August 29th, 2007

Watching the opening sequences of Bioshock, I felt like I was in the presence–as the game itself so ironically posits–of “something great.” The mystery, the music, the shots (just that giant whale moving between glass-encased buildings was enough to win me over): for the first time in, well, possibly ever I didn’t have to think to myself, “Okay, now it’s time to suspend my normal criteria for ‘good art’ and judge this game on its relative merits.” What I mean to say is, the game is good. It’s very, very good. “Ultraviolence” aside, it may be the first big-release game that can hold its own–and more–in the “games as art” debate.

The question is, what kind of art is it? Or, at least, what kind of art should it be? What’s so striking about the opening sequences is their cinematic quality. When I try and describe the game, I go straight to movies. “It’s like The Fountainhead“–okay, that’s a book, but it’s another linear, narrative art form–“meets City of Lost Children meets Brazil.” And when I play Bioshock, I can’t help but wonder what it would look like as a movie. All those decadent visual details: couldn’t we sit back and enjoy them more as viewers than players? And the nuanced storyline: wouldn’t we pick up more of it if we didn’t have to shoot down splicers while listening to radio reports? Or maybe it’s just the fact that the game has great writing and voice acting that makes it feel like a movie…

At the same time, there’s a huge element of Bioshock that would be lost as a movie, and that’s the individualism. The game, like all first-person games, puts extra attention on you, the player. Except that, in this world, that’s not just a side effect of perspective, it’s a form of social (and artistic) commentary. Then there’s the moral element. A movie can present you with moral dilemmas, but only a game can force you to choose. Harvest the Little Sisters? Save the Little Sisters. Decisions, decisions…

Tags: game art debate, movies, up for debate

13 Responses to “Bioshock as Video Game vs. Movie”

  1. John H. Says:

    Bioshock seems to be an interesting game, but everything I’ve read about it seems calculated to push me away from playing it.

  2. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    What do you mean? You specifically? Or that it pushes people away from the play experience…?

  3. nectarine Says:

    Weird.. Even thing I’ve read about it makes me want to play it more then any other game.. ever..

  4. JP Jeunet Says:

    Well not only the movie “The city of the lost children” but Bioshock universe took also a lot of inspiration from “Delicatessen” (1991) from french film director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I watched it last week on TV and big daddies are just an evolution of the movie crowling underground deviants…
    (Be it conciously or unconciously by game developpers.)

    Just finished Bioshock and WHAT A GAME !!! :o) Sooo great, only the end is a bit of a deception and I would have liked more of Rapture and undersea landscapes in a lengthy cinematic.
    But that’ll be for Bioschock 0.5-the prequel and making of Rapture!

  5. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    That’s a great point about the underground people in Delicatessen. I saw the movie a few months ago, but I hadn’t even thought of that. You can also see how the colors in a Jeunet film are very similar to the aesthetic of Bioshock.

  6. JP Jeunet Says:

    Yes that’s right, I just saw the movie Delicatessen in between 2 games of Bioshock and the colors/environments lookded so similar and familiar! (flooded room with old guy eating snails / old devices around the place – “retro-steampunk” technology in both the movie and the game, as in other games Fallout or older Ultima-Travel to Mars.)
    And other comments(other post) about Orson Wells/Jules Vernes universes are also true.
    Can’t wait for the next game Bioshock2 –
    Halo3 per comparison is sooo boring!!!

  7. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    I do hope Bioshock2 will continue to be interesting and unique–by which I mean I hope it won’t just be interesting and unique in the ways the first game were :). Know of any interesting plans?

  8. JP Jeunet Says:

    Not much insight, except from what I’ve been reading here on the blog and there…
    Bioshock2 will be the prequel about the falling of rapture and confrontation between Ryan and Fontaine!?…
    Degeneration of the population (splicers vs others) and genes.

    *spoiler*(but who cares now/I was maybe one of the last out there to finish the game!? ;)
    The end of Bioshock is great when “discovering” how the little sisters were trained and big daddies created! So much fun and willigness to learn more about all this.
    (I really fell in love with this game from the very first seconds of the Demo on 360! Plane crash and fire+water reflections+dark tower.)

  9. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Any element of actual, active “discovery” in games gets the Bonnie thumbs up, especially when it involves creepy little girls :). I totally agree with you, btw, that the game is stunning from its first moments!

  10. JP Jeunet Says:

    Hehe, yeah atfer reading some of your other posts and domains of expertise, I’m sure getting your point about little girls and “big (sugar) daddies”… ;-p
    This bioshock game (or should we say “experience” as a whole) has so many “depth” (at the bottom of the sea we couldn’t expect less!) and levels of reading through its onirical poetic message.

  11. Bonnie Ruberg Says:

    Depth, depth–I get it :).

    One thing I wonder about the little sisters is what it would be like to play as them. How would the “moral” perspective on them be different if we were playing from *their* perspective?

  12. JP Jeunet Says:

    Yes, what is the perception of the little sisters about the world around them (harvesting Adam from corpses is just another hobby out there) and how can they adapt to the real world after that and become mothers as it is depicted in the “good” end of the game?…

    Beautiful children (Charles Bock, 2008) lost in Las Vegas and at war with everybody else into paranoïd isolation.

    Rapture looks so much like New York City and the Chrysler tower architecture. Farther, faster, higher… The Babylon mythos and wrath of gods upon people who tried to become their sibblings?

    The game is very much player ego-centric (as highlighted in another post, and by definition for every video game if you don’t want to bore players). Nice for liberty of choice and fast-paced action, but this medium isn’t maybe sufficient to go deeper into the emotions and analysis of such matters?
    … Now I can’t wait for the Bioshock movier or (better) book which would put things into perspective! d;D

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