Essay Proposal: Bioshock

My essay will concentrate on the narrative and the way the narrative is revealed to the player in the game, Bioshock.

Like the Assassin’s Creed series, Bioshock happens in a real place and time. The events that occur in the game correlate with real-life events. The setting takes place in Rapture, a city built on the floor of the North Atlantic Ocean. Established on November 5, 1946 and completed in late 1951, this city was created with the vision by a man by the name of Andrew Ryan. Born in Russia, Ryan witnessed the Russian Revolution in 1917. After arriving in America and experiencing the emergence of Socialism and World War II, Ryan couldn’t bear to live on the surface world any longer. “The final straw for Ryan was the destruction of Hiroshima with the atomic bomb. In his eyes, the bomb was the ultimate corruptions of his ideals – science and determination harnessed for destruction, creating a weapon that gave the parasites the ability to destroy anything that they could not seize.”

From this, Ryan spent his fortune on building Rapture, an underwater city free from God and Kings. He exclusively invited ambitious people from around the world who also lived by his philosophy, whose potential were also restrained by the people on the surface. However, when the main character arrives in Rapture, it’s 1960 and the city has corrupted as civil war emerged.

A main thing that Bioshock has successfully accomplished is by telling the game with minimal amount of cutscenes. Unlike most games, Bioshock doesn’t provide an introduction of the character we’re playing as. There’s no flashbacks or insights into the main character’s goal in the beginning but further information is revealed as the player progresses through the game environment. All cutscenes and events unfold through a first-person perspective. However, the discovery of the narrative is entirely dependent on the player’s interactivity with the game environment.

The game starts out on a plane and the player soon learns that they will play as a man named Jack. The player sees a photograph in his wallet, possibly of him and his family and a present addressed to the name of “Jack”. With no further delay, the plane is crashed and Jack escapes through the flaming wreckage and finds a mysterious lighthouse conveniently nearby. As the player enters the lighthouse, the door closes behind them and greeted with a giant statue of a man along with a banner that says ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man.’ The tower leads the player downstairs and into a bathysphere which leads the player down into Rapture.

As the character sinks to the bottom of the ocean, a pre-recorded announcement along with a slideshow broadcasting from within the bathysphere

“I am Andrew Ryan, and I am here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?

‘No,’ says the man in Washington, ‘it belongs to the poor.’
‘No,’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘it belongs to God.’
‘No,’ says the man in Moscow, ‘it belongs to everyone.’

I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture.” At this moment, the underwater city shows up.

“A city where the artist would not fear the censor,
where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality,
where the great would not be constrained by the small.

And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”

And as the bathysphere travels through the city, the player can spectate what’s happening through the windows and glass tubes that connect buildings together. As the player enters the entry passage into Rapture, neon lights flash, “All good things… from this Earth… flow… into the city.”

From the beginning sequence of the game, we already have a clear idea of how the developers of Bioshock have designed the structure in which the narrative will be presented. The game provokes the player to be more interactive in rummaging through the corners and crevices of Rapture and actively discovering the storyline instead of it being presented to us.

A main part of my essay will concentrate on the ways in which the game presents the narrative without using the typical cutscenes or narration. In this way, the player becomes more immersed into the game as it feels like real life since there are obviously no cutscenes in real life. I will discuss how Bioshock fully uses every aspect of the environment to convey the narrative.

One main element they use are Audio Diaries, which are voice recordings from residents that lived in Rapture back when it was still functioning. The diaries are recorded from important NPCs like Andrew Ryan, a variety from citizens that talk about political issues, to the confession of a little boy’s first crush. In the halls of Rapture, pre-recorded public announcements still play and the halls are littered with graffiti and posters, each holding an important story behind it.

In Weise’s Journal, Bioshock: A Critical Historical Perspective (, he gives a brief introduction to the world of Rapture and how the game is deemed innovative through terms of character customization, NPC interaction, the use of audio, and how these aspects compare with other first-person RPGs.

Shirley’s novel, Bioshock: Rapture, talks about the events before the actual game. From this book, one can thoroughly understand why and how Rapture was built. The book also provides an indepth analysis how Andrew Ryan and many of the NPCs that also reside in Rapture.

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