I bought a PlayStation 3 a week or two ago, primarily for its Blu-ray player capabilities but also to play some video games.
I've been hearing a lot of good things about some of the recent computer and console games; I gather that some of them have a lot of cool character and story stuff going on.
But I'm not really interested in, and am not very good at, the “shoot everything that moves” thing. I have no particular philosophical or moral objection to it; my real-life pacifism doesn't prevent me from, say, enjoying watching action movies, or enjoying playing semi-abstract spaceships-shooting-stuff '80s arcade games. But the first-person shooter thing, where there are a bunch of people out there shooting at you and you have to shoot them before they kill you, and you have to choose between various weapons, and deal with ammunition—I don't really enjoy that stuff, and I'm no good at it.
But I'm very interested in games as storytelling, and as character-portrayal. So I picked up two games that have sounded really interesting in that regard: Bioshock and Mass Effect 2.
And yesterday, I started up Bioshock for the first time.
Here's my memory of what I had heard about it in the past:
- It implicitly mocks Ayn Rand, by showing a gritty dystopian society that started out as a Randian utopia.
- There's a difficult moral decision to make, involving a little girl.
- It has a great steampunky look to it.
The moral-decision thing had sounded particularly intriguing to me; iIrc (which I may not), people talked about it as being central to the game, a sort of way to shape the character of the person you're playing.
So when the game started, with the player character surviving a plane crash, I figured I would attempt some roleplaying. He sounds stress and scared and exhausted at the start of the game, as he swims to shore, so I figured I would try behaving like an ordinary guy (in 1960) who's just survived a plane crash and is freaked out about it. Scared, twitchy, stressed, not sure what's going on.
(Turns out, btw, that the game does have a great look to it, but it's not steampunky (I must've misremembered or misunderstood that); more art deco.)
But after a couple of attempts to avoid encounters with insane violent locals, it became clear that that wasn't going to be feasible. In the game so far (I haven't gotten very far), there are two main things you can do: (1) explore parts of the city; and (2) kill people (or former people, or people-like beings, whatever you want to call them). Well, and (3) collect items, mostly by looting the bodies of the people you kill. (There's also all the genetic-modification stuff, but so far that seems to be entirely in the service of killing people.)
I haven't yet faced the moral-decision aspect of dealing with the Little Sisters, but I'm sure it'll be interesting when I get there. (Though I now think I know exactly what the choice to be made is, having read the relevant help info.) But it strikes me as a little bit odd that in a game where making a moral decision is a central aspect, your only option in almost all of your interactions with other (quasi-)sentient beings is to kill or be killed. As far as I can tell, in most of the encounters you don't even have the option of running away.
Which makes it hard for me to have much moral or emotional or character-identification engagement with the story. (Even in tabletop RPGs, I haven't been into the “enter the next room of the dungeon, kill the monster, take its treasure, repeat” school of gaming since early high school, when I found out that RPGs could have roleplaying and plot. Though I recognize that the two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)
I'm not really complaining here; it seems to be a fun and interesting and visually gorgeous game regardless. It has a bunch of nice little satirical touches, and I may well become more engaged with the characters and plot as it goes on. (I kind of suspect that the protagonist has a bit of a dark secret, for example. Don't tell me; I want to find out for myself.)
But it does feel more game-like than story-like to me, and I'm disappointed at that. That's not the game's fault; it didn't promise anything it's not delivering. But I was hoping for something more.