Rapture Revisited Part 6: Would You Kindly?

I finished Hephaestus and Rapture Central Control in this session, capping it off with a rousing round of undersea golf.

Echh. That’s going to leave a mark.

Now, on to Olympus Heights!

Hephaestus

If you’ve not played the original BioShock, best to move on. You’ll thank me later. ;)

On my original playthrough of BioShock, I was dead certain my meeting with Andrew Ryan was the beginning of the game’s end. Maybe I would have to battle an army of splicers, or maybe I’d have to face down some freakish, über-spliced goon (hmm). Whatever it was, the credits would surely follow soon after.

Nope.

Andrew Ryan was an important character, but he wasn’t the main show. Frank Fontaine was the real antagonist, and the rest of the game would be spent dealing with him.

Personally, I was glad to find out I wasn’t done. The game would’ve felt short otherwise. More importantly, there would have been too many dangling narrative threads. The confrontation with Andrew Ryan weaves all those threads together, unifying the narrative and launching the player into the story’s last chapters with a single, well-defined purpose.

My favorite moment amidst all this was the brilliant unveiling of the “Would you kindly” command phrase. It was a classic, unforgettable moment in gaming, comparable to the reveal at the end of The Sixth Sense. I knew right then I’d be playing the game again, just to catch all the situations where Atlas used the phrase to coerce me into doing his bidding.

Would you kindly?

Beyond being a clever and enjoyable moment in the story, the “Would you kindly” reveal was perhaps the most notable and effective instance of a game designer rationally, convincingly explaining a lack of player agency.

Every game forcibly removes player agency at some point. Maybe it happens during a passive cinematic, maybe the game takes over the controls so as to steer the player through a fixed plot point. We balk at similar inconsistencies in other narrative forms. Even one inexplicable change of character can poison an otherwise enjoyable novel or film.

But we accept inconsistencies in games, at least when it comes to agency. Maybe we haven’t figured out effective ways to solve the problem. Maybe we’re still too tied up in the language and conventions of all the storytelling media that preceded games.

BioShock relies on your acceptance of this common inconsistency for the first part of the game. However, unlike so many other games, it redeems itself by providing a remarkably effective and entertaining explanation for the gap, an explanation that is directly tied to the game’s core plot, characters, and themes.

Clever as this was, it was a single-use trick. It would be inadvisable for game designers to try to use it again (a la M. Night Shyamalan). Better to find more creative ways to maintain continuity in agency throughout an entire game.

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