I’m here because of “Bioshock.” The game came out in the summer of 2007, one year after I moved to Colorado. Designed by Ken Levine, the 1960s themed first-person shooter takes place in the underwater dystopia of Rapture. The positive press assured me that I was going to play the best title of the generation. From the antagonist Andrew Ryan’s first monologue to his last, I was, pardon the pun, enraptured.
That year I played other transformative titles like Valve’s “Portal” and “Half-Life 2.” However, while there was a cumulative effect, “Bioshock” was the one that planted itself in my mind the most. Songs like Django Reinhardt’s “La Mer” and Billie Holiday’s “Night and Day” swept me to an eerie and surreal soundscape. The twinkling neon infected me with nostalgia for a time I never lived in. I even read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” to better understand the maddening Objectivism that inspired Levine. By the end of the credits I knew I wanted to write about culture, especially video games, for a living.
In the fall I sat in Barbara Kolupke’s honors English class learning how to finely craft my prose for emotional impact. I obviously wasn’t assigned enough homework and also enrolled in Jerry Reed’snewspaper elective to make sure my fingers never stopped typing. By the end of the year I knew I could make this writing career work.
Levine was out of the picture and “Bioshock 2” was developed by a different studio and group of writers. Before I even opened the case and put the disc in my console I was ready to be disappointed. I felt that it couldn’t escape the shadow of the original. Not too long after finishing it I filled out the required paperwork to change my major from English to journalism.
I looked at the statue of the series’ signature Big Daddy character on my desk as I contemplated my decision.
When I heard a barbershop quartet singing The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” in “Bioshock Infinite” I knew I was back inside one of Levine’s worlds. Though Columbia’s floating paradise was literally the opposite of his previous undersea universe, everything was familiar. It was comforting as my life headed into the unknown while I submitted countless job applications way post-college.
With the recent remastered rerelease of the series gracing storefronts, it’s a good time to reflect.
It turns out that the first game’s binary choices are bland and the twist isn’t that revolutionary. The sequel is worth more than a second look and the extra downloadable content puts it on par with, or better than, the rest of the trilogy. The finale’s thin take on politics, religion and race is poorly handled and I wonder if the entire series had anything worth saying at all.
A recent Rolling Stone interview with Levine revealed that one of my favorite parts in the first game, the dramatic and iconic opening, was rushed. Without having time to edit, and possibly ruin the first few minutes, the developers accidently created something wonderful. The wizard is just a man behind the curtain.
The veneer washes away into the depths of the ocean. Extravagant set pieces made out of cardboard topple over. I remove Ken Levine from the pedestal.
But I don’t suddenly hate “Bioshock” because I’m critical of it. I don’t hate video games. Being the curmudgeon who wants to make other’s lives miserable isn’t the cool or hipster thing to do. We don’t destroy things because we hate. We destroy out of love.
I wouldn’t play a video game for 20-40 hours, or more, and then take the time to sit down to write a scathing review because I hate the industry. I wouldn’t drive an hour and a half away to see a live performance and slam it because I hate theater.
An editor doesn’t slash through your work with the red pen because they have a grudge against you. They want to see you do better. I want to see you do better. I know you can do better.
I’m here because of “Bioshock.” What brings you here?
This column was originally published in the September 21, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.