Celebrating an artistic masterpiece of interactive media
Hundreds, if not thousands of great games have come out in the past fifteen years, but one that will always fall at the top of that list is BioShock, the classic FPS game set in the underwater city of Rapture. While to many it feels like the game didn’t come out all that long ago, BioShock was actually released August 21, 2007 — exactly fifteen years ago from this past Sunday, and we’re celebrating the anniversary.
The whole BioShock series got a remaster and rerelease as a collection back in 2016, and when I replayed the games on my PS4, I was shocked at how well they’ve aged. Sure, the graphics got a welcome update, but the game’s design, story, and characters have aged like fine wine. Its iconography, from the Big Daddies to the Splicer masks, has pervaded both gaming culture, and pop culture at large, as symbols of some incredible storytelling.
BioShock has a legacy that will live on in gaming history, particularly because of its story and setting in the world of Rapture. Its mechanics are a ton of fun and still feel punchy and satisfying to play, but it didn’t revolutionize the FPS genre because of its gunplay or magic. What people remember, and really love, is the game’s aesthetic and dedication to building a rich setting and story.
It’s one of the titles gamers point to as an example of the amazing art that games can be, especially when it comes to storytelling. I mean, it’s a critique of Ayn Rand’s philosophical ideas of Objectivism — regardless of how well it actually engages with those ideas, I can’t think of many other games that have even wagered to try.
BioShock was also at the forefront of games criticism as it was emerging as a discipline. It particularly began the conversation of the notorious idea of ludonarrative dissonance, coined by developer Clint Hocking in a blog post discussing the game. The phrase refers to a game’s mechanics not being in line with a game’s story, and while it’s mostly fallen out of favor in conversations about game narrative, it was an important step towards players taking a game’s mechanics, themes, message, aesthetics, and overall story into consideration in a more serious way.
BioShock was the center of this discussion because of how some of its mechanics engage with the idea of morality, but I think in a larger sense, it’s because the game was willing to present players with thought-provoking ideas that were also relevant in the world of literary criticism, philosophy, and so on. Without BioShock, I doubt the world of games criticism would be as robust as it is today.
Not to mention it’s just really well-written. Every character, from Atlas to Tenenbaum to Ryan, gives us a whole new perspective on Rapture, how it came to be this way, and what that means for the people that helped build it. Don’t even get me started on how incredible the whole section with Sander Cohen is, with all its dramatic flair and eerie set pieces.
And I mean come on — Ryan’s monologue after the twist at the end is nothing short of Shakespearean. BioShock also popularized the use of audio diaries as a form of storytelling in games, and few other titles have managed to use the mechanic as effectively as the game that originated them.
When it comes to artistic vision, there are few other games that have the focus that BioShock does. Every detail is in place, and while that final boss fight is a glaring flaw that I can’t overlook, otherwise it’s a pretty perfect game that deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten over the years.
Happy 15th anniversary, BioShock, and thank you for absolutely crushing it as one of the best games ever made. Here’s hoping that Irrational’s comeback as Ghost Story Games can live up to the hype of its most beloved series.
And as for you, if you’ve never played it, what are you doing? Go and play it right now!