Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Would You Kindly Read This Article?

There has been a long standing argument over whether or not video games can be considered art. Certain critics, such as Roger Ebert, have voiced the opinion that games cannot be art because, "Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control." Some have argued that all art requires interaction on the part of the viewer, as interpretation of the work plays a prime role in the enjoyment of whatever has been visualized by the artist.

I bring this up because every once in awhile a game comes along that can truly bridge the gap between gaming and art. (Half-Life 2 and Okami are two recent examples.) BioShock is the latest game to achieve this and ultimately may be the best argument available for games as art.

BioShock is set in 1960 within the confines of an underwater city known as Rapture. Rapture is a little bit Ayn Rand, a little bit Citizen Kane and a little bit Logan's Run. Rapture was created in the 40's as a response to the direction that America was taking. Freeing themselves from the fear of the bomb and of a world going haywire, they built their utopia under the sea, where a man is "entitled to the sweat from his brow".

Deep in the confines of the ocean they discovered a creature which could generate extraordinary effects in humans. Specifically, they unlock our complete mental capabilities and provide the means for using psionic powers: telekinesis, control of electricity and flame, etc. However, these powers took an enormous toll on the human hosts and mutated them into unsightly and crazed creatures.

The story begins with you on an airplane which crashes into the ocean, right next to the entryway to Rapture. You find yourself quickly trapped deep within its confines, searching for a means of escape.

Honestly, that's about all I'm going to tell you as far as the story is concerned. The game is amazing and beautiful and has a narrative that pulls you in deep. By the time you reach the understanding of what is going on, your jaw will be on the floor.

The game has a visual style that is consistent throughout. Rapture is heavily based on Art Deco design. Every area of the game has a distinct feel and flavor, though it all adheres to the overall graphical style of the game.

The gameplay is varied, with the player being offered choices as how best to proceed. The choices are not always as simple as fight or flight, however. One of the more controversial aspects of the game involves the Little Sisters, young girls who are more or less possessed. When you have killed the Big Daddy that is protecting them, you can either release them, curing them of their affliction, or harvest them for the raw materials they provide...a process they cannot survive.

The players finds himself constantly torn between right and wrong, with different warring factions pulling him this way and that. Why are you here? How can you escape? Why has this once utopian city crumbled into its current dystopian state?

The answers are all provided as you play. And play you must. If you enjoy video games at all, this is one that absolutely should not be missed.

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