Tag Archives: Jennifer Greenfield

Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 5

“Games do not need to make sense to be fun.”  In the video game I have been playing this quarter, a man travels down to an underwater city, gains super powers (like the ability to shoot swarms of bees out of his hand), and harvests mutated sea slugs out of little girls.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most engaging, interesting, and fun video games I have played.  Granted, my video game experience is limited, but the nonsensical plot line of the game adds to my enjoyment.

However, there is more to Bioshock then a slightly bizarre plotline that contributes to the game ‘not making sense.’  This week’s focus was on time in the video game.  Juul claims that time in a video game is chronological; his argument for this is that:
A) flash forwards presume a player’s actions to be predetermined and thus irrelevant to the narrative
B) flashbacks  only work if they are not interactive, thus avoiding an instance where the player altered the events of the future whilst back in time.
This argument is valid and applicable to Bioshock; when Ryan explains to Jack that he has been conditioned by Atlas, there is a flashback to all of the instances when the phrase “would you kindly” was used.  This is shown via a cutscene.  If the player was able to manipulate Jack during the flashbacks, it would alter the continuity of the game.

While the timeline of a game is fairly chronological, there are many instances in a game in which the game time in manipulated.  One instance that I was very familiar with was that of the save game.  A player may choose to save mid-game and continue, or the player can access a saved game at the main menu.  The save game interrupts the game play, and allows the player to traverse backwards through time.  Unlike interactivity during a flashback, a save game doe s not alter a previously created game future.  It deletes that future and creates a new one.   This is certainly something that I was thankful for in the playing of Bioshock.  Yes, going back and starting over at a previous saved point does  work against the idea of a game providing a complete immersive experience; while I am reminded that I am indeed playing a video game, I am a lot happier with this reminder compared to the alternative: dying (which I did a lot of) and being forced to start over an entire level from the beginning. A second instance of the manipulation of game time is when the player pauses a game.  Pausing can allow the player to access different menus, and gives the player the power to stop time completely.  This can be utilized by the player here as an example of emergent play; while playing Bioshock, I would frequently pause the game in order to access the map, game hints, and the game help screen.  Again, the non-diegetic operator act of the pausing of the game further deteriorates the immersive quality of the video game.  However, there are diegetic operator acts that alter the flow of time in the video game.  One such act is the transition from one game state to another, facilitated by an event trigger.  In Bioshock, actionable objects lead to the transition from the exploration state (wandering around Rapture) to the hacking state.  When the player is hacking one of the security bots or vending machines, time functions in a completely different way.  The player has a time limit that is irrelevant to the exploration state; time in the exploration state has come to a standstill and is only resumed when the player has finished in the hacking state.  Juul concludes his article by stating, “Many of the games mentioned… work against the idea of immersion, because their discontinuous times and worlds point strongly to themselves as being games rather than fictional environments.  This, however, does not make them any less enjoyable.”  In agreement, I say that the goal of the video game is not to produce an entirely accurate simulation of real life; the manipulation of time in the video game can be acknowledged without claiming that this manipulation detracts from the fun factor of the game

 

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Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 4

“A man chooses… a slave obeys.  A man CHOOSES… a slave OBEYS.”
-The last words of Andrew Ryan.

Playing through Bioshock this week, my focus was on space and its relationship to narrative.  Furthermore, I examined the connection between the journey of the character through space and the amount of choice the player has.

With continued gameplay, the player can discover what sort of space the gameplay simulates.  Manovitch’s text gives rise to the idea that the space is reminiscent of the archetype of the hero’s journey.  In the circular journey, the hero embarks on a journey, encounters trials and tribulations, and emerges a changed man.  Manovitch states,  “…as these heroes move through space, defeating enemies, acquiring resources, and, more importantly, skill, they are ‘building character'” (Manovitch).  We can look at the journey of Jack through Rapture(or rather, the player moving Jack through the fictional world)  as one that reveals the narrative in the game.

Jenkins illustrates the four types of environmental narratives.  The two that are most relevant to the gameplay of Bioshock are  enacted narrative and embedded narrative.  While differing, they both share a close relationship with the movement of the player through space.  Enacted narratives are those that are placed intentionally by the game designers. “”The story itself is structured around the character’s movement though space & the features of the environment may accelerate that plot trajectory” (Jenkins).  As the player moves from one place to another, the narrative progresses.  Jack walks through Rapture, receiving directions from Atlas.  Entering rooms, encountering characters, completing quests,–Jack’s continued exploration leads to the player’s enlightenment regarding the story arc of the game. Without the player moving Jack through the game, the player would not know who Jack is, where he is going, and what his goals are.  Jack comes across certain obstacles that have been laid out by the game designer for a certain purpose.  These obstacles help to ensure  Jack keeps moving along his ‘hero’s journey’.

The embedded narratives hold a different purpose.  The game designers provide the player with clues; returning to Abbot’s text, the embedded narratives are supplementary events, or events that are not required to further the story along.  Instead of space as a facilitator of the narrative, space behaves as data storage.  In this sense, space is used to hold information that allows the player to have a better understanding of the fictional world.  Through gameplay, the player gets to learn about the characters that he or she is unable to control in Bioshock.  For example, the player finds radio recordings that illustrates the perspective of several other characters in Rapture besides Jack.  The information these recordings provide is entirely optional to the player.  The player could, if they chose to do so, ignore all of the recordings.  It would not change the plot trajectory, as the story would continue moving along its plane.

Regarding the rise and fall of the Rapture: the player gradually learns about the creation of the city by Andrew Ryan, and the conflict between Ryan and Fontaine.   Is this knowledge an enacted narrative or an embedded narrative?   I say it is an embedded narrative.  This information is not necessary to guide Jack on his journey from point A to point B.  Sans the back-story that is gradually revealed, the player could still engage in a game, “Move Jack through the city and kill Splicers as you go.”  It is the supplementary information that assists in the creation of the fictional space in which the game takes place.

Returning back to the hero’s journey, can it be applicable to Jack?  Jack is on a journey in the game of Bioshock; it is this journey, as mentioned, that reveals the enacted narrative.  Jack’s call to adventure begins with his plane crash, his transformation  instated by his injection of the EVE hypo at the insistence of his ‘mentor’ Atlas.  Facing the splicers, Jack overcomes various obstacles.  It is with the encounter with the Big Daddy that Jack has arrived at the abyss.  The player is seemingly given a choice.  Jack can continue on his hero’s journey and save the Little Sisters as he refuses to succumb to corruption.  Jack receives  the gift of the ‘goddess’ Dr. Tenenbaum, and returns to the surface world.

The Hero’s Journey

Conversely, Jack can harvest the Little Sisters for ADAM, thus embarking on the journey of the anti-hero.   In an article for “The Writer’s Store,” James Bonnet describes this journey: “The goal of the anti-hero is to take possession of an entity and redirect it toward goals that fulfill its own desires and needs, which is to accumulate, control and enjoy everything it needs to satisfy its insatiable cravings for sense objects, security, wealth and territory” (Bonnet).

It would seem that the player is given the control of Jack’s fate as a hero or anti-hero.  As I mentioned in a previous post: “With a video game, the story line, the sequence of events, has already been created by the video game designers.  The road to this goal is determined by the player, but guided by the event triggers, actionable objects, and the constituent events that move the game forward.”  The player has no choice over the enacted narrative.  When they make the decision to engage in game play, they are drawn in to the world and can either follow the trajectory laid before them, or quit the game.  The split trajectory of Bioshock (saving or harvesting the Little Sisters) is one that has already been created by the game designers.  It is not as if it is imagined by the player; the player is given a choice… but one in which the end result  has already been determined.  The entire point of this is to create the illusion of choice.

So, on a final note: Is the player a man… or a slave to the video game?

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Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 3

Jen stared at her computer screen, her eyes beginning to glaze over as the day drew to a close.  “I need to think about things in terms of narratives…” she thought to herself.

Perhaps narrating my actions was not the best way to approach this task, but it did get me thinking about the differences between ‘narrative’ and ‘story’.  The Abbot reading discusses  this, “Non-linearity has been common to narrative discourse from the earliest recorded instances of storytelling… in contrast, story by definition is linear.  It can only go forward in the one direction that time moves.”  Here, Abbot contrasts narrative and story; the difference between the two concepts is the difference between an act or event that has occurred, and the representation, or articulation of these events.  The description of the events (the narrative) does not have to begin or continue in a chronological manner, while the story entails the sequence of events as they happened.  Jull, on the other hand, describes narratives as a linear experience.  I was initially confused at the seeming conflicting statements from Abbot and  Jull regarding narratives.  It was upon rereading Jull’s article that I found the line, “It is also an oft-repeated but problematic point that game sessions are experienced linearly, just like narratives…this idea ignores the player’s experience of being an active participant .”

It is clear that Abbot and Jull differ in their ideas regarding the definition of ‘narrative’; things begin to get a little convoluted when the intricacies of definitions are involved.

So, let’s recap: Abbot says that a narrative must have a pre-existing story in order to be a narrative.  The narrative can delineate this story in a non-linear fashion.  A video game could then potentially be considered to contain a narrative.  Jull claims that narratives and stories are linear, but that the player’s interaction in a video game breaks the linear nature of the narrative.  Jull continues quite adamantly that interactivity and narration are unable to occur simultaneously, “it is impossible to influence something that has already happened.”  Ultimately, both authors’ arguments have merit.  Video games and literature are different; the concept of narration cannot apply completely towards video games.  Rather than approaching gaming studies with the attitude that video games fall on polar ends of the narrative spectrum–either 100% narrative or 0% narrative–it should be acknowledged that video games have multiple facets that distinguish them from literature.   With a video game, the story line, the sequence of events, has already been created by the video game designers.  The road to this goal is determined by the player, but guided by the event triggers, actionable objects, and the constituent events that move the game forward.  Video games can contain elements of narratives, just as they can continue on a linear path to the end goal.  Here, Abbot and Jull’s concepts converge; in video games, it is the addition of a player that disables the application of the term linear narrative.  And so, we have arrived at the player, your humble blogger, Jen.

“I could go on and on comparing and contrasting literature and video games, referencing the definitions of narrative and interactivity and quoting a variety of authors,” mumbled Jen to herself, her mind spinning.

When playing Bioshock, my gameplay time was certainly not linear.  Our good friend, Mr. Non-diegetic Machine Act had returned in the form of another glitch.  During one section of the game, there was an event trigger that needed to occur in order to move on with the level.  I had to move my character into a room, wait for a Spicer to appear, and then use his grenades to blast open a door.  I made Jack walk into the room, looked around, and saw the blocked doorway.  I was unable to clear the doorway using Jack’s plasmid powers, so I knew that I had to try some other method.  I could hear the Splicer, and took that as a cue that the Splicer would appear, some sort of action would occur, and then I would be able to continue with the game.  After loitering in the room for some time, blast around at the ceiling and walls with my electric shock hands to no avail, I began to get frustrated.

“What the f— I’ve been standing in this stupid room for five minutes, there’s nowhere else for me to go!  I can hear the stupid Splicer.  I know he’s there!  Why isn’t anything happening?!” Jen exclaimed angrily, much to the dismay of her roommates who presumably thought Jen was going crazy, what with her increased derision toward inanimate objects.

It was at this point that I turned to what Aarseth describes as another element of a game: the supplementary knowledge of the player.  Long story short–I found a Bioshock Walkthrough guide online: http://faqs.ign.com/articles/816/816684p1.html.  Without it, I would not have found out about the Splicer that failed to attend.  After reloading the game and returning to the room, sure enough, the grenade launcher wielding Splicer showed up and I was able to continue on my merry way.

The addition of this supplementary information to my gameplay got me thinking; this information was from an outside source, beyond the supplementary events that occur within the game.  There is the path through the game that the game designers create, the story is predetermined.  The player moves through the fictional world, encountering the constituent events, event triggers, and metaphorically patched artifacts that work alongside supplementary events, the avatar, and diegetic machine acts like sound effects; these all help create a coherent game world for the player.  They create the representation of the story, actualizing the narrative from the story.  However, there is a wealth of outside information that can add to the player’s gaming experience.  Walkthrough guides assist the player with the actual completion of the game, and there are many other elements that have been created independently of the video game designers.  Fan written narratives, known as fan-fictions (fan-fics) take the game world and the characters in the video game, and transfer them to another medium: http://www.fanfiction.net/game/BioShock/.  Aarseth discusses the medium-independent nature of both games and literature.  “A story can be translated from novel to comic book, to movie, to TV series, to opera, etc.”  So too can a game be transferred from a digital environment to a piece of literature.  These fan-fics create narratives from where there was none, imagining new storylines and relationships for the characters in the videogame.  Additionally, there is the aspect of cosplay that adds a whole new dimension to a videogame fandom.

A pintsized Little Sister

Like literature, videogames  have the potential to take on different mediums which alter the relationship between the reader/player and the literature/videogame.  Within videogame fandoms, the player can become the artist, the illustrator can become the writer, the reader can become the character, individuals can play the game, read or write fanfics, and experience other people’ interpretation of the game world–all of which add to the individuals’s understanding of the game’s narrative.

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Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 2

I can’t say they didn’t warn me.
I knew fully well what would occur if I decided to make this decision; and yet, despite the consequences, I went through with it.  Yes, readers, I decided to play Bioshock alone.
In my room.
With the door shut.
In the dark.
This experiment lasted a good twenty minutes before the sound of my roommate coming home scared the bejesus out of me, and I chickened out.

However, playing Bioshock in a slightly more ominous setting illuminated more than just the fact that I’m a pansy.  It was this experience that made me more aligned with the virtual character that I was playing.  In the dark, the entire experience of the game was heightened.  The music sounded more ominous, the splicers looked more menacing, and danger lurked around every turn.  I entered into survival mode as I played through the game—I needed to stay alive.  As Bioshock is a first person shooter, the body of the character I play, Jack, is not visible.  Aside from one voice-over at the very beginning of the game, the player is not reminded of the avatar’s gender.  The hands are the only thing that the player sees, albeit more muscular hands.  However, it was due to this lack of visibility of a male body that allowed me to connect more to the character I was playing.  The game is designed so that the game world is seen through the player’s eyes, rather than through the eyes of a virtual character that the player can see.  By doing so, the game designers create a more personal connection for the player and the avatar.  The player takes on a role and sees themselves as the virtual character.

Within the game, the powers given to the virtual character’s (Jack’s)  body  are due to a genetic mutation; these DNA mutating plasmids, ADAM, are collected by the player.  Continuing through the game world, the player encounters a Big Daddy.  Once the creature is destroyed, the truth about the little girl that the Big Daddy is protecting is revealed; the little girls, known as Little Sisters, are orphans that have been implanted with the plasmid.  Acting as surrogate producers of the plasmid, they have been twisted beyond the realm of humanity to create a bizarre fiendish creature.  At this point, the player has arrived at the primary moral crossroads of the game.  The player is given a choice: to destroy the Little Sister and harvest all of her ADAM, or to save her and thus receive less ADAM.  It is not the choice of Jack, but the choice of the player acting as Jack.  The first person shooter aspect of the game further emphasizes this fact; we are not simply watching a virtual character make a decision.  We are seeing through the eyes of the character, and making the decision ourselves.

The god-complex that many games project has come into fruition at this moment.    Prior to this scene, the player has one option when encountering enemies; in order to continue through the game, the enemies must be terminated.   Now, with the Little Sisters, the player is given the choice: bestow life, or take it away.  In the real world, it is (hopefully) unlikely that the player will be placed in this situation.  However, Bioshock touches upon the dichotomy of power that is relevant to the real world.  In his article, Gee describes the video game as a model for actions in the real world.  The game allows us to make sense of certain situations, even if we have only experienced them in the media.  The idea of the temptation of unlimited power is certainly not a contemporary one, nor should it be foreign to members of modern society.  Bioshock gives the player the opportunity to execute this–the gift of power and the choice of what to do with the power.  Gee comments on the connection between our actions in the video game and our actions in real life, “Of course, the consequences are usually more dear in the real world than in a game world, but in both cases, we seek to see how the situation is ‘designed’ or can be viewed as ‘designed’ to enhance a fit or mesh among ourselves, our goals, and the world” (Gee).

On that note, my decision to harvest the Little Sisters as opposed to saving them was based primarily on my goals as a player.  My goal was to keep my character alive.  Throughout the game, the player comes upon an actionable item that allows the player to listen to recorded diary entries.  One such entry, “Masha Come Home” is a mother’s plea for her daughter, who has presumably been forced into becoming a little sister.  Without being excessively overt about it, the game designers have provided the player with new information regarding the Little Sisters; the new information provided by the designers can be seen as an attempt to influence the player to tip the morality scale in one direction or another.  The designers provide the player with information on both sides however, so ultimately the choice is placed on the player.  The speech from Dr. Tenenbaum and the diary recording influence the player to make the morally ‘good’ decision of saving the Little Sisters.  The metaphorical angel on the player’s shoulder tells him or her to be the benevolent player, and rescue the tortured souls of the little girl.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, the speech from Atlas influences the player to make the morally ‘bad’ decision.  It was due to his speech, telling me that harvesting the Little Sisters would provide me with more ADAM that I decided to make the ‘bad’ choice.   My reasoning for this?  As the player, I was not controlling myself.  I was controlling the virtual character of Jack.  The goals of Jack became my goals; Jack was my character, and it was my duty to keep him alive.   By taking on the role of Jack in the video game, I , as the player, “must attribute certain mental states (beliefs, values, goals, feelings, attitudes, so forth) to the character” (Gee).  If I had seen a little girl in real life, I would probably show empathy towards her (even if she was harvesting plasmids from corpses) because she is a human.  However, in the game, I decided that Jack and I would not have it in ‘our’ best interest to save the Little Sisters.  Given the opportunity for power in the game, I decided to make a decision that I would not have otherwise made in real life.

Does this make me a sick, heartless human being?  Doubtful.  I’m not even able to play Bioshock with the lights off.

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Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 1

“Bioshock is  full of gore, so if you like horror movies, I’d recommend that one.”
Upon hearing these words, I immediately knew which game from the list I would be playing.  As I loaded the Bioshock, Galloway’s notes regarding diegetic and non-diegetic acts fresh in my brain, I watched the first cutscene of the game play out.  This initial glimpse into the game world of Bioshock was an example of a diegetic machine act; I was unable to control the events that I watched unfold before me–a few words uttered by a character, followed by a massive plane crash.  The intent of the diegetic machine act was to initially introduce the player to the characters of the game.  I assumed correctly that the man that I had witnessed in the first scene would play a major role in the proceeding action of the game.

As the man surfaced after being plunged into the water, I encountered my first major example of a non-diegetic machine act.  Machine acts are actions employed by the computer, the machine.  The player of the game has no control over them.  However, unlike the diegetic machine act, the non-diegetic machine acts do nothing to advance the plot line of the game, or to familiarize the player with the narrative.  In this case, the non-diegetic machine act I experience hindered my game play.  As the man surfaced, I realized that I was no longer hearing any audio.  Taking control of the character,  I used the letter keys on my keyboard to make him swim to safety.  Still confused by the lack of sound, I continued to play.  As I attempted to make my way through the level, sans audio, I realized how important of a role the diegetic machine act of background audio played.  Without hearing any of the sound effects, not only was I unable to hear directions, but my overall gameplay experience was altered drastically.  The entire mood of the game was transformed; without the eerie, haunting background music or the audio sound effects of footsteps, doors opening and shutting, and machinery, the aura of an unknown foreboding threat was lost from the game.  Without these diegetic machine acts, the intent of the video game designer was lost on the player.  Additionally, there were several event triggers that were lost to me, due to the lack of audio.   Once I remedied the audio problem, I realized all that I had missed.  For example, once the man exits the submarine pod into the city of Rapture, an actionable item of a radio is available.  This radio serves as a metaphorically patched artifact.  With the radio, the player receives a voiceover message from Atlas; through these messages, the player obtains valuable information to assist with the gameplay.  Atlas instructs the player through the process of learning the basic function of items throughout the first chapter of the game.  Without the assistance of this metaphorically patched artifact, the player is unable to comprehend the purposes of many actionable items (as was made evident to me as I attempted to play without audio).

As I continue my gameplay, I am constantly on the lookout for more non-diegetic machine acts, like further glitches with the audio and the loading screen.  These non-diegetic acts are an unfortunate reminder that the gamer is not, in fact, entering a different realm to experience an alternative reality; they draw the gamer back out into the real world, illuminating the fallibility of the machine that they are using.   It took the loss of audio make it clear to me how important these factors are to the overall gaming experience.

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