I want to become a more knowledgeable video game player. I have expressed this, and have found that I have an excellent source of tutelage in my long-time gamer boyfriend. He has compiled a list of games that he considers the “must-play” list, and today I begin my journey, starting with: Bioshock!!! (Da-da-duuuum!!!) I begin by treading water for longer than I could possibly manage in real life. I spend as much time as possible taking in the flames, and then the desperately black horizon in every direction but one. I like it already. Entering the lonely lit monument, I try to grasp what the hell could possibly be going on and if the entire game is supposed to take place on this island.
Quick prologue: unlike 99.9% of the gaming populace, I have no idea what this game is about except for the word “Big Daddy”. In fact, I was instructed to play this game when I picked it out of my boyfriend’s collection one day and remarked upon the “cute little mining guy” on the cover. You have to pardon me. I was not gaming at the time of its release (had not been until very recently, in fact) so I have no memories of screen shots nor any recollection of articles defaming or praising the game.
The closest thing to knowledge about Bioshock that I have came to me in the form of an article I read online a few days ago about the importance of storytelling in gaming, which included a screen shot of a banner that displayed the “No God. No Kings. Just Man.” proclamation. I immediately recognized this same banner as I walked into the first piece of architecture presented in the game, but that’s it as far as familiarity goes.
Of this game, I have only heard from gaming friends references that seem to invoke the general attitude that they share toward games like Portal, expressed in the widening of eyes, “o” shaping their mouths, and emitting an awe-struck noise not unlike silence. The best I could get was a simple and generally detail-lacking comment on the high quality of said friends’ experience of playing the game. I guess that I am that ultra-rare human who was actually surprised when the bathysphere submerged and unveiled a hidden nautical cityscape, dimly shining on the ocean’s floor. And I am very glad for it.
It doesn’t take me long to realize that I have not just entered a game, I have entered a world. Don’t get me wrong. I am not just saying this for dramatic effect. I have never been so immediately drawn into a fiction world, neither in game nor book nor movie, as I feel I have already been at this point in Bioshock. I am attempting to progress through the beginning of the game as slowly as possible, looking in every corner for clues, such as the one that makes reference to a mysterious great chain under the infamous banner that welcomed me from the plane crash. I know I am already missing things, and that I am probably spending way too much time raiding trash cans and reading the info screen for the vita chamber, but this is a hell of game and I intend to appreciate it.
An epiphany today! That arrow, in the middle of my HUD, that’s pointing the direction I am supposed to go! Who would’ve thought? …Oh man, I am so sharp.
Ok, so this is what I have gathered. There was some sort of New Years Eve party, after which everyone promptly went bat shit insane. Now everyone is roaming the joint looking to moider and maim, and I am down here… why? It has something to do with the chain tattoo on my wrist, I think. I caught glimpse of that sucker as I was cocking a shotgun. Did I do hard time in Sing-sing, or am I part of this great chain of madness? And then there are these weird Little Sisters and their Big Daddies. Good stuff.
I am now in a medical pavilion, and looking for some crazy surgeon dude. You know that expression “When shit hits the fan”? I take it this guy lost his shit right into a fan, because it’s smeared in human blood all over the walls. I am taking the live-and-learn route as of right now, learning about all of the mechanical devices in this world. By that, I mean I am getting turned into swiss cheese between the security cameras, the helicopter security bots thingies, and the turrets-that-piss-me-the-fuck-off-seriously-man-wtf. But it’s a good kind of pissing me off, a feeling that I experience when something is worth my time.
There is a singularly satisfying blend of sick thrill and good humor incorporated in this game- kind of reminds me of Plants vs. Zombies in that manner. I laughed my butt off at my first exchange with a Circus of Values machine when it told me to “Come back when you’ve got some money, buddy”. I can still hear the clown’s words reverberating in my skull, both frightening and delighting. Speaking of fright, there is a real wealth of it to be found in this Rapture. I found myself unwilling to enter the morgue, and quite literally jumped out of my seat when a shadowy figure scurried into the darkness. Wow. This is awesome. Like, jet-pack awesome!
I now feel that I have my bearings in this world. The controller is only theoretically in my hand, because I am now comfortable enough to act in the game without considering which analogous button I need to press. I am no hard core gamer, but I think that anyone that plays in a world such as Rapture knows that the mantra of the Mentat* and the FPS gamer are one in the same: “it is by will alone I set my mind in motion.” Not the stuff about the stained lips, though. Maybe that makes sense if you’ve got a gaming/cheetos thing going on.
Aaaaaanyway, I had to make my way completely through the pavilion before I felt that I had it mapped in my mind. Not in the sense that it is mapped in the pause screen, but in the way one maps a place perceptually, so that one can conceive of where a sound is coming from or where a turret or enemy might be stationed as a bullet goes whizzing past. You really feel like you’re at home in this universe when a flaming woman runs screaming past you. Mom?
*in Lynch’s Dune universe, that is.
I am faced with a choice today, and it is not whether or not I play Bioshsock or do the things on my chore list. That’s, like, not even a choice. I am talking about whether I save a little girl or harvest her for her sweet, sweet ADAM.
It only seems logical to harvest her. The way I see it, if you don’t harvest the girls, then you can find out later in the game that Atlas was accurate about Tenenbaum lying, and that we should have been hunting down the darlings. No harm no foul; one can now continue the game and kill them on sight. However, if you are supposed to be saving instead of harvesting, you’re going to have a pile of ingenues and no road to redemption except in not killing any more, if you can find your way clear of that. So I suppose that the game will reveal that ol’ Tenny is a lying sack of shit and we need to off the pretties.
Except that I can’t do it. I am holding their frail little bodies like sack boys, and I cannot find it in me to be the Bane to their Batman and break them over my knee. I feel like I am holding a lobster over a pot. I know I want its delicious innards, but do I have the gusto to do the deed? Furthermore, I think of my little sister and how much I love her. Goddamnitalltohell!!!! This game is a mind trip and I LOVE IT! I savor it, and I every single one of the girls, every time knowing that I’ll probably have to hunt the little bitch down again later and it won’t be worth the contraband left for me in the sacrificed shell of a teddy. And, in a moment of insight, the genius of the game dawns on me: they didn’t make them little girls just because it worked for the storyline. I think they wrote the story around the idea of soul-sucking parasites being in the form of little girls. Now I am just waiting to walk into a room where Maurice Chevalier is thanking heaven for little girls. It’s just a matter of time.
So here I am making my way through McDonagh’s Tavern. This seems like an oddly inactive part of the game. Is it that there hasn’t been a ton of shooting, or am I just getting good? Yes, let’s say that. I am getting SOOOOOOO good at this game! Woot!
Oh, on a side note, I find that there is a strange calm in hacking. I am hacking objects that I don’t even need, vending machines I don’t intend to use and medical units I am simply passing by, just to partake in those meditative moments of TMNT ooze. Side note to the side note: I must admit, I have a hard time figuring out my usb port. So, when I turn to my 1337 boyfriend (who received a cease and desist note from the FBI right about the time most kids are discovering their bodies) and announced “I am a hacker!”, I was relieved that his response was merely a Picard style face-palming. He was fully within his rights to give me what-for right across the mouth. Seriously.
He watched me play today. Turns out, you need to pay attention to those recordings that you pick up. It’s not that I am deaf. Well, I am. But I have the volume turned all the way up. I just can’t make heads or tails out of what they’re saying half the time between the multitudes of accents and the quality of the recordings (which I am not so dense as to think are really “bad”. It’s for the overall effect. I get it. I still cannot hear a damn thing they are saying). Aha! He points me in the direction of the transcripts. What do you know? A whiny mother loosens her lips and I bust a code on the tavern inn’s ass. All of a sudden I have cream cash money. Ballin’.