In some ways there aren’t two things that mix more poorly than storytelling and videogames. Narrative tension is, by definition, something that the reader has no control over.  The main question of classical narrative is “what happens next?”, and you’re motivated to continue onward with the story to see if it plays out in a way that satisfies your sense of structure in the world, or surprises you in a way that you find pleasing.  If it really resonates it may go beyond that and actually change your own decision making process.

In videogames the narrative is “what do I need to do to win?”  The tension in each moment of gameplay is that you need to make a set of choices that satisfies both your moment to moment needs and optimizes your ability to achieve the global goals of the game.  To use Pac-Man as an example: Moment to moment I may be avoiding ghosts, but over the long term I need to eat dots to win.

But Bioshock is groundbreaking in that it has managed to bridge the gap between narrative and gameplay in some pretty astounding ways.  It’s impossible to describe them without spoiling the experience, and considering how weak most game stories are that’s a pretty astounding thing in and of itself.  But suffice it to say that the game is fully of aware of what it’s attempting to do and how it’s attempting to do it.  The game presents a narrative that finds its tension in not only the actions of the game itself (which has been done before), but also how the game is played, which is something that, as far as I can tell, is totally new. 

In the name of full disclosure, and because the next sentence won’t make sense if I don’t, I’ll reveal that Ken Levine and I have been best friends since high school.  We’ve been talking about videogames for a quarter century, so I don’t think that I’ll ever find a game that’s more closely tailored to my tastes. 

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