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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)) 


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. 




BioShock – 5 Elements of Game Experience

Posted: February 4, 2013 by milesluttrull in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

This post will focus on the five elements of game experience (visual, aural, motor, mental and learning) as they are featured in the first hour of BioShock gameplay. Due to technical difficulties this first post will not feature photographic documentation (yet).

Visual Experience

BioShock takes place in the underwater metropolis, Rapture.  There is no natural sunlight in the game – even for the brief period during the introductory cut scene when the player is above the water, it’s night time and the sun is nowhere to be found.  Instead, rapture is illuminated by artificial light sources, providing a dull-orange glow to rooms that are often pale beige or gray.  In contrast to this artificial orange, blue and silver light penetrate prominent glass walls and windows that reveal the outer seascape.  The game is riddled with ominous shadows and darkened rooms, creating an environment where enemies seem always to be lurking just out of sight in the shadows. This incompleteness of lighting further exemplifies the decompositional state of Rapture’s failed utopia, creating an interesting visual contrast in which the player feels to move through this space of negotiation between the remnants of Rapture’s hopeful project and the rise of its failed reality.

Aural Experience

There is never a silent moment in BioShock. Whether it is simply the benign trickling of water or the psychotic ramblings of unseen enemies, the aural elements of BioShock are the foundation of the game’s foreboding ambiance. During my preliminary play through  I opted to turn on the subtitles for the spoken text. At this point I am still unsure if this was a wise decision – while it certainly adds to the creepiness to be able to discern precisely what the “splicers” ramble on about, the very act of having to read the text functions to remove me from immersion in the game.  It points to the predetermined nature of the game (that the text is displayed completely before the speaker has finished uttering it) and seems to remind me that the characters are fake and the action is not “live.”     Despite my own inclusion of subtitles, I have found the audio component of the game to be most compelling thus far. It is the engine of animation for the game’s characters – for both present enemies and those who exist only in voice via radio.


Motor Experience

The motor experience of playing BioShock is not unlike most other first-person shooter games. Movement and actions are centered around the WASD keys and those in close proximity. The mouse is used to perform attacking functions (shoot, hit, electrocute)  cycle through weapons, and is the primary way to look around or view the players environment.  My experience in computer games has caused this kind of game interaction to be second nature – just like typing on a keyboard. Thus far, BioShock has not deviated from this traditional motor control system in a significant way.


Mental Experience

BioShock offers complex mental stimulation in its game play.  Outside of combat, the player is placed within an ideological struggle for a Utopian society. While the Rapture experienced in the first hour of gameplay is brutal and horrific, there remains something appealing about the desire to create a better society – the quiet presence of a hope that Rapture can be redeemed. BioShock confronts the player with deeply philosophical question – what is the good life? What is the good society? Is there a new morality in this chaotic experiment?

Combat experience offers a comprehensive platform that goes beyond a simple point-and-shoot mechanic. Interactions with enemies are ripe with possibilities. What’s more, a player cannot simply adopt a singular style of play and steamroll through the game because a) each combat interaction is relatively unique and b) resources exist in such a limited quantity that innovation in decimation becomes a necessity.  Bullets must be used sparingly and wisely because there aren’t enough to use on every enemy; the same goes for plasmids. Beyond this, the game environment becomes a component of the combat experience – the electricity plasmid can electrocute enemies who stand in water; machines can be hacked and used to fight against enemies.  Failure of a game objective seems more likely to be due to poor pre-planning than lack of mechanical prowess.



I am still learning how to play BioShock.  While the mechanical aspects of gameplay are already learned from past experience (ie. how to shoot, move, change weapons), my particular application of these skills in BioShock has yet to be particularly efficient. My first hour has left me very low on ammunition and plasmids and soon I will be faced with the necessity to learn to adopt a more sustainable play style. Suffice to say there is a lot to learn – not only pertaining to increasing game skill, but also to uncover about Rapture’s past.