Benny's Adventures

Harvest or Rescue? A Bioshock Thought Experiment

Bioschock is a highly rated game from 2007. I just today beat it on the Xbox 360 (I know I’m a bit behind) and had my mind blown with awesomeness. I tried to play as accurately as I could to my personality and one thing always kept me wondering. If I were actually in the shoes of the protagonist (rather than experiencing his adventures virtually), would I rescue or harvest the little sisters?

This post DOES contain spoilers, so if you haven’t played the game for whatever reason, you’ve been warned!

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For this thought experiment let’s assume that even as we transfer the game concepts to reality the framework of the game remains sound (Plasmids exist, you can still endure just as much punishment, carry around all those weapons, etc.) Given this premise, when you first meet a little sister you can choose to liberate or harvest you are told two different things:

  • Atlas tells you to harvest the little sister, claiming they are no longer children – no longer human – and you should have no remorse for harvesting Adam from them.
  • Dr. Tenenbaum asks you to rescue the little sisters at this point after providing you the means of performing the rescue. She also claims she will make it worth your while.

At that moment all you know is that you can get Adam from the little sisters by harvesting them or forego that benefit to get a reward that may or may not be commensurate with the Adam you obtain from the little sister directly. There’s no way to know in advance that you get any Adam at all from rescuing the sisters nor do you know how Tenenbaum will make it worth your while.

Up to this point you’ve been harassed by splicers who you’ve dispatched with no remorse and have no human contact except Atlas and Ryan. Tenenbaum is a third. Whatever your thoughts coming into Rapture are, you’ve also searched many a dead body for loot just to survive.

All these things are fine if you know you’re playing a video game but should this happen in real life how would you feel? Though you are coerced by the magic phrase to pursue certain paths you retain some level of autonomy. (I don’t see why Atlas simply doesn’t say, “Would you kindly harvest the little sister?” or “Harvest the little sister. Would you kindly?” I think that’s how it should actually be phrased.) Evidence indicates that even as you do what you are commanded to you retain your own thoughts and emotions and it’s your body that is being controlled (an audio diary from Dr. Suchong).

Now, back to the situation in front of you. What do you do?

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Personally I’d like to think that I’ll rescue the little sister because as a decent human being I cannot harm this innocent, little girl-like creature regardless of what claims are made about her. At the same time I wonder how the events that unfold would affect me. First there’s the plane crash. Next there are the frequent assaults by crazed splicers. As someone who hasn’t picked up a weapon in my life for the purpose of killing being thrown into that situation would be shocking to say the least.

Let me be clear: I can’t imagine harvesting a little sister. But I say that not experiencing the terrifying series of events that plays out in the game.

When I think about it I begin to doubt myself. Maybe because of the shock I will hesitate less to harvest the little sister especially because I can’t know that at the end of the day I’ll have about the same amount of Adam. In this hostile, foreign situation all I really know is that Atlas has helped me out (or so it convincingly seems) and this Tenenbaum person has obvious ulterior motives – the protection of the little sisters for whatever reason. Especially after the threat she makes I have no reason to think that she cares for my safety while Atlas does seem to look out for me.

Truth be told in the actual situation I don’t think my thoughts would be as clear. Still I think that I’m built to have a certain threshold I need to cross before being able to harvest a little sister. That being said it’s far more likely I’ll reach that threshold under the stress of everything that’s been happening.

16 December 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Thinking | , , , , | Leave a comment

in Gaming: The Illusion of Choice

Another repost from the older blog. However, this is the last one! (I didn’t work on the other one for too long.) Original publish date is May 28, 2009.

Many games claim an open-ended story that responds to the choices of the player as their strong point. In light of one of the most recent games of that nature, I wanted to let out some of the pent up frustration I have with games that supposedly have choice.

I have not played inFamous, so I will not comment on that game specifically though from this comic that Ctrl-Alt-Del put out it seems that this game is just another cookie-cutter binary game. You can either be good or evil and that’s all.

Again, I can’t comment on inFamous so let’s start with the first game in my memory to do this: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The game was epic and I loved it. It was one of the first games that I played that allowed me to be good or evil. Also, in a lot of cases there were somewhat neutral choices too.  However, the good or evil choices were the most viable options due to the reward.

Another game along this vein is Fable. Fable came out and had a binary morality system that made you look good or evil. Aside from this and several other minor details, the good/evil aspect of the game played very little role in the story. Still, it was good to see games begin to play around with this idea (KOTOR in 2003 and Fable in 2004). Now, about 4 year later we have games like Bioshock (2007), Fable 2 (2008), and the depicted inFamous.

Perhaps I’m missing some great games, but it seems to me like all the games getting lots of publicity that boast a morality system have a very simple binary one. Every choice you make is either amazingly good or amazingly evil. There is no in between. Some games teased at greater complexity. Neverwinter Nights and Oblivion come to mind, although sometimes it was more of unintentional I think.

I want games to actually become more complex. It doesn’t have to be completely infinitely complex immediately. For example, let’s start with 3 choices. A good, a bad, and a neutral one. Then add a fourth line. Then a fifth. Eventually you’ll have an intricate set of choices and consequences that have been refined over many iterations.

Thinking back to my previous post about photorealism, I feel like once the “realism” limit is reached, the necessity for more gimmicks will lead to more complex decision-consequence relationships. It’s kinda sad that it requires that sort of impetus, but hey, whatever it takes, right? Though if it comes sooner than later, I wouldn’t complain!

12 July 2010 Posted by | Gaming | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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