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  • Game Narrative Review: BioShock

    - Doug Williams
  •  [GameCareerGuide here presents the latest in a series of narrative reviews written for a contest supported by GDC Austin in association with the IGDA Writers' SIG. The goal is twofold: to encourage students to look at game narrative and writing with the intensity and depth that they do other aspects of game development, and to reward the students who excel at game narrative analysis. To read the first entry, and an in-depth explanation of the contest, click here.]

    Platform: PC, Xbox360, Playstation 3

    Genre: First-person Shooter/Survival Horror

    Developer: 2K Boston/2K Australia

    Publisher: 2K Games

    Writer/Creater Director/ Narrative Designer: Ken Levine


    In the game BioShock, you play the role of Jack, a man who survives a plane crash in the mid-Atlantic circa 1960, only to descend into the mysterious world of Rapture. Rapture is a dystopian society formed in a city built at the bottom of the sea by a man named Andrew Ryan. The city, originally made by Ryan to escape from what he viewed as an oppressive social, political, and religious environment, was to be an Eden of free enterprise and small government.

    When you enter the city you discover that Ryan's supposed paradise is no longer so. Using an undiscovered breed of sea slug, Rapture scientists created a substance known as Adam, which allowed them to create genetically engineered mutations called plasmids. Plasmids provide the people of Rapture with special abilities such as telekinesis, increased speed, and even the ability to create fire and electricity using only their own bodies.

    At the time the player enters the city, it has been torn apart by a civil war between Andrew Ryan and a mobster named Frank Fontaine, who is now supposedly dead after Ryan had him killed. The unrest continued as a resistance formed against Ryan led by a man named Atlas. The player is greeted by Atlas via radio upon entering the city, and is guided in a quest to escape from Rapture and bring down Andrew Ryan, who is intent on having Jack killed due to his belief that Jack is a government spy.

    When the player finally confronts Ryan, it is revealed that Jack is actually Ryan's own son, created in a laboratory in Rapture two years prior, modified to age quickly, and then released into the world with false memories by none other than the player's strongest ally, Atlas, revealed to be Frank Fontaine living in disguise after faking his own death.

    It is further revealed that the player has been under Atlas/Fontaine's control the entire time due to mental conditioning that forces Jack to obey any order which contains the key phrase "would you kindly". Ryan forces the player to kill him, so he can thus die on his own terms. Fontaine betrays Jack and he is only saved by the efforts of Rapture inhabitant Dr. Tennenbaum and the rescued Little Sisters she has taken in. For the game's conclusion, the player must break Fontaine's hold on Jack's mind and ultimately ally with the Little Sisters to reach Fontaine and bring him down.


    • Jack, the game's protagonist, enters the city of Rapture after a plane crash he is later revealed to have been the cause of. Created by genetic experiments in Rapture two years prior to the events of the game, Jack has been implanted with false memories and mind control triggers which force him to obey any order containing the phrase "would you kindly". Jack was created from an illegitimate pregnancy resulting from Andrew Ryan's affair with an exotic dancer, and was programmed by Frank Fontaine to be a tool he could use to bring Ryan down.
    • Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture and the primary antagonist for the first section of the game. Ryan is an idealist who created Rapture with the idea of creating a paradise of free enterprise unrestrained by the political, religious, and social limitations of modern society, which he views as unnecessary. Ryan kills himself using the control phrase on Jack, forcing Jack to bludgeon Ryan to death with his golf club.
    • Atlas/Frank Fontaine is a mobster supposedly killed by Ryan prior to the events of the game. Fontaine is obsessed with his quest for power and seeks total control of Rapture. He is supposedly killed by Ryan to end a power struggle between the two. It is later revealed that Fontaine did not die, but faked his own death and ran the resistance against Ryan by masquerading as Atlas, a man who helps the character through the early events of the game.
    • Dr. Tennenbaum is a female scientist living in Rapture, and one of the few people Jack meets in the city who is not trying to kill him. She seeks to save the Little Sisters and attempts to enlist Jack's help to achieve that end. In the later part of the game, Tennenbaum gives Jack aid and helps him remove the mental controls Fontaine placed in Jack. She is significant as Jack's only true ally throughout the game.
    • Little Sisters are young girls whose bodies have been genetically modified to manufacture Adam, a substance which everyone strongly desires. They wander the city of Rapture, recycling Adam from the dead people who litter the streets. The dilemma of the Little Sisters represents a significant moral choice for Jack in the game.
    • Big Daddies are guardians of the Little Sisters and serve as boss battles throughout the game. Big Daddies are men who have been genetically modified and fitted with diving suits and powerful weapons. Their sole purpose in life is to protect the Little Sisters from those who would harvest them to steal their Adam. At the end of the game, Jack must acquire the armor, voice, and even the smell of a Big Daddy, in order to enlist the aid of the Little Sisters in reaching Fontaine.


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