We could write pages about BioShock’s cinematic and literary influences. We could discuss the heady philosophies of characters like Ryan, Atlas and Tenenbaum forever. We could drop references all over the damn place – super important sounding names such as Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, John Maynard Keyes and Walt Disney. Ultimately, though, BioShock is still a first person shooter and not an academic thesis.
What’s truly intellectual about the game, then, isn't how it mimics other mediums, but how it completely subverts its own. After assuming for hours that your mute and unseen protagonist is just another blank slate Everyman, you discover he is actually a mentally programmed slave, trained to blindly follow his evil master’s orders at any cost.
Sure, you can try to distance yourself from this squirm-inducing revelation, but ask yourself... minus the "evil" part, how is that description any different than what you do in almost all first person shooters? Or almost all videogames in general? Therein lies BioShock’s brilliance and maturity.
What offends you? Pick your poison and odds are pretty high that one of the dozens of Shin Megami Tensei games has already tackled the taboo, beaten the taboo into pulpy submission and worn the taboo’s corpse as a hat.
Suicide. Cannibalism. School violence. Demon worship. Nuclear holocaust. Sexual perversion. Religious blasphemy. The resurrection of Adolf Hitler. A war with Yahweh, the god of Judeo-Christianity. Kids shooting themselves in the head as a general gameplay mechanic. Seriously. The Shin Megami Tensei franchise is hell bent on courting controversy - and pushing the limits of what’s acceptable in a “Mature” game - at every opportunity. For which we are eternally grateful.
Where to begin? If the title alone or the screenshot above aren't enough to convince you that this point-and-click adventure was designed for adults and adults only, how about the fact that its writer is none other than Harlan Ellison, famous for short stories such as “God Bless the Ugly Virgin” and “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”?
Even now, your imagination isn’t doing the dark and disturbing material justice, so here’s the premise. A bored supercomputer has exterminated the human race, sparing just five people so that it may torture and toy with them for eternity. The methods are exceedingly cruel. Benny, once a handsome homosexual scientist, has mutated into a child-like ape with enlarged genitalia. Ellen, formerly a chaste do-gooder, is now a shared prostitute among the group. The other characters’ backgrounds involve everything from rape and racism to paranoia and insanity.
The twist, of course, is that the computer was originally built and programmed by humanity, so its horrifying capacity for evil is really our own. The better twist is that, by making ethical choices and redeeming each character through self discovery, self acceptance or self sacrifice, the player can ultimately defeat the computer and “win.” Trust us, though – you’ll have a hard time going back to regular games after experiencing the depths of this one.
Here are some other games that almost made our "maturity" list.
What did we miss? Take us to task in the comments below!
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