Sunday, July 24, 2011

BioShock 2: On Rapture and Isolation

BioShock 2 is a re-journey through the city of Rapture, the failed underwater utopia, since befallen at the helm of Andrew Ryan, so thoroughly investigated by the game's predecessor. This time, you play as a Big Daddy, and your villain is the all-powerful female psychiatrist, Sofia Lamb, pitting against you many "Big Sisters," (above) while your goal is still somewhat to escape. However, the more I waddle through Rapture, the more I realize that BioShock is in essence not about failed utopias so much as the idea of social isolation.

From the beginning of BioShock 2, we get the sense that we are hated, as we were apparently forced to commit suicide in the distant past through the Plasmid mind control of Sofia Lamb. Once we wake up, we return to Rapture, still despised by the mix of raging splicers, whom we are forced to battle through a series levels, each controlled by a quaint ol' character with a stake of their own in Rapture's lineage. But the point being, the only social contact you have with the world is always plagued by negative reinforcement. Everyone out there is trying to kill you and even your fellow Big Daddies want you dead. And the only sane characters are always separated by a pane of glass, in a different room than you, disembodied - speaking to you through the radio (or even telepathy) - or in hiding. In this sense, you remain constantly isolated from every other character in the world of Rapture, including those of your fellow Big Daddies.

The Big Daddies, of whom you are the foremost, are some of the few characters who actually have a social attachment to another entity: the little sisters. In killing the Big Daddies (which is so integral to the gameplay - they give you Adam, the necessary ingredient for upgrading your character attributes and abilities) you sever the little sisters' connection from their Big Daddies, and forcingly take the little sisters to your side. This somewhat contrived social relationship gives you, the player, some form of companionship, yet it is tainted by forcefulness and fabrication, still leaving you with a lack of genuine friendship.

Yet the little sisters stand at the centerpiece of BioShock 2. You are meant to rescue them - and eventually be united with your original little sister - by exploring Rapture with all of its inhabitants, since impacted by the changes after the fall of Andrew Ryan. However, the times where I truly started feeling something - any sort of emotion in Rapture - weren't the times when I learned about the history of Rapture or its inhabitants' troubled pasts. Those stories are just words - they don't have any pertinence to the immediate. They don't have any impact on my journey - it's all history. On the contrary, what created feeling for me was what impacted me in the present, and that was companionship - from the little sisters, or even the hacked turrets, or the sentry bots, simply by fighting at my side.

BioShock 2 is a game in which you are literally pitted against an entire world of crazed maniacs who really, really want to kill you. Because of this, any sort of companionship means so much more, because of this great negativity oppressing you. This runs more so than other games such as Halo or Call of Duty, because the very nature of your character as a Big Daddy reinforces this, coupled with the physical detachment of being deep underwater. I didn't care so much for the plot - the gameplay was fine, although it turned into a cycle of 'spam projectiles, scoff down medkits, and then scavenge each room like a homeless person' - it doesn't matter why we're going through these levels, does it? We just do it because that's how the levels are designed - to be completed and explored by players. It's not because we really want to find Eleanor Lamb - we don't know her, or have any emotional connection to her; she's a disembodied voice who tells us things that we don't even know are truth. We go through these levels because they exist as levels, meant to be progressed and completed.

Which is disappointing because the real essence of the game comes from that sense of purposeful companionship, between Big Daddy and Little Sister. Yet the majority of the game is spent on killing varieties of monotonous enemies, scavenging resources, and performing the same mini-games over and over in order to survive. We do interact with the little sisters, but their function in the game is to serve as mini tower-defense sequences, not as a physical character journeying with you, sharing your hardships and trials. Yet it should have been more about the gaining of companionship, the triumph over isolation. Because that's what Big Daddies are about, right? The loss of humanity, the severance of emotional ties, the fabricated relationship with a 'Little Sister.' And to regain that true humanity is what the story should really be about.

The highest crux of emotional feeling in the game, being the arcing change from social isolation to companionship, occurs towards the end, when you are reunited with your little sister, Eleanor, now a Big Sister, ready to fight at your side. She comes to your aid in times of distress, actually wards off dangerous enemies, and finally gives you accompaniment through the once desolate and deadly environments of Rapture. When the game ends with your mutual escape, it is a powerful thing. It wasn't about all the environments, myriad of details, or the well-written depth of characters, telling us why we should do certain things. It was that feeling of companionship that made the game - some emotional connection to a character that actually affected us, not a disembodied voice or an array of narrative backstory. It was to about going from being isolated, socially, to having a friend. And that's what BioShock 2 was about in the end: gaining a friend - a big sister.

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At 9/17/2012 10:08 AM, Blogger Dakota said...

thats a different take on things, although i guess im wierd because i loved the back story and i felt comfort through eleanors communication even before the end
i guess i didn't really think it was about isolation like that but it certainly was a part of it
i also felt the little sisters were just that, not so much companions but little ones needing guidance and you could save them which gave you a sort of social occupation

for fun i thought a cool twist ending to the game, you know to put it on par with the first, would be if When you were trapped and cut of from the telepathy with Eleanor, instead of having her send a little sister to free you, Sinclair sneaks in and says that eleanor betrayed you to help Sofia, and in reality Sinclair had actually raised you from the dead.
Then at the end you find Sofia with a big sister and she flees so you fight the big sister and drill her pretty bad, But that BS turns out to be Eleanor. She (in one way or another) gives the idea that you betrayed her which makes you realize that Sinclair had been lying and he just wanted your help escaping.
Eleanor had actually raised you and been on your side, but sinclair betrayed you when he was captured by Sofia and was bribed with escape.
Then you take Eleanor, who is now seriously wounded, and make a run for the lifeboat, Essentially doing the inner persephone mission and trying to find sinclair and get on the lifeboat, which you do.
then you can make up some ending or turn it back to the ones in game, by having eleanor healed of her injury at this time.
Personally i loved the endings and their meanings

What do you think my friend??


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