Commentary

A Shock To The System: 'Bioshock' Adds Emotional Charge To Gaming

One of the big strengths of television as a medium for advertising is that people often get really emotionally involved in the lives of the people, real or imaginary, there depicted. Will Foreman, Chase and Cameron really leave the hospital? Will they save the Cheerleader? Who are the Others? Will the Giants finally stop sucking?

We get truly involved in these stories that, let's face it, have very little impact on our actual lives. And while we keep coming back for more, we make it easier to sell to us, whether it's through simple 30-second spots, or through other, more subtle persuasions like sponsorships or product placement. Our guard is down, so to speak.

Unfortunately, that kind of emotional involvement is pretty rare in video games. There are certainly visceral, reptilian-brain thrills to be had, and plenty of addictive gameplay to keep people coming back for more, but it's a rare video game that truly involves players emotionally in its characters and their story.

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This month, however, a new title set a new standard in intense, emotionally charged games -- "Bioshock." If you haven't yet heard anything about "Bioshock," you should read any one of these zillion reviews and news items. Briefly, it's the story of the destruction of an underwater society that explores issues including the failure of objectivism as a system, and the nature of free will and humanity. No, seriously. And if you haven't played it, and you have a gaming PC or an Xbox 360, you should pick it up after work today, it's the best gaming experience on the market right now.

Now, it's pretty hard to get emotionally involved in the fate of an 8-bit plumber who is constantly being told his princess is in another castle. But as games get less like "Mario" and more like "Bioshock," players will become more attached to them as stories rather than merely challenges, and the medium will become an even stronger one for marketers.

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