Bioshock: “Would You Kindly?”

Since I briefly mentioned it in my last post, I figure I might as well look at the 2007 game Bioshock and its most memorable moment. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

Setting the Stage:

Bioshock takes place in 1960. The protagonist, Jack, is on a plane that goes down in the Atlantic, but survives and discovers an underwater city called Rapture. Built by wealthy industrialist Andrew Ryan in 1946, Rapture was meant to be a self-contained society based on the ideals of Objectivism, a philosophy created by Ayn Rand, an author best known for Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

No, I won’t try to summarize Objectivism here, since it would take too long and I’d probably screw it up anyways. Suffice to say, Rapture is populated by the self-described “elite” who wish to escape the restraints that they believe society places upon them.

As you might expect, it didn’t exactly work out.

Building these probably wasn't such a great idea, either.

By the time you get there, Rapture is a blood-stained art deco ruin populated mostly by monsters created when science is left unchecked by morality.

Oh, and this. Man, the TSA is out of control.

As Jack, you are constantly in touch via radio with a man named Atlas (in case the Ayn Rand connection was too subtle otherwise), who tells you that you must find and eliminate Ryan.

The Scene:

After a long journey through Rapture, Jack finally gets to Ryan’s office, where this happens (I should warn you, it gets pretty graphic):

(If you can’t see the video, it’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afMJmgszv-s)

It turns out that Jack is the illegitimate son of Ryan and a prostitute, and “Atlas” is in fact the thought-dead Frank Fontaine, Ryan’s rival. What seemed to be an innocuous verbal crutch in his (fake) Irish brogue turns out to be a trigger phrase Jack was genetically engineered to obey.

“Would you kindly…”

As for why Ryan would allow himself to be killed, I’m not entirely sure. My guess would be that he saw the writing on the wall, knew Rapture was a failed experiment, and wished to die by reinforcing his original point: “A man chooses, a slave obeys.”

What strikes me the most about this scene is that it plays off of the very idea of control in a video game. In a game, you do things because that’s how you progress. Ever since the days of Mario on the NES, we learned to run right because that’s where your goal is.

But why does the character do things? The “Would you kindly?” reveal blew people’s minds because it radically changed your view of the game up until that point. Jack was doing things because he had no choice; Atlas’ verbal cues forced him to obey.

It’s common in games for a secondary character to instruct you on what to do next. Developers have been using this technique for ages because it tells the player how to progress without breaking the fiction; you are instructed as your avatar is instructed. By turning this standard gameplay device into something sinister, Bioshock not only keeps gamers on their toes, but also adds a new layer to the typical gaming narrative.

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