The Emotional Connections of BioShock


Warning: This story may contain nuts, does contain spoilers.

Even in a medium like videogames, where complete immersion is key to successfully crafting a full experience, it’s seldom that we see a game that offers compelling emotional ties and connections between its characters. However, Irrational’s BioShock games have been one capable of pulling this off with aplomb. Strong emotional ties between the characters and with the player is one of the key strengths of the series, and something that we’ll be seeing even more in BioShock Infinite when it releases in a few months. The BioShock series is an extremely emotive one, with a depth and complexity presented in its characters, enemies, even in the very walls of its two focal dystopias, Rapture and Colombia.




In an interview posted on GamesTM last year, Irrational’s Ken Levine explained how a deep connection to the main characters is the driving force behind the upcoming BioShock Infinite, as well as how it’s been such a huge impetus for the series as a whole. “The core of our game is the relationship between you and Elizabeth. We make the player feel the connection to the character, to Elizabeth and to the city. The way you do that is you have to make them relatable,” Levine told GamesTM. “That was why BioShock was successful; people tuned into the story of Rapture and found connections to the people in the city. In Rapture they felt something for the citizens and how their lives fell apart.”

In the first two BioShock games, Rapture is presented as a shell of the utopia it was meant to be, a damaged photograph of better times. There are pieces of the city as it once was: banners celebrating New Year’s Eve celebrations from years ago, recordings from people describing their lives as well as the downfall of Rapture, and its twisted denizens still clinging to the faded remnants of what used to be their lives; pushing an empty baby carriage here, carrying on a one-way conversation with a missing counterpart there. As psychopathic as the game’s characters are, and as warped as they’ve become, you really feel for them, getting a sense of what they’ve been through, and how far they’ve fallen from their former lives.




The other side of BioShock’s emotional attachments is embodied in Big Daddies and Little Sisters. These are two character types bound by a symbiotic relationship. Little Sisters are the gatherers of ADAM, while the Big Daddies are bound to protect them, often at the cost of their own lives. The ties that pull a Big Daddy to its Little Sister are strong, and it’s up to the player to forcibly break that bond. One you’ve accomplished this by force (killing the Big Daddy), you’re then faced with the choice to either “harvest” (kill) the Little Sister, or free them from their lot, turning them back into normal little girls instead of what they once were.

Should you have spared the lives of all of the game’s Little Sisters, you’re given an ending that shows all of them attending you at your deathbed, an emotional one that shows the lasting impact you’ve made by sparing them and giving them a second lease on life. For players who went through the campaign completely altruistically sparing the lives of the Little Sisters, the ending is a truly powerful moment.

BioShock Infinite is set to elicit even more emotional responses from players. A real focus in the game will be the connection between the protagonist, Booker, and your companion, Elizabeth. Even behind the scenes videos of the voice work sessions have gotten plenty of attention, due to some pretty passionate recording sessions involving the main characters.

BioShock Infinite also will detail Elizabeth’s connection to Songbird (a bird-like creature who serves as one of the game’s primary antagonists, as well as Elizabeth’s “protector”), conveyed in such a way that the characters don’t even need to speak on it. Levine has been quite vocal about ensuring that the relationship between the characters will be conveyed without leaning heavily on dialogue and overtly stating it through conversations.

Their relationship is one that isn’t explicitly stated, but one that will ultimately be conveyed to the player in a strong way. “Hopefully when [people see] Songbird and Elizabeth they understand there is some subtlety in that relationship, there’s some complexity to that relationship. It doesn’t necessarily require words,” Levine told IGN in an interview last year. “The goal is to get across that relationship without them sitting down and having coffee and discussing it.”

The BioShock universe is one filled with amazing details, a fully-realized world with rich characters and great art direction. The games create robust connections with the player, and are filled with situations that pull on your heartstrings and stick with you well after you’ve exhausted the campaign. If what we’ve seen of BioShock Infinite is any indication, those emotional ties will continue to set the bar in gaming.

Steven Hopper is the Executive Editor for IGN’s Xbox channels. Check him out on MyIGN and Twitter.

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