Heaven Under the Sea


The videogame canon, like the literary canon, contains only a glimpse of the many works that have been created over the years. While this is a pragmatic approach in the battle to preserve these bits of digital culture, it is not received without critique. Often the debate over which games ought to be included in this canon, and subsequently immortalized by the Library of Congress, overshadows the question of whether or not videogames really ought to be preserved. Or perhaps this is a point already proven and futile to further rehash – I digress. Most of the ten games that currently comprise the canon mark the origin of a genre that still thrives in modern gaming (Chaplin), or are for another reason seen as culturally or historically significant. Bioshock’s aesthetic beauty, prodigious detail, immersive qualities, in addition to receiving high critical acclaim, make it an excellent candidate to be included in the videogame canon.
The superb graphics and aesthetic beauty in Bioshock are one of its many illustrious features that make it the only game of choice worthy of the canon. Technically the game is top of the line, running on an Unreal 3 engine (Topf). One of the aesthetic elements that was paid particular attention to by the developers is the water. Ken Levine, Bioshock’s central creator, said about features such as the water that they aren’t brought in “just to have them, we build them in to have an emotional resonance” (Topf). This aspiration was undoubtedly successful as the reviewers at Gamespot wrote that “if there’s one thing [the player] needs to know about Bioshock’s graphics, it’s that the water looks perfect. […] Whether it’s standing water on the floor or sea water rushing in after an explosion, it’ll blow [the player] away every time [he] see[s] it” (Gerstmann). Another aspect of the game that makes it unforgettable is the soundtrack and voice acting. A completely unique soundtrack was composed for the game by Garry Schyman and become so popular that the orchestral score was released as a free download via the game’s website (Elizabeth). IGN rated the sound as 10/10 writing that the came contained “top-notch voice acting, spectacular ambient effects, and overall some of the best sound design ever built into a game” (Onyett). The gorgeous graphics combined with the unique and flawless sound create a unique experience that sticks with the player long after the game has ended, a feat unprecedented in the gaming industry.
Bioshock’s detail and incredible intricacy make it stand out among its peers and also mark it as a laudable candidate for canonization. Bioshock presents the player with many philosophical ideas right off the bat. Before the player even descends into the world of Rapture he is greeted with a giant banner that reads “No Gods or Kings, Only Man.”
Then as the player descends into the underwater city a prerecorded message from the city’s founder, Andrew Ryan, which elaborates on some of the principles the city was founded upon. Many of these ideals are reminiscent of philosopher Ayn Rand (Andrew Ryan anagram) (Smith). The player is immediately faced with a moral dilemma: should he harvest the little sisters and gain all their ADAM while destroying them in the process, or should he spare them and gain some of their ADAM while they survive and send gifts later. Throughout the game are scattered audio diaries from some of the citizens in Rapture who are more prominent in the plot. While not necessary to understand the story, if left uncollected and ignored becomes similar to reading Nabokov’s Lolita and not reading the notes in the back. The detail in the environment and world is incredible. Everything has a place and nothing appears out of place, from the Big Daddies, to the splicers, to the cameras and cryptic messages sprawled across the walls of Rapture by its mad inhabitants.
The game is incredibly intricate and well thought out and it is this level of sophistication that puts the game on a level all its own, a characteristic not even the canon can ignore.
Probably the most important aspect of this game, and the main reason it should be canonized is its immersive qualities. This game sucks the player into the elegantly and diligently crafted world in every aspect. This is done first and foremost by utilizing a first person perspective. It looks like the players hands that release a swarm of bees upon enemies, and that player’s wrist that into which neon blue EVE is injected. Later on in the game the player puts on a suit of the Big Daddies and the helmet actually constricts his vision somewhat, and sure enough on the player’s screen he can see the inside of the helmet framing his vision now. These elements combined with the plot, which is extremely riveting and also interactive make the player feel more involved than any other game. In the game it is the player’s choices about whether or not to harvest the little sisters that ultimately determine the ending of the game, but also how he progresses through the game. As aforementioned there are advantages and disadvantages to the various options with the little sisters. The developers did such an amazing job creating Rapture, in all aspects, that it truly seems like an actual place the player is striving to escape from. It has its own idiosyncrasies and culture and it’s a one of kind experience to dig through the vestiges of what was once a thriving city, existing somewhat harmoniously before the current state of affairs came into play. The fact Rapture was once a thriving and prosperous Utopia, taken down by genetic mutation, corruption, and the conniving ulterior motives man always manages to harbor within himself. Undoubtedly this culture and society developed in the game that the player becomes a part of and gets to sift through the remnants of makes this game more than canon worthy.

Bioshock has no peers. This game is the best example of utilizing the medium to the fullest extent. Combining excellent gameplay, graphics, sound, and story it’s truly a rara avis. It won numerous “Game of the Year” awards and never received anything less than 9 out of 10 in any review (Various). This isn’t a game designed simply to make money, much like the Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto molds (Hopkins), but provide the player with a completely unique experience that has an “emotional resonance” that sticks with the player long after he leaves the haunting world of Rapture. It is all these factors, combined with the massive amounts of critical acclaim the game received, and all of the elements words and screenshots can’t capture that make Bioshock the best candidate for canonization.

Works Cited: 

Chaplin, Heather. "Is That Just Some Game, No It's A Cultural Artifact." New York Times. 3 Dec. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2011.
Gerstmann, Jeff. "BioShock Review for Xbox 360 - GameSpot." GameSpot Is Your Go-to Source for Video Game News, Reviews, and Entertainment. 20 Aug. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .
Hopkins, Oliver. "Http://www.el33tonline.com/past/2010/3/4/original_bioshock_sells_4_million/." El33tonline.com. 4 Mar. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .
Onyett, Charles. "BioShock Hands-On." IGN. 8 June 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .
Smith, Johnny. "Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand Died, and Andrew Ryan Created Rapture (an Exploration of a Lack of Morality in Economics) « Robot Pirate Ninja." Robot Pirate Ninja. 19 Feb. 2009. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .
Tobey, Elizabeth. "The Cult of Rapture - INTRODUCING THE BIOSHOCK ORCHESTRAL SCORE." 2K Games. 27 Aug. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .
Topf, Eric. "E3 06: BioShock Interview Transcript." Kombo.com. 18 May 2006. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .
Various. "BioShock for Xbox 360 Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic." Metacritic - Movie Reviews, TV Reviews, Game Reviews, and Music Reviews. 21 Aug. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. .

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**All images are owned by the company reflected by the watermark on the image.**

1 comment

vochelli, Thu, 2011-04-07 21:22

Hey. Would you kindly let me join your team for the exhibit? I loved Bioshock, and it was my second choice for my essay. The only thing I wouldn't be able to do is get gameplay footage or my own screenshots (I don't have the game here).

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