If you've been around my blog long enough, you've discovered that I have a thing for video games. That's especially true for games that come with a good story. And if you're looking for some great stories in video games, you don't have to look any further than Bioshock (and in this case, I'm referring to the first two in the franchise; I haven't finished playing Biohosck: Infinite just yet, but I think I might be close).
Part of what makes the Bioshock franchise so engaging is the setting and the larger-than-life characters the player encounters throughout the games. I still remember the first moment I saw the underwater city of Rapture looming up on the bottom of the ocean floor in the first game. I still remember the shock I felt at The Twist in the middle of the first game (and no, I'm not dropping any spoilers here). I still remember how excited I was to go back for the second game.
So when I saw that a man named John Shirley was tasked in creating a book about Rapture and its denizens, I wanted to see what he put together. I got a copy of BioShock: Rapture and finally got around to reading it.
The book is pretty much what it advertises. We get to go along as industrialist Andrew Ryan envisions his objectivist utopia and builds it on the floor of the North Atlantic. We get to watch as all the characters we meet in the games come to live in Rapture. And then we get to watch as it all falls apart: as war breaks out between Ryan's forces and an upstart who wants to rip it all away, as Dr. Sofia Lamb tries her best to create a collective out of what should have been competition, as so many little girls are turned into Little Sisters, paired with the hulking Big Daddies.
I really wanted to like this book. I mean, I really loved the games. The first one, especially, kept me up late one night wrestling with philosophical questions of how much free will a person really has (and really, isn't that what a good story is supposed to do?). I guess those high expectations translated over to the book.
Don't get me wrong. Shirley does an admirable job weaving a very convoluted timeline into a whole (I've often gotten confused about how all the events of the two games fit together). And I think he does a pretty good job capturing the personalities of the games.
But after reading it all, I think I know what it was missing: a true through-line. We needed a main character to follow and care about. There are a lot of people that I felt sorry for while reading the book. But we pop around Rapture so much throughout the book that it was hard to really care about any of them. Shirley almost does that with Bill McDonagh, but we don't spend nearly enough time with him to really come to care.
So this was an admirable try, but it fell short of the greatness of the games.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find out what happens in the flying city of Columbia. Ah, Bioshock, you're so much fun!