Bioshock Discussion Post-Mortem

[Re-post from evanritchie.blogspot.com]

So here’s where I stand: We have gaming developing in two (or more, but we’ll stick with two for the minute) directions. One offers entertainment from narrative-heavy immersion and the other from satisfying game-play mechanics. I think after our discussion, Bioshock Infinite works hard at both, which creates a jarring effect where the entertaining combat feels as at home in the shining narrative as having to win a basketball game to see the second half of a spoken word performance. I think a strong game-play focus can be paired with a strong narrative, but for my eyes, it has to look a little different if it wants to achieve more.

During the latest podcast after-party chit chat we had little discussion about “games as art” and it really opened our eyes to the real questions- can football be art? Can chess be art? Can the “game-y” component offer an artistic expression of someone’s thoughts, ideas or philosophy? Does the player now become the artist?

And what would we end up with if game-play had to offer artistic expression. My fellow podcaster, Aaron, offered something- perhaps only as a joke. Perhaps not. What if we were to create a quadriplegic simulator? What if your abilities were limited from a traditional game-play perspective? Surely that could offer artistic self-expression through the game-play mechanics present.

I think much of Bioshock’s thematic strength, philosophical discussion and science-fiction ideas would lose something without interaction. I don’t think it would work as well as a movie. I think a fantastic movie could be made from the events, but I think having the world to explore by choosing where to look, who to talk to and which path to take makes for a more interesting experience than a film would. There’s a scare (perhaps cheap) that happens late in the piece that is frightening because of the player’s need to react- the player’s agency heightens the impact of the scene.

I understand that at this point some people might be feeling uncomfortable. But I love FPS games, I hear you say. I like the challenge of monitoring health and ammo stores, but I also want high production values and characters I care about. I think we can and will always have such games. I don’t see FPS games in their current form becoming a thing of the past. They have an incomparable way of tying tests of skill with reward in the form of narrative progression and different challenges, which us gamers love. However, I often feel this lies at the heart of some people’s discomfort when it comes to videogames. As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s sometimes hard to take the narrative seriously when you have to do skill checks to hear the next part of the discussion.

video of the Oculus Rift being experienced by a 90 year old woman offered some insight into some directions that immersive game-play might take. Without HP, mana, ammunition, loot or cross-hairs, can we still call them games?

That’s another issue doing the rounds as the dust settles from the reawakening of the “art-games” genre. It’s in the name, people. No matter how we evaluate their execution, games like Dear Esther andProteus ask us to judge them on their artistic sensibilities and the experience of the environment they offer, all without any sense they are testing us, or that we are at play against an opponent. How fun is the game-play? What game-play?

Are they games?

Many people have put forward the idea that we need a re-branding of the medium. Does calling them “games” trivialise them in the eyes of non-gamers? Maybe. Should we call them Interactive Entertainment? Too long, and IE is already taken as an acronym for a terrible web browser.

I don’t have answers, but I love the conversation.

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You can check out Evan’s own blog here.

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