Gameplay Journal #9 — Critical Play

The medium is the message, as they say. A statement that stretches to cover any form of media, but the media type that I think it applies to is games through the lens of critical play. That is to say that “Critical Play is built on the premise that, as with other media, games carry beliefs within their representation systems and mechanics.” (Flanagan, 4). And this sentiment of games carrying beliefs was, at least in my eyes, something that went largely unseen or unnoticed for a long time. Up until games like BioShock started to come out.

A large part of critical play is how through the beliefs carried in a game that game challenges the conventions of games as a whole. And while BioShock is by no means the first FPS horror game, in my opinion it WAS one of the first games of its type to come with such a densely political and moral story to tell. The games plot is rife with criticism of free market capitalism, warnings of eugenics and genetic modification in pursuit of perfection, questions of human morality, and even debate on just how free we are and if the actions we take are really our own. And while there may have been games with some political references long before this game, I cant think of any game that was so outwardly blatant about it as Bioshock was. And to involve the player in its beliefs, the mechanics of the game are representative of these messages too. The powers the player can get are obtained through plasmids, genetic tonics made to modify the bodies of those seeking perfection. The player is put in charge of making choices about whether they should save children with the promise of a possible reward, or sacrifice them for up front monetary gain, and in the end the game even forces the player to realize that maybe the actions they took the whole time were really their own. Now a days we have more games that follow this sort of structure and narrative story telling, but BioShock was one of the first to show how well it could truly be done, and how much better a game it was because of the fact that it had something to say. And that is why I believe its one of the strongest examples of how critical play can disrupt even the entire games industry at its core.

Flanagan, Mary (sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor. Critical Play — Radical Game Design. Mit, 2013. Print.



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