock makes very, very good use of embedded narrative, that is, narrative that is presented to players in the form of cutscenes, or essentially narrative information that the player has no control over. However, I find that Bioshock presents more narrative material in the form of emergent narrative, mainly through use of audio logs. During this section of play, I found myself taking a completionist approach by hacking anything hackable and fighting each big daddy. Although the big daddy and splicer fights did not take away from the immersion, the hacking did. I found it ridiculous that I am able to hack a sentry turret in the middle of a fire fight. During my playthrough of the first parts of Neptune’s Bounty, I was only encountered by embedded narrative when I spoke to Peach and was encountered by the spider slicer. Other than this, the only narrative I received was in the form of audio logs. Although I recognize that the narrative framework of Bioshock is deep and immersive, I attempted to focus on elements of narrative during my hour of play, and was not given much.

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As I continue my journey through Rapture, I choose instead this time to focus on the rules of the game, and how I can interact with them as a player. The two types of rules that I found myself consistently dealing with are Constituative and Implicit rules. I find that Bioshock has a very straightforward play path, created largely by the constituative rules of the game. Another way in which the constituative rules have binded me is my desperate lack of Eve. In the beginning of the video, I am startled by a splicer as I make my way through of the scariest areas thus far. I quickly fire off 3 blasts of electricity, wasting quite a bit of eve. Without eve, I have no plasmids, and without plasmids I cannot progress through the game. As I continue through the medical ward, in an attempt to find the misguided Dr. Steinman, I find my pathway blocked by a large chunk of debris. Here, the rules put in place by the game designers have barred me from reaching Steinman and ultimately murdering him in cold blood. Damn. Since the game has decided that I cannot proceed further into the surgery ward, I attempt to find a way around, or find a way to move the debris. The first idea that pops into my head is the Telekinesis plasmid I have been hearing about. So with a quick blast of my newly acquired Incinerate, I clear a path that was previously blocked from me by the constituative rules by melting some ice. Bioshock’s constituative rules are, at this point, very clearly articulated. I takes me no time to figure out where the environment allows or does not allow me to go, and I am able to easily make the connection that once I have acquired the ability to shoot fire, I can melt the ice that was blocking my path. Anyhow, I continue through the medical pavilion, fighting hordes of deranged doctors and nurses turned splicers, until I am finally greeted by my objective, Telekinesis! Now to deal with Steinman… Back to the surgery ward I go, but my telekinesis does not seem to be working on the debris, might as well kill the splicer throwing grenades at me in the mean time. Splicer dead … debris lifted? I was a bit confused by this, but I suppose I just needed to HAVE the plasmid before I continue on. The programmers, in this instance, are FORCING me to choose my abilities by using the environment as a guiding rule. Interesting. Let’s fast forward, I find Steiman, kill him with a little help from my mechanical friend, and move forward in the game. As I traverse back towards the main medical pavilion, the environment changes. A tunnel collapse forces me to take a side route. The constituative rules have again foiled my plans! A dead big daddy, a splicer attacking a little girl, a woman standing on the balcony yelling at me, Atlas telling me what to do via intercom. I am bombarded by a slurry of new information. I back the small child into a corner, and am given a choice. Harvest the girl, killing her, or cure her of little sister status, saving her, but with no apparent reward for myself. For the first time, Bioshock has confronted me with a moral decision. I choose to save the girl. This decision reveals both an implicit rule, and a foreshadowing to the type of player I will be in Bioshock. In the real world, it is absolutely wrong to kill a little girl. Only the sickest of the sick would do such a thing. But in Bioshock, I can choose to kill a girl with no repercussions for myself. In fact, I am rewarded for doing such a dastardly deed. And if I do so choose to harm the little one, what kind of player am I? I would argue that any player who kills the little girls is considered a standard player, while those who save the girls are dedicated players. By saving the girl, I am guaranteed a reward at a later time. As I am choosing to dedicate myself to playing through all of Bioshock, I choose to save the little girls. This alone is my basis for my choice. Anyhow, onward through Rapture! As you can see at the end of my video (once vimeo finally processes it) I get completely destroyed by the Big Daddy. Ouch…

Realism and Surrealism in Bioshock

Posted: February 4, 2013 by jeffleblow in Uncategorized
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Though the city of Rapture in the universe of Bioshock is set within the familiar territory of America in the 1960s, the events of the game are very clearly separated from the events of real life. In the onset of the game, I find myself swimming through the water towards a lighthouse, not necessarily out of the ordinary. However, I am soon plummeted deep into the underwater city of Rapture, the brain child of the mysterious Andrew Ryan. What began as a plane crash over the ocean has rapidly descended into the surreal. I am jettisoned through the underwater city, marveling at the beautiful structures and scenery around me. Upon reaching my pod’s destination, I witness a man brutally murdered by a mutated human with hooks for hands. My character is then contacted and guided by a mysterious voice, identified as Atlas. I do not know where I am, I do not know who Atlas is, and I am pretty sure that the man with hook-hands is going to kill me in the near future, but I find myself pressing forward, into the chaos and turmoil of Rapture. What makes Bioshock unique compared to other games is the designer’s use of realism and surrealism in coordination with each other to create a truly unique experience. I learn that the utopia of Rapture has become overrun with “splicers”, humans who came to live in rapture only to become addicted to ADAM, a DNA-altering substance that allows its users to gain super-human powers. The splicers themselves are controlled by Andrew Ryan to keep monopoly over his domain. My character soon after agrees to help the mysterious Atlas locate his family, without even being given the choice to decline. I fight my way through numerous splicers, using the plasmid Electro Bolt to stun my enemies, where I can then finish them off with my trusty wrench. What was most noticeable to me during my play was the use of music and scenery to blend realism and surrealism. The music in Bioshock is presented as the music of the Bioshock universe, that is, depending on where I am in Rapture, I hear sounds of jazz and 1950s style music playing through speakers. The music is not presented as a soundtrack, but rather as an element of the space that I inhabit. The fact that Bioshock leans heavily on creating a familiar environment through the use of the music and scenery harkening back to America in the 50s blurs the line between what is real and what is not. Clearly, the universe that I am in does not exist in real life, but at the same time I am convinced that it could exist, drawing me further into the game and the universe. Huizinga writes, “We found that one of the most important characteristics of play was its spatial separation from ordinary life.” In Bioshock, I am forced to consider how far from ordinary life the space I inhabit actually is.