Video games are an important medium. Books, music, and movies have all invited us to watch someone else be the Hero of a Thousand Faces, but only games let us take part in the journey ourselves. Thanks to our close association with the heroes, our ability to BE the hero, we know just how exciting, emotional, and personal a story can be. We like Huck Finn. We enjoy the Beatles. We love Han Solo. We ARE Gordon Freeman.
There has always been a game I could play that coincided with whatever phase I was in life. When I was younger, I could become my favorite cartoon character and cane-pogo jump on an enemy's head WHILE ON THE MOON. Around the time all of my friend's voices started to drop, we had Lara Croft. When I became a teenager, video games were right there with me, giving me the opportunity to mercilessly blast away at hordes of demons with heavy metal blaring in my ears. I am sure I was just being drawn to games that matched my current mindset, but it always felt like the entire game industry was growing up right with me. Our shared interests, combined with being able to act out the stories, made all the experiences far more personal and meaningful than any other medium could hope for.
The closer I came to considering myself "all grow'd up", however, the more I started to worry. I still enjoyed video games, but were they going to keep maturing with me? Was I going to be able to keep finding games that spoke to me on a personal level, or was I finally going to outpace them? The real question was, are video games just for kids?
BioShock The First helped ease my fears and prove that video games have plenty of room to grow. Art, story, and sound all blended together to create a landmark game, but what it truly did best was offer varying levels of immersion. It was here that I learned that the best games let people of any age enjoy the experience. The amazing art design could appeal to one age group, the varied battle system could be enjoyed by another, and the expandable story line driven through hidden sound bites could appeal to a third. In this one title, I could see video games hit a new peak- entertainment that any individual, no matter their stage of life, could enjoy. It was a game that would instantly adapt to its audience, making a personal, meaningful experience.
Creating a sequel to such a critically acclaimed game would terrify anyone. BioShock 2, however, was able to prove itself. Both the RPG and shooting elements from the first game were as solid as ever, and BioShock 2 could easily be a contender for Best Xbox 360 RPG or Best Xbox 360 Shooter. The reason why it succeeded as a sequel, however, was that they realized BioShock was really about the adventure. BioShock 2 didn't just take you back to Rapture. Instead, it fleshed out a world of capitalism, psychology, socialism, and religion that was kept under the pressure of millions of gallons of water until the entire structure imploded. It took the player outside of Rapture, contrasting the natural beauty of the sea with the beauty of the art deco design. In one brilliant twist, it let the player see Rapture from a uniquely innocent perspective. BioShock 2 did the impossible – it took a proven formula everyone loved and still found a way to make it fresh. But none of these reasons are why it is the best Action/Adventure Game on the Xbox 360.
At the beginning of this year, my wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child, a little girl. Immediately our life was flip turned upside down. We had to set up a room for the baby, buy all kinds of furniture, and learn what meconium was. Even work took a more serious tone – this wasn't something to be taken lightly; this was a means of providing food and clothing for a tiny human being. The whole experience shorted out my brain in a mixture of excitement, worry, terror, and more excitement. I immediately realized the thousand ways a baby could impact my life, the least of which was changing the amount of time I had to play video games. Not that it mattered – I could still have fun with games, but no video game could ever tell me a truly personal story and have special relevance to me after such a life changing event.
It was with this in the back of my mind that I started playing BioShock 2. Early on, the game introduced a father/daughter storyline between my in-game character and Eleanor, and the cynic in me rolled my eyes. Once the story was in full motion, however, I started to enjoy the conversations I was having with my pseudo daughter. I wasn't projecting my own unborn daughter into the game, but I could at least play the role of a father a few hours at a time. The concept of fatherhood started to feel a little less unknown.
Halfway through the game, I came across a resident of Rapture who was somewhat less than morally sound. The man acted sweet and honest to my face, but I learned what a horrible person he was through all of the audio recordings I was finding on my journey. He had hurt someone very important to me, and should I ever meet him, he would die for that. This was a video game, after all, so I knew I didn't have to worry about any repercussions. The game eventually put me and my giant drill in a small, cramped train station with him. I knew what I wanted to do, and when my daughter chirped in my ear to agree that he didn't deserve to live, his fate was all but decided. Eleanor wanted him to die, and in video games, if you want to win, you do what they tell you. I revved my drill arm.
I have to admit, with shame, there was still one thing holding me back. What if there was an achievement for not killing this man? It's a silly concern in the face of such an important decision, but it was enough to stop me. I let my anger subside. Sorry Eleanor, but we are taking the high ground. We are going to let him live. She understood. After all, I was her father.
It wasn't until later in the game that I realized what had happened in that train station. Eleanor had watched it all play out, but she wasn't privy to the inner workings of my mind. I chose getting achievement points over a man's life, but to Eleanor, I showed him mercy. As a result, Eleanor made better choices. I had made the right decision, helping save the very soul of my daughter in the process, but I did it for all the wrong reasons. I felt horrible, knowing full well I could have just as easily killed that man. BioShock 2 had just taught me the most important lesson a father-to-be could receive: children learn by watching their parents. At no point during the weighing of a man's life did I put "impact on my daughter" on the scale. If I was going to be a decent father, I needed to start considering how my actions would impact my daughter, and not just try to make her happy. Thank god this lesson was learned from a video game, and not from real life.
You can try to quantify how good a video game is based on its controls, its graphics, or its story, but games are at their finest when they make a personal connection with the player. This is why reviewing a game can be so difficult, and why ratings can range from one star to 90 percent. When all the scores are tallied, however, BioShock 2 is the best Xbox 360 Action/Adventure game to me. It was an intimate experience where I became the character, I lived in their shoes, and I stepped away from the whole experience exhausted, emotionally drained, and smiling. And the fact BioShock 2 actually taught me a little bit more about myself… well, that is something personal it did just for me.