Saturday, January 16, 2010


The video game BioShock (2007) has played a crucial role in expanding my thesis argument (and my mind) beyond the usual suspects of print and film. Not to mention opened up a whole new arena in which to theorise the notion of grotesqueness in terms of agency, power and the body. I won't go into my argument regarding BioShock and the grotesque; there would be many, many words, my keyboard would catch fire, and your eyes would grow weary. Maybe later.

Plus, my appreciation is not solely academic. The music is a big part of why I love BioShock. Each gaming scenario has its own special theme, and each level and character has a particular tune that really lifts the FPS experience. These are pretty good examples of what I mean:

The Art Nouveau surroundings and stylish graphics are also part of it.

The game is set in an abandoned underwater city where the overuse of genetic mutagens has sent most of the remaining (mutated) citizens insane. The scenario is thus both nostalgic and futuristic; set simultaneously in the past and the future. At least, in an imagined past/future. The whole game is a kind of alternative history akin to Steampunk. (Or perhaps a kind of 21st century Neo-Nostalgia?) It is interesting to try and situate the real 'now' in relation to this game; you could say it is both a prequel and sequel to the present, letting us play out our dreams of lost naiveté and future corruption at the same time.

The emotional heart of the game lies in the relationship between the Little Sisters that trot about extracting valuable genetic materials from corpses and the attentive Big Daddies in scuba suits who protect them. The player must make a moral choice to save or sacrifice the children in order to progress in the game.

Depending on your choices, you achieve a 'good,' 'neutral' or 'bad' conclusion at the end. I like to see games introducing moral questions such as 'to kill or not to kill'. I know it isn't real. But I could never bring myself to hurt the little ones. I also started wishing I could choose not to kill the Big Daddies. Once agency is introduced, you start wanting to exercise it more and more.

In any case, BioShock 2 is coming out in a few weeks. The developers have promoted it as a prequel/sequel to the first game, so it looks like the past/present vortex will only get more confusing. The teaser trailer is intriguing.

The full trailer doesn't give too much away either.

Big Sister is a good idea. Gender equality and all that. It would be nice to play as her though, which probably won't happen. Either way, this game needs to come out soonish, preferably before I spend any more impatient money on merchandise. (They are figurines, not dolls.) I am curious to see what visions of grotesquery the creators have constructed this time around.

[Screenshots via IGN]