Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rapture is us

Rapture is leaking, and nobody seems to mind. Anyone who might have thought to point this out—and maybe do something about it—has already died by the time I arrive on the scene. And let me tell you, I'm seeing a lot of dead people.

Rapture was probably what you might call a boomtown. Talk about commercial enterprise, this place found a way to profiteer just about everything, even criminal justice! Did you accidentally get caught trespassing someplace you didn't belong? Just pay a quick one-time fee to shut down those frenzied flying death bots.

It seems on the one hand brilliant, and yet I can see just as easily how this automated economy will soon meet its end. Monetary transactions no longer flow between the hands of human beings, only into the dead-end deposit slots of these untended vending machines. After a while, as I venture further into new areas of the city, I find that even the money isn't sufficient to buy the supplies needed for survival. I'm literally scrounging through corpses and garbage cans looking for the raw components that will let me invent my own items. Random supplies could be anywhere, sitting on some high up ledge, hiding under a fallen slab of concrete. I feel like a skittish street rat.

I've discovered there's also a new economy, the economy of Adam. It's a cartel really. It ate up the old economy, the old way of living. In fact, it completely killed living and replaced it with something different, a kind of … sub-living.

This is my mental travelogue as I re-play my way through the first few hours of BioShock, and I must say, I'm really feeling it. Here is a shooter that doesn't feel like a regular shooter. It feels more like the old Resident Evil games (sort of mechanically clunky, but on purpose) only more immediate and immersive. As I travel, I have to make decisions about how best to approach my enemies—not only how to win an encounter when I come upon a splicer by surprise, but how to become more deliberate in how I move about, deliberate in how I kill. Before long, I find myself to be more hunter than prey. I'm becoming more dangerous than the crazies around me.

This is good stuff, right? Like, I wonder how this game experience might relate psychologically to a recovered (or not) drug addict. I really do! How do those first hours of playing BioShock feel to someone who might actually have experienced what it's like to go from upstanding citizen to a desperate and broken mess of a person, someone who pawned off all their crap when they descended beyond the means of legitimately obtaining cash and eventually had to resort to other less-than-savory methods of getting by. Burglary? Violence? Scavenging copper wire from abandoned buildings, perhaps? Go back and watch that animation of your player character popping a syringe needle into his vein. Feel that desperation!

But then, something strange happens. The game keeps on going … and going. I wouldn't say it becomes boring or unplayable, but that once foreign and engrossing experience becomes less engrossing and a lot more familiar. My simple, understandable motivation for getting the hell out of Rapture becomes a bit more convoluted. I notice how my once compelling need to scavenge for supplies becomes more of a compulsion. It's a mindless chore, wherein I search every available box and corpse, not to find things that I desperately need, but rather any item that I haven't arbitrarily maxed out.

A friend of mine told me he started playing the first couple of hours of BioShock and then soon lost interest. While I definitely don't have the same playing habits (I will compulsively finish almost any game I start), I can understand how that would happen. I told him he probably got the best of the BioShock experience in those first couple hours.

It's maybe the day after I start playing through the game when news of the violent massacre at a movie theater in Colorado sends shockwaves through the nation. It's terrifying. What's happening to our country, we ask? Then the national discussion immediately becomes another political debate on the issue of gun control. People argue about the need for more regulation. They say guns are deadly instruments that are too numerous and too easy to obtain. Other people argue that an infringement on the right to bear arms is an infringement on an individual's safety and personal liberty, the right to defend oneself from the violence of others.

All the while, America is leaking. Infrastructure is deteriorating. The purchasing power of the dollar is plummeting while the people become more and more accustomed to an increasingly impersonal economy. The streetlights of bankrupt cities are being systematically shut down. The surveillance system is expanding. So many unsettling things are happening around us and yet we're more likely to hear people talking about the personal scandals and exploits of Hollywood celebrities (is it that much different from the meaningless jabber of those wandering splicers, some insane woman complaining about a tenderloin steak or a psychopathic religious nut babbling about “Jesus loves me” before he tosses you a live grenade?). Before long we'll hear about another episode of shocking violence somewhere else, and it's kind of like being reminded that we built our city at the bottom of the sea. Ours is a fragile and exposed society, an at-once impossible, constantly bleeding utopia. And I'd like to think that if we knew how to fix it, we would.

Images were borrowed from

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