"This, is a video game"

Y’know what one of the most interesting games of this console generation has been? Bioshock. That objectivist steampunk sci-fi shooter wasn’t just a masterclass in pacing and art design and a high-watermark of voice acting and creative vision up beside Half Life 2, it also featured one of the most brilliantly executed comments on the medium I’ve ever witnessed, simultaneously drawing attention to and destroying the gap between audience and fictional protagonist; similar to the videotape scene in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in which we are made complicit in the crimes of the film’s anti-heroes by intelligent editing. The moment in Bioshock blows this out of the water. Let me preface this apocalyptic spoiler by saying: if you haven’t played Bioshock and have any interest in doing so, skip to the next paragraph, because what I’m about to spoil will (no hyperbole) ruin the greatest pleasure of the Bioshock experience. Seriously, you’ll hate yourself for reading this if you ever play it. Last chance to bail out? Spoilers ahoy? Right. Around two thirds of the way into the game’s story, you come face to face with Andrew Ryan, the malevolent and enigmatic villain and self-proclaimed leader of the troubled city of Rapture (one of the most exquisitely crafted and memorably realised settings I’ve seen in a game). I’ll spoil as little as possible from here on out. When you confront Ryan, some secrets about your characters past transpire in the conversation but most stunningly of all, it is revealed that the person who has been most instrumental in getting you to this point is in fact out for his own ends and is Ryan’s greatest business rival. The upshot? The player character has been brainwashed into obeying any instruction prefaced with the phrase ‘would you kindly’. A little flashback is given showing that you have been enticed into completing a series of tasks this way. But you weren’t, as a player you put on the game and did what your support character told you to do to progress. Your character may have been brainwashed but you were acting on your own free will... right? But that’s exactly what the brainwashed man would think too... instantly the player is made accomplice and party. As with all the most brilliant masterstrokes in storytelling, not only does this shed new light on the story, but makes you think about this in other video games and also in your own life. A real example of the artistry video games could be a shining temple of if they were less about games developers wanking off the Pentagon and perfecting new blood-splatter based interior design techniques.

Now let me talk to you about another, more recent and even more intelligent game; Stanley’s Parable. On the surface it tells the story of a man blissful in a menial office job, whose morning search for his co-workers ends with him realising his true state and freeing himself from it. This is one ending. In itself it asks questions about levels of imprisonment and would be well worth the five minute playtime, even if that was all it amounted to. The game is accompanied by a meticulously crafted voiceover; upon repeated playthroughs reveals itself to be an ironic deconstructionist satire on video games, a developer’s complaint letter to modern day gaming fan demands for sandboxes and non-linear storytelling, a comment on the nature of storytelling in fiction and the difference between passively acting in a story and creating your own story; and a societal comment on social obedience. All in the course of a five minute game. I’ve included a YouTube video. I’ve only seen this video and a bit of discussion about the game and so haven’t actually played it. It isn’t really a game, more of an exploration of interactive storytelling. Check out the video, it’ll make you think differently about video games, I guaran-damnan-tee it.

Written under duress by Steven

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