Best. Ending. Ever.
Okay, I’m biased. Maybe it wasn’t quite the best ending, but it was easily one of my favorites. BioShock advanced the state of the art of game design, prompting deep reflection on the notions of agency and control.
Not everyone sees it that way. Opinions vary widely amongst players, some of whom were disappointed with BioShock’s narrative twist and what it said about their choices. In fact, to call them “choices” at all is to step into the discussion on an openly contested point: Many players and critics alike hold that any perceived sense of control in the game is an illusion.
BioShock has its flaws, but a lack of agency isn’t one of them. The control it offers is very real and reasonable, though individual presumptions about games—and narrative games in particular—might make it seem otherwise.
To see how this might be true, we need to put agency and control in proper perspective. It would help if we could move away from comparisons between games and films or novels and instead consider a more apt basis for comparison: orchestral music.