I don’t play many video games – in fact at this point I only have two games for my Playstation 3: BioShock and BioShock Infinite (the latter now making the former redundant because it contains a digital copy of the original). I use the console as a media player more than anything, so I’d hardly consider myself anything resembling a serious gamer, but when it comes to these two games – I am a fiend. I’ve played the original more times than I can count and I’m currently playing Infinite the second time through. These games are so aesthetically rich and contain so much detail that I should have some kind of diabetes equivalent for spoiling my ears and eyes rotten.
The writer and gamer Tom Bissell argues in his book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, that perhaps video games contain too much story and or too much detail. More specifically Bissell writes that “the impulse to explain is the Achilles’ heel of all genre work, and the most sophisticated artists within every genre know better than to expose their worlds to the sharp knife of intellection.” He compares two games within the zombie apocalypse genre: Resident Evil 4 and Left 4 Dead. Bissell expresses his preference for a game like Left 4 Dead in which “almost nothing is explained,” and “the little characterization there is comes in tantalizing dribs,” where as in Resident Evil the developers have gone to “great narrative pains to explain what is happening and why.” While ultimately these two narrative styles seem to be more a matter of personal preference than anything else, I find that the BioShock games manage to offer both experiences. What’s even cooler is that the player can choose the experience that best fits his level of interest.
For a player that simply enjoys an FPS complete with super powers that takes place in, if nothing else, an interesting environment – the game offers that experience. The player can play either the original or Infinite without being bogged down in story too much. Both games offer a menu that explains the current objective and provide a directional arrow to keep the player on the right track so if he wanted to just follow the arrows, mowing down anything in his way and ignoring the rest, he can. For me though, all of these perhaps superfluous details (depending upon one’s perspective) are addictive. I’ve become so involved in finding every secret, every piece of gear, every audio diary, every voxophone, every cipher and code, that the games are legitimately stressful for me to play. This isn’t because of the difficulty. Even on either game’s most difficult setting, the most delightfully frustrating part of the game is finding these little tidbits which might give me a previously unknown insight into the story or into the incredibly complex worlds of both Rapture and Columbia. Don’t get me wrong , it’s not just the narrative components or aesthetic elements that make these games so remarkable – it’s because in my eyes they are nearly flawless in all aspects (gameplay, sound, graphics, etc.)
To be perfectly cliche, the games are like icebergs. The player can hang around the surface and explore everything the light touches or he can dive underneath and explore the vastly bigger and intricate details that both environments offer within their respective game. It just depends on what you’re looking for.