Gameplay Journal Entry #9

I decided to play Bioshock because it was a game I already owned, and though the last time I played it was years ago, I still remembered the compelling story and atmosphere, and I paid more attention to it in this recent playthrough and found things I did not notice the first time. I think overall Bioshock is not super forceful with the themes it critiques; a lot of the messages being given are in the form of specifically placed assets in a room or how the level is decorated and dressed up. The information and dialogue given to the player character pales in comparison to the environmental storytelling that really brings forth the political and social issues of Rapture. Christian iconography being smuggled into the city, worker protests and rampant substance abuse, the issues being critiqued are now background imagery, they set up the scene and give reason to why the game looks and plays as it is when the player character arrives.

Flanagan states that “Those using critical play as an approach might create a platform of rules by which to examine a specific issue — rules that would be somehow relevant to the issue itself.” (Flanagan 6) The rules of Bioshock have a lot of cases where it is just typical shooter action gameplay, which is hard to tie to any specific issue besides the need for conflict and player interaction, but in other aspects the game does present actual issues in the form of mechanics. An example of this is the moral dilemma of what to do with the Little Sisters, there is a potential resource gain from this decision as well as consequences to the narrative. The issues being addressed with this mechanic as well as things like plasmids are prevalent in some gameplay rules but are not the majority of where this game retains its social critiques. My understanding is that the issues presented by environmental storytelling is where this game truly displays critical play, and the mechanics of an FPS is just the method from which you can interact with it.

Reference: Flanagan, Mary. “Introduction to Critical Play” and “Designing for Critical Play” in Critical Play: Radical Game Design.