Bioshock to the System:

How Gaming Reconnected Me With Childhood Trauma

Game scholarship tends to require researchers to assume a detached perspective on their materials of choice. While our first Nintendo console may have wowed us as children, and while modern games like Fallout 4 may continue to draw us into hours-long play sessions, we have to set aside our emotional relationships with such titles when it is time to get to work. No academic journal is going to publish an article on how sad The Last of Us made us, or how excited we were to finally vanquish those pesky Aztecs in Civilization. We might record such responses from others if, for example, we take an ethnographic approach in our research. But it is our own feelings, and our own affective responses to the games we play, that are often silenced. But what are we losing by adopting such a perspective? Continue Reading

Rapture Through Russell

BioShock & Bertrand Russell's Authority & the Individual

Many commentators and reporters have ascribed the downfall of BioShock’s Rapture – the Adam addicts, the horrifying cruelty and the shocking race towards self destruction – to the game’s desire to satirise the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. GameSpy summed it up entirely when, in a preview, Li Kuo said “To fully appreciate the storyline of BioShock, you may want to read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.” Despite this quick conclusion few, if any, reporters or columnists give any serious thought as to exactly how Rapture falls. The answer, as often as not, boils down to some synonym of greed, selfishness or avarice (Khalil “BioShock Ayn Rand”). Rapture is a place of “philosophies, ideologies, and excess” as described by Aaron Linde of Destructiod with a “relentless desire for more” (Reed “BioShock”). Continue Reading

Infinite Typewriters

Canon, Criticism, and Bioshock

“Prestige games” are a special class of AAA blockbuster, fully integrated into the commercial game industry and developed with huge production and marketing budgets, but understood to transcend mere entertainment. Although these games are expected to do business like other AAA titles, they are additionally ascribed a comparatively high degree of cultural prestige and aesthetic value, thus performing a legitimating function for the industry and mainstream gaming culture. BioShock (2007) is the archetypal prestige game, widely praised for its weaving together of dynamic first-person shooter gameplay distilled from its predecessor System Shock 2 (1999), a stylish Art Deco-inspired underwater setting, and “mature” commentary on Ayn Randian libertarianism, agency, and the forms and conventions of digital gaming (Sicart, 152). Continue Reading

Interview – Chris Bateman

Part II - Imaginary Games, Hobbyists , & Mass-Market Players

First Person Scholar book review editor Michael Hancock recently interviewed Chris Bateman to talk about issues related to games including realism, mimesis, mythology, and game design in indie and AAA studios. Chris Bateman is a philosopher, game designer, and author – and has a doctorate (pending corrections) in game aesthetics, to boot. He has written a series of books on game design and philosophy, the most recent of which are Imaginary Games and The Mythology of Evolution. In game design, he was lead game designer and writer for games including Discworld Noir, Ghost Master, and Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition. Bateman researches and lectures at the University of Bolton. Continue Reading

Procedural Diegesis

Treating the Game Engine as Co-Author

Let’s talk about narration and videogames. In this case, narration refers to a game’s story, as told by the writers and the game engine. When there is discord between narrators, the story suffers, and when there is harmony, the narrative is more persuasive. Let’s call this element of storytelling ‘procedural diegesis,’ knowing that it involves treating algorithmic and authorial processes as co-authors of a narrative. The procedural portion here highlights that we are interested in processes, systems of representation that unfold over time that are dictated by rules and/or conventions. By diegesis we mean to indicate the internal consistency of the narrative. Together, they represent a form of narrative criticism that cares very little for content but quite a lot about delivery. Like Ian Bogost’s procedural rhetoric, which has informed much of this article, this perspective enables one to critique representational processes, only this time we are looking for coherence between narrative processes. In that respect it is beneficial to think of each narrator (writer, physics engine, texture mapping, audio system, etc.) as a system… Continue Reading