2007’s critically acclaimed Bioshock has been a cornerstone of interpreting meaning from interactive media since it hit shelves. I have previously delved into the social commentary shown by Bioshock, but today I want to revisit the title and explore the game’s systems against Flanagan’s concept of “critical play”. As she writes in her novel “ Critical Play is built on the premise that, as with other media, games carry beliefs within their representation systems and mechanics.” (Critical Play, pg. 4). Bioshock is rife with social commentary on several political and religious institutes around the modern world, and delights in painting a picture of how depraved humanity can be without these imperfect systems to keep morality in place.
Looking into gameplay mechanics, one of the simplest yet oft ignored mechanics in Bioshock is the ability to purchase goods at vending machines. These range from commodities such as food and drink to special ammunition for a the variety of deadly tools available to the citizen of Rapture. These machines are not uniquely used by the player, so it would seem the the rapture citizens were privy to use of a multitude of firearms and explosives. Perhaps this was the intent of Andrew Ryan, the founder of Rapture, to ensure that the citizens could not be controlled. Or perhaps it was merely seen as a non-factor, as the real power in Rapture is found in the genetic modifcation of the human body through Plasmids and Gene Tonics. Either course provides ample commentary on the importance of a well armed population, though the former seems more likely as most citizens of Rapture are seen to be using Gene Tonics and Plasmids in game.
While I could once again delve into the political commentary the game uses as it criticizes communism, socialism, capitalism, and corporatism, I will merely reference my previous article on the topic, which can be accessed here on medium.com.