Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite games are JRPGs. I prefer turn-based ones like Earthbound, Persona, and Final Fantasy 10, but there’s a fair share of action ones I love, too, like .hack and The World Ends With You. So it therefore might be surprising to hear that I’m also really big on the horror genre in general–not just in games, but in media overall. I grew up on classic horror movies–mostly the Universal monsters and Vincent Price movies, and it’s a love I’ve kept close to me all my life in movies, TV, books, and of course, games. Most notably Silent Hill 2 and 3, which are 2 of my favorite games of all time, and stand out quite a bit in my otherwise mostly anime-filled list of favorite games. But perhaps what stands out more is my number 1 choice:
Despite what many people may guess, and believe me I don’t blame you for these guesses, it’s not my favorite JRPG of all time, Earthbound. It’s not any of my other favorite JRPGs like Persona 3, 4, or 5 or .hack//G.U. It’s not even any of the other stellar JRPGs that dominate best JRPG of all time lists like Skies of Arcadia, Suikoden 2, or Chrono Trigger even though they’re all definitely fantastic games. No, my favorite game of all time is the incredible, critically acclaimed Bioshock.
I think it’s a safe bet that most of you reading this know what Bioshock is since it’s so well-known, but just in case you don’t, it was a game made by Irrational Games in 2007. It was led by the one and only Ken Levine who was very involved in a similar game, System Shock 2. Bioshock is a horror game about a man named Jack who gets into a plane crash and finds his way to the once-illustrious, underwater city of Rapture which is now being torn apart from the inside out by the once-human Splicers, Big Daddies, and Little Sisters all seeking one of Rapture’s most incredible scientific creations, Adam, which essentially grants the user various super powers (often at the cost of their humanity or sanity).
Levine would also create a sequel for Bioshock, the more recent Bioshock Infinite which is also a wonderful game. Some of you may be wondering about Bioshock 2, but contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t made by Irrational or Ken Levine and the number of main series contradictions it contains combined with the ending of Bioshock Infinite suggests that Bioshock 2 didn’t take place in the same universe as 1 or Infinite, but we’re not here to talk about the Bioshock timeline or canon today.
We’re here to talk about the original Bioshock, which dominated game sales charts when it first came out August 21, 2007–exactly a decade ago as of when this article is being written. Practically overnight it became one of 2007’s most acclaimed games–not an feat considering Portal, Team Fortress 2, Halo 3, Modern Warfare, and Super Mario Galaxy all came out during the same year.
I would’ve been just starting 8th grade when it came out, but I wouldn’t play it until my sophomore year of high school–so about 2 and a half years later. As a matter of fact, it was around the time Bioshock 2 came out. A friend of mine at the time was working at Gamestop and used her employee discount to buy it. I thought it sounded cool so I asked her if I could borrow it when she was done. I didn’t know too much about Bioshock at the time, just that it was a horror game that took place in an underwater city and that there were Big Daddies and Little Sisters, but that was the limit of my knowledge aside from the fact that this game was pretty much universally adored. I went in to it with high expectations, expecting a game that was really good, but probably not as good as say, Silent Hill 2. I was dead wrong.
Bioshock blew away my expectations in pretty much every way possible. From the minute I started to the minute I beat it and immediately went back in for a new ending, the sheer artistry in this game, was juts mind boggling to me. Before I played Bioshock I didn’t really have a concrete favorite game, just kind of a group of favorites, but it became immediately clear to me that this was, by far, the best game I’d ever played. It’s now 7 years later and this game still never ceases to amaze me. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve replayed it, but I can tell you that it’s at least 4 or 5. But what is it about Bioshock that always keeps me coming back for more? I’ve played so many amazing games in my day, but what is it about Bioshock that makes it so much better than the others for me? How does Bioshock relate to me, and why is it able to do so more than other games?
There are many reasons why Bioshock is my favorite game of all time. It’s very well-made, well-researched, the graphics are some of the best of their time and hold up pretty well, gameplay is solid, it’s a game oozing with creativity and originality, but so is Earthbound. So is Persona. So is Silent Hill 2 and 3. These are all the expected hallmarks of a masterpiece. So what, to me, makes Bioshock stand out among them? Is it just because it’s especially well made? I thought about it a while, and I think it mostly boils down to one thing:
I love a good story.
I love a good story that I can sink my teeth into that’s well-researched from top to bottom. One that leaves no stones unturned and has an incredibly well-made universe–even if that means it’s the one we live in. One with engaging characters. One with great conflicts–I’m especially a big fan of conflicts with moral ambiguity where you’re the judge of who’s the good guy and bad guy, despite who the protagonist may be, or if there’s even a good guy or bad guy. One with symbolism that means to convey a heavier message. Things like Star Trek the Next Generation, Shiki, Earthbound, Death Note, and LISA would be a few other examples of fiction that I think exceed at this 5-star storytelling. If these are examples, then Bioshock is a textbook definition.
Unparalleled environmental storytelling, audio diaries that show the dark underbelly of the politics of Rapture, the most graceful breaking of the fourth wall ever executed, characters that fall into the deepest and darkest extremes, even the advertisements seen throughout Rapture–every single facet of Rapture–serves to further tell the story of Rapture and what’s happened there. The symbolism that it bleeds–even what it references (EX: Atlas Shrugged)–only further tells the story of the morals, philosophy, and general attitude Rapture once held and is holding. A few other games have managed all of these things, but none even close to the degree of Bioshock, which has effectively fleshed out is whole universe more thoroughly than any other game I’ve played. What I’m trying to say is, both its environment and writing are exceptionally immersive of their own rights–when combined, they effectively create an immersive experience unlike any other. One that made me think about this game in a way that, when I first played it, I’d never thought before. One which every gamer owes themselves to try at least once.
I’d never experienced a universe as creative and thorough as Bioshock’s when I first played, and to this day, I still haven’t. I’ve never been more immersed in a given game universe than that of Bioshock’s, which is in fact so thorough that I feel like I could write a school paper on it (like a history paper or a column on the politics). Rapture is truly a place unlike any other, one that was crafted with the utmost love and care. Bioshock’s is a world I continue to get lost in no matter how much I play it, one that continues to surprise and impress me in its meticulous details and careful planning. To some, the addition of such painstaking and unnecessary details might seem excessive, but to me they make Rapture come alive in a way I’ve never seen in any other game.
To me, Bioshock is more than a game, it’s a piece of art unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. Beyond being incredibly well-made, it’s a testament to how much a game can immerse you and impact you in ways you never thought possible. Through its exceptionally creative and thorough storytelling, Bioshock is the first game that made me think critically about games, made me seriously think about its philosophy, made me think about the symbolism and want to analyze the story, hell it made me read Atlas Shrugged. It’s a game that made me question myself through the sheer grace in which its message was conveyed. It’s my favorite game of all time.
Would you kindly understand why I love this game so much now?