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False Perspective: Intertext and Dialect – Part 2

September 10, 2008

Continuing my discussion on Braid and Bioshock let me elaborate by the relation between these two games. The key here in intertext. Both games invest their narrative on the assumption that the player understands the design elements at work. Though Bioshock does not require the player to have any background on Objectivism and Braid does not require any familiarity with existential questions of time and space, both these games assume the player has a familiarity with the gaming genre and the basic knowledge of its game design.

One of the genius aspects of these two games is that their gameplay foundation stands on core genres of video games: The first-person shooter and the platformer. These are prime genres of gameplay that the majority gamers can recognize and pick up and play, understanding the rules and functions on how interactivity works in each facet. In fact, both games are essentially refined versions of what came before, Bioshock is basically its predecessor System Shock 2 and Braid is a typical sidescrolling, 2D platformer.

But my intent is not to diminish the quality of these games because of their similarities to its predecessor. These are games that have stood on the shoulders of giants that have come before. What this does is given both Bioshock and Braid the ability to expand what has been lacking in game, specific narrative that relies on the player’s experience with the content in order to open up a dialect with the designer and the gamer.

To elaborate on this statement, Braid takes the gamer through an unobtrusive narrative about love, loss, and the error of choice. The ending of the game has the player essentially playing the narrative in reverse, showing that perspective is in the eye of the beholder and the player is meant to decode whether he is the hero or the villain. Though the player can choose whether to follow closely to the narrative of the game in the various texts that can be read before each level, the dialect of the game is dependent on how the player wishes to dig in to what designer Jonathan Blow is attempting to convey.

Bioshock is the inverse. Here the player is given the option to play the game freely. He can play the side of good by saving Little Sisters in the game or evil by taken advantage of these girls to increase his power. This choice is superficial for anyone that has reached the ending of the game. Instead the actual revelation of the game is revealed though its omnipresent creator, Andrew Ryan, that in fact the player never had any choice at all. Following in line with the themes of Objectivism, designer Ken Levine has brought to light the illusion choice in video games and that that dialect in Bioshock is actually one sided. The player can only converse with the text within the confines of the game’s design and always remains at the will of the designer.

On my next post I will continue this series and discuss the successes and failures in the attempts of both these games to open a dialog with the player.

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