For many years, video games have been seen as a childish pursuit, something the the “mainstream” looks down on as being immature and unworthy. It all feeds into the debate about whether a video game can be judged as an art form.
This point of view upsets me and degrades our hobby. We are constantly tarnished with accusations that all games involve killing and violence. Alright, so does Bioshock, but it is balanced with emotion and alternative play mechanics.
We all know this perception that we are all immature and blood thirsty morons is wrong. I’m pleased, in some small way, that consoles like the Wii & DS are starting to dispel this myth.
Back to Bioshock.... Every few years a game comes along that revolutionises the game design: Mario Brothers established platform gaming rules, Tomb Raider did the same for adventure gaming; Mario 64 shocked the gaming world with a virtual three dimensional world; Metal Gear Solid 2 pioneered cinematic story telling; and Grand Theft Auto III released the shackles of linear game design, creating a new sense of “exploration and fun”.
To this epic list, you should now add Bioshock.
When people look back in a few years time, it will be Bioshock that defines the key landmark in the current generation of video games. Not because of its gameplay, or how fun it is, but because it is the first game to establish video games as the fourth storytelling art form, after books, comics and film. The first video game that can be considered art. I shall try to explain why....
Until now, video games have used cinematic techniques to tell stories: through cut scenes, dialog, or flash backs. Metal Gear Solid 2 was the first game to establish many of the techniques we see used today in hit games like Uncharted, COD4, Halo 3 etc. All of these techniques, while original for video games, are borrowed from the cinema. The trend has been to make games more like movies, in order to tell a dramatic story.
Bioshock completely re-writes the rule book; rather than follow the established convention it has actually defined a new form of “interactive story telling” which no movie, game, book or comic has previously achieved. Bioshock has a genuine claim to present video games as a new art form.
Let me give you a definition of art: “Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas.”
If you have played through this game, you would be hard pressed to say that it did not stir an emotional reaction when you decided the fate of a little sister, or when you discover the reasons for you linear actions.
At no time during the game are you spoon fed what to think (other than the “motivation” to move forward). In fact, the games power is in turning an established norm in video game design into a key part of the plot and narrative.
The story itself is not “watched” like a movie, or “read” like comic but interactively discovered and revealed through interaction and exploration. The audio diaries are cleverly distributed so that they reveal character stories and plot in reverse, or out of sync, so that you constantly question the motivations and wrestle with your own ideas. Anyone who has seen the film Memento will know what a powerful and unsettling experience that can be.
Finally, the subject matter itself: Ryan’s objectivist-dystopian city of Rapture; is an ingenious comment on the conventions established in modern video games. Once again, you are left to decide for yourself: Is Rapture was a flawed and evil concept? Or the unlucky result of a failed genius’ big idea. The developers leave hints to their opinions through the audio diaries, but ultimately the player makes up their own mind.
I’ve being reading and listening to the various “games of the year” awards that the internet is saturated with at this time of year. I’ve becoming increasingly cranky about the short-sighted views of some of the mass media, and one or two sites in particular (not this one I hasten to add). They all moan and complain about the reputation that video games has, and how it is not taken seriously. Now, when presented with the clearest evidence yet that we have reach a new high, they fail to see the significance and resort back to handing out awards to the best looking games, or the most recent, or (worse) the most hyped.
I felt I had to make this point because I probably won’t get a chance in the Cranky Gamer’s Xmas Podcast...plus I would probably go on, and on, like an intellectual idiot anyway.
I would be interested to know what other people think?
I am not talking about how “fun” Bioshock was (although it was a lot of fun), but how significant and important you think it will be in years to come?