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BioShock cover.jpg
"BioShock Cover" [8]
Type Video Game
Launch Date August 21, 2007
Status Active
Product Line BioShock
BioShock 2
Platform Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Cloud(Onlive)

BioShock is a video game created by 2K Boston (now Irrational Games) and released on August 21, 2007. The game is a spiritual sequel to the System Shock series, early P.C. games which blended cyberpunk, survival and horror with first-person-action and a highly developed RPG system that included the features of item crafting, research, skill and ability development, bio-modifications, psionic powers, and hacking. BioShock centers around the ethical issues of man-machine interaction. It heightens player immersion by exploiting the player's self awareness of the dichotomy between player as an external gamer with player as in game actor through the use of meta-games which are played on a hand-held game system in the virtual game space. Bioshock has two sequels titled Bioshock 2 (released February 9th, 2010) and Bioshock Infinite (released March 26th, 2013).

Development History

Ken Levine started development on the predecessor of Bioshock, System Shock 2, in 1997 as lead developer of a team of former members from Looking Glass Studios. System Shock 2 was released in 1999 as Irrational Game’s first product, a sequel to Looking Glass’s System Shock. Though it was received as a critical success it was not a financial success. [1]Because of this financial performance, video game publisher Electronic Arts declined on a third installment in the System Shock series. Irrational went on to produce other games for a few years until Levine wished to return to the System Shock series. Development on Bioshock started in 2002 with a number of core gameplay mechanics were organized according to three forces they created. Drones, protectors, and harvesters were the prototypes of Little Sisters, Big Daddies, and Splicers that would be finalized later in development. At this point in development there was no clear theme. In order to pitch to publishers, different themes were created to hold the core gameplay. An example of a theme used would be a main character “Carlos Cuello” who was "cult deprogrammer"—a person charged with rescuing someone from a cult, and mentally and psychologically readjusting that person to a normal life” [2]. This demonstration was created to be aboard a space station with mutated enemies. The themes used in these demonstrations are parallel to the theme used in the end product. However they were having trouble finding a publisher, the development team agreed that they needed to change their direction. [3] In 2004, 2k games became interested in the core gameplay concepts of drones, protectors, and harvesters. They agreed to publish Bioshock and give Irrational creative control on story and setting. At this point the setting had shifted significantly and still had yet to settle on the final aesthetic.[4]

A Little Sister and Big Daddy
Taking the Bathosphere into Rapture



The storyline plot-twist in System Shock II is reused in its sequel Bioshock though with a different setting backdrop and a simplified or streamlined game-play experience. BioShock thus emerged instead as primarily a first person shooter that follows the survivor of a plane crash, Jack, as he battles his way through an underwater dystopian city called Rapture. Set in an alternate version of 1960, Jack must use genetic upgrades earned throughout the story to fight against enemies such as genetically mutated humans and militarized droids.

BioShock's Success

BioShock was very well received by both the media and consumers, garnering a 96/100 average on Metacritic[5], a 9.7/10 on IGN[6], and a 95% on Game Rankings[7], while also selling over 4 million copies to date across numerous platforms[8]. In order to take advantage of the new generation of consoles, Bioshock: The Collection was released in 2016 and included the Original Bioshock as well as its two sequels with revamped graphics.


BioShock was created using a modified version of the game engine Unreal 2.5. It featured excellent graphics for the time and had some of the most advanced water effects and physics seen to date. BioShock is a first person shooter at its core but also brings in elements from both role playing and survival-horror genres. Additions from the RPG genre include the ability to discover building materials and then create useful gadgets or weapons from them and upgrading one's character by choosing from certain skills and leveling them up. The survival-horror genre's contributions to the game include eerie environments, terrifying enemies, and maniacal characters with bizarre or grotesque motives.

By using the best elements from FPS, RPG, and survival-horror video games, BioShock is able to provide a unique gameplay experience. Players enter the world of BioShock, an underwater city called Rapture, a dystopian underwater city, filled with thugs, neon lights, and an interesting 1950s/60s aesthetic. From the first mission, the action immediately starts up as one of the games many enemy types known as "splicers" begin an attack. Playing as Jack, the player will face splicers, droids, evil scientists, and thugs as well as Little Sisters and their Big Daddy body guards. As Jack progresses through the game's story, he levels up by choosing skills from different power trees that can be used to dispose of more difficult enemies and traps as well as acquires in-game currency such as dollars, used to purchase ammunitian and healing, as well as ADAM, a made up currency used to purchase biological stimulants and increase player power.

Ethical Concerns in BioShock

Video Game Violence

BioShock encountered a few ethical concerns with its intense, violent game play. It is a first-person shooter that puts the game player in the mind of a desperate man, Jack, fighting for his survival in the dystopian city called Rapture. Jack uses numerous realistic weapons such as a variety of pistols, machine guns, and even a crowbar to take down enemies in any way possible. Many of the enemies were humans or mutated humanoids that died with realistic “rag-doll” physics and splattering blood. Adding to the violent foray were genetic additions that Jack could buy that ranged from freezing and then shattering enemies to electrocuting them in pools of water. These unique powers given to the player offered many opportunities to creatively dispatch enemies which brought slightly more public clamor than usual to the violence in video games debate. This type of violent behavior displayed in video games has been shown to increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors -- especially in minors.

The original counter to critics regarding the violence in video games like BioShock resides in Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors mini-game, Desert Bus. A Sega game in which players drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas in real time at 45mph. The game takes eight hours to complete the trip and showcases how bland and monotonous a game without thoughtful choice is. The purpose was to create a game that was as inoffensive and realistic as possible as an alternative to "violent games". The game was never truly adopted and only gained popularity as a cult classic [9].

“Little Sister” Debate


Another ethical concern with Bioshock was the developers' use of possessed young girls, known as Little Sisters in the game, force the player to make tough ethical choices which could impact the player for the remainder of the story. As the player progressed through the levels, there would be numerous encounters with Little Sisters and their superhuman protectors, Big Daddies. The Big Daddies would defend the small girl it was tasked with protecting to its death, at which point the player had a decision to make: either save the Little Sister’s life by curing her of her disease or kill her on the spot. Both options provide different benefits in which the player must decide what best serves them. In a way, this game mechanic is not only serving as a moral choice for the player but in a way inserting some common tropes many view as being sexist. These include the idea of the damsel in distress as well as the idea of Women in the Refrigerator (negative experiences on behalf of the female character serve as the catalyst for the male main character's actions - while their well being is not the focus).

The twist on this seemingly simple decision is that Little Sisters offered a powerful serum upon their capture (which could also be taken upon their death) which allowed the player to advance much more quickly and powerfully by purchasing special powers with the serum. If a player chose to save the girl and set her free, he would get only half the serum that would be earned if the Little Sister was killed. There was obvious backlash that came about over the use of defenseless girls as catalysts for important, in-game decisions, but the game was defended as a piece of art and developers chose not to address the issue directly.[10]

In-Game Objectivism

The school of thought known as objectivism plays a serious role in BioShock's story. Objectivism, created and popularized by the author Ayn Rand, theorizes that man's purpose is to be a heroic figure within his own life and that one's own happiness through productive activity and achievement is to be held above all other priorities. While Ayn Rand is often noted for creating highly idealized characters in her works, Ken Levine, the creative director for Bioshock, has stated his intentions in his characters to be founded in reality.[11] In doing so, Bioshock's characters operate in a society in which many characters act in their own self interest without fail. The concept of plasmids and other genetic modifiers being easily obtainable to promote oneself to a higher state of being must be morally questioned. Whether it is moral or not to modify oneself in such a way is fully supported from an objectivist point of view, as it unilaterally improves the ability of the self. Aware of this stance, Bioshock calls into question the morality of these enhancements, as the player acts in a moral fashion, where as Frank Fontaine uses them for pure evil. In this way, objectivism is painted in a light of pure rationality and moral purity, and yet, also portrays it as the thought process of those who wish to do evil.[12]

Free Will

The main drive of the game comes from the idea of free will. The player, Jack, goes through the game following the orders of a man on the radio, Atlas, only to realize that he is not willingly doing so, but is being controlled by Atlas. Atlas has been hypnotizing the player by using the phrase "Would you kindly.", forcing the player to do any actions that he wishes. This brings the player to the realization that they are not choosing to do tasks throughout the game, but are being forced to do so.[13] This creates an interesting juxtaposition to the other choices in the game, namely the ones which involves Little Sisters.

Another aspect of free will which is introduced in this game is the in-game addiction to the drug, ADAM. ADAM is a drug which mutates human cells to superhuman level, allowing the users to gain unnatural abilities such as telekinesis and incinerate. Users slowly turn insane by using ADAM, and are driven to violence to obtain more. ADAM brings up an interesting concept of "If you can't beat them, join them" because the only way to defeat the demented drug-addicted Rapture citizens is to partake in the drug yourself.

Furthermore, the player's free will allows him or her to save or "harvest" Little Sisters. By choosing the former option for every Little Sister, the player gains access to the "good" ending of the game. In addition, there is a neutral ending for choosing to harvest at least one, but not all, Little Sisters, and a bad ending for players choosing to harvest all Little Sisters. By reflecting player choice with different endings, the game makes it clear which choice it calls morally right, yet a self-serving or Objectivist player may choose to harvest all Little Sisters since it furthers their progress at a faster rate, making them stronger.

Racism and Bias in Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite is a stand alone game set in the floating city of Columbia, rather than Bioshock 1 and 2's underwater city of Rapture. Though the setting is much lighter and doesn't include fighting drugged-up mutants, there are dark undertones in the third installation of the series. The city of Columbia is run by a self-proclaimed prophet who does not approve of other races. This forces the player to confront many racist situations throughout the game [14]. There are numerous references to racism and bias in the city throughout the story, but one moment is especially sickening. The player attends a raffle and wins first prize, which turns out to be throwing a baseball at an interracial couple. They are forced to choose to either throw the ball or rebel against the police running the raffle. Bioshock Infinite uses the combination of bias and free will to force players to confront racism face on and decide for themselves what they would do when in a racist society.

See Also

Violence in Video Games

External Links


  5. "BIOSHOCK PC", Metacritic, 21 August 2007 [1]
  6. "BIOSHOCK REVIEW", Charles Onyett, 16 August 2007 [2]
  7. "BioShock",, 21 August 2007 [3]
  8. "Take-Two: BioShock Hit 4M Units, BioShock 2 Drove Sales", Chris Remo, 3 March 2010 [4]
  9. "'Desert Bus': Even In Virtual Reality, It's Still 'Boring'", Michel Martin, 9 December 2017 [5]
  10. "The Illusion of Ethical Dilemmas in Bioshock", Brian Flory, N.D. [6]
  11. "BioShock", Julian Murdoch, 4 June 2007
  12. "An Objectivist Plays Bioshock", Anonymous, N.D.
  13. "Analysis: Would You Kindly? BioShock And Free Will", Andrew Bossche, 18 August 2009 [7]
  14. Quan-Madrid, Alejandro. “BioShock Infinite Forces Players to Confront Racism (Hands-on Preview).” VentureBeat, VentureBeat, 12 Dec. 2018,
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