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BioShock: The ‘Superbad’ of Video Games?

Photo: 2k Games

Roger Ebert recently griped that “video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized, and empathetic.” Predictably, the blogosphere went nuts — let’s just say some sophomoric comments about thumbs were involved. Since then gamers have been dying to find a game so deep that even old movie critics could endorse it. Enter BioShock (for Xbox360 and PC), which is rocking a score of 97 on Metacritic. The game starts, Lost-like, with a cinematic plane crash and quickly plunges you, the lone survivor, into an underwater city that’s actually a hypercapitalist utopian experiment gone to seed. The game’s superheroism-meets-Quake fighting is awful fun, but the modernist-mash-up design and capitalist critique really distinguish it, inspiring commentary on everything from fighting systems to Ayn Rand, morality, and the appropriateness of Art Deco design. Here’s a sampling of what people are saying. —Logan Hill

IGN: “The target in BioShock, Andrew Ryan, is anything but a prototypical villain… He’s the Randian hero, a man who holds his own creative vision above all else, and he’s Rodion Raskolnikov’s exceptional person, someone who can be excused for committing crimes to achieve a noble goal, or at least with noble intentions — and he knows it.”

New York Times: “There is something both wonderful and disturbing about … coming across a masked couple by an old-fashioned Victrola gracefully dancing a foxtrot before catching sight of you and attacking … It is odd, though, that [the city] Rapture, built in 1946, would rely on the then-passé Art Deco style, and odder still that the city would retain its 1930s aesthetic through 1959, when, the game indicates, things completely fell apart.”

Games Radar: “It does have a sequence that gave us a Schindler’s List pang of guilt for killing [young girls turned into zombie-like hosts] … And Schindler’s List isn’t a cultural touchstone that comes up a lot when talking about games. There’s a richness to BioShock’s fiction, a conflicted complexity to its characters, and a humanity in its themes that we’re wholly unaccustomed to in gaming.”

Gamer Evolution: “Very few games can be said to have an ethos, or moral element, that both defines and guides the storyline. The same cannot be said of Bioshock, whose capitalistic underpinnings and anti-regulatory rants would make Ayn Rand proud. Industrialist Andrew Ryan (think Citizen Kane without the mourning of a lost childhood) built the underwater city of Rapture to create a truly capitalist civilization where what the market wants, the market gets, no questions asked. With any true belief, unexpected issues will always arise to challenge the vision. As the storyline progresses through radio interactions and diary entries, the player will be consumed by the world of Rapture. Ideas will get perverted, men will hunger for power, and human nature will be tested. Didn’t know that video games could do that, did you?”

Gamespot: “Then there’s the big daddy, which comes in two configurations. The bouncer has a huge drill arm that is used to, you know, drill into people.”

BioShock: The ‘Superbad’ of Video Games?