No gods or kings, only power-ups

The buzz around BioShock is getting monumental, and as a videogame fan with no stock in Take 2, I couldn’t be happier about it.

It’s got the Penny Arcade guys talking about storytelling and the narrative potential of games as art using lots of italics. It’s got the normally somewhat reserved guys at Eurogamer writing a breathless 10/10 review using the most superlatives ever used in a videogame review in any medium, ever, right down to a paragraph about how fun and addictive it is to play Pipe Dream.

And I think that’s just fantastic. We’ve gotten so beaten down by mediocrity, and so jaded about games in general, that it’s just nice to see people pretty much universally going absolutely batshit crazy for a new release.

I’ve played the demo three times now. The first time through, I immediately started in with the criticisms; what I didn’t notice, though, was the significance of what I was criticizing. The opening had such a big impact on me (I don’t want to oversell it for those who haven’t played it, so just suffice to say that it’s pretty damn cool) that it set the bar past “is it fun?” all the way up to “how well does it tell its story?” And I don’t know how many years I’ve been wanting videogames to mature to the point where we can talk about them in terms of storytelling and concept, instead of just gameplay mechanics.

My friend Seppo wrote about the game’s treatment of Objectivism, and it wasn’t until I was halfway through writing a typically long-winded comment that I realized: holy crap, we’re having an argument about the meaning of a videogame! On the internet!

Nobody mentioned the length of the game, or how much it cost, or how many weapons you get, or whether it supports multiplayer, or how many levels it has. Or complained about the voice acting, or about buggy A.I., or how the models looked. We were criticizing a game for its potential message. All the time I’ve been campaigning for better storytelling in games, I always thought of the goal as being pure storytelling, and never really considered the potential to let you explore ideologies.

And yet, here I am looking forward to playing a game that deals with the one ideology that annoys and offends me more than any other besides Satanism. Because I’ll happily die without having slogged through Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. But put it in a format where I have some degree of control, and present it as The Shining meets The Poseidon Adventure, and I’ll pay you to tell me all about it. Hell, I’d even buy a “Left Behind” game if they managed to have an opening sequence and art direction as good as the BioShock demo’s.

Okay, that’s a lie. But still: it’s a good time to be an arrogant, pseudo-intellectual videogame fan!