This month’s hype engine du jour is BioShock. It is supposedly the best game ever made. It will allegedly open entirely new vistas for interactive storytelling. It will apparently change your life when you play it. I know these things because, while waiting for release day, biting the nails from my hands in frustration and humming “Under the Sea” under my breath, I read the reviews written by those lucky enough to get their hands on the game before it was released. And I seethed.
Game Informer calls it “a masterpiece of the most epic proportions.” Kieron Gillen at Rock, Paper, Shotgun says “What’s wrong with Bioshock? Pretty much nothing,” and Ben Kuchera at Opposable thumbs has this to say: “This is an amazing game that belongs in everyone’s collection.” And yet, as of Monday morning, August 21, the day before “B-day,” it wasn’t yet in my collection.
The challenges in reading previews of a game like BioShock are twofold. First, if you’ve any inclination toward experiencing the game’s story and surprises first-hand, unspoiled by editorial commentary from first responders, you read previews at your peril, balancing your expectations on the knife’s edge between spoiler and interest-fanning nerd fuel. And you never quite know if you’ve been spoiled until it’s too late.
As a thought exercise, read the following list of BioShock deets and circle the one that spoils something vital. Skip the list if you haven’t played it yet.
- 1. Splicers are genetically modified citizens of Rapture;
2. Spider Splicers crawl on the ceiling;
3. You can genetically modify yourself in BioShock;
4. Ayn Rand was not a Splicer.
If you’ve played the game, this should be easy. If you haven’t, less so, but then you didn’t read it, so you don’t know. A conundrum? Yes. Exactly.
I remember the summer of 1987, when trailers for that year’s hottest summer movie were playing at a theater near me. The trailers were awesome. Two Coreys in a movie about vampires? I had to see it. And after I did I realized I’d already seen the most exciting moments in the film while watching the trailer. Was it supposed to be a surprise that Santa Clara was infested by vampires? Beats me, but I would have enjoyed the chance to discover that in the moment, as it were. This was my introduction to spoiling.
When I heard about BioShock (decades later) and heard it was an intensely story-driven experience, I became a spoiler Nazi. (Which, considering we’ve been printing previews and interviews about the game for some time, has been a bit of a challenge. But worthwhile.) And yet, I needed to know about this game. I needed to own it, but barring that, I needed to possess its secrets. I coveted it, in other words. Which made the knowledge that others possessed that which I coveted all the more difficult to bear, bringing us to the second reason it’s hard to read previews of Bioshock: envy.
I’m not a religious man in any sense of the word, but I’ve heard of the Seven Sins. Employed a few of them, even. But in the gamer hierarchy of evil, no sin is greater than envy. It’s the yarn entwined into the fabric of our beings. True, we lust after the latest gadgets, games and gewgaws, but show us a picture of someone else possessing that object we covet and all before us turns to red.
As a gamer, a lustful nerd with a need to mainline as much information as I can stuff in my syringe about … whatever … I rely on the scraps from the tables of those who get the games and gadgets before I do. I need what they’re selling, but I hate them for it. I know if I were dealing the stuff, I’d use my own supply and have nothing to show for it. I’d end up wandering the streets of game journalism snowblind, wordless and destitute – but it’d be worth it.
In regards to BioShock, I have to admit I came late to the party. My interest was piqued at this year’s E3, when I was offered a chance to sit in on a demonstration of the game and play a few minutes of it. Before then, I was mildly interested, catching glimpses of stories about the exuberant artistic effort put into the game by Irrational (2K Boston and Australia). Until I was gifted with the boon of priority access, I was merely curious. Afterward – a devotee.
That was in June. In the two months since I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about the game and, to my chagrin, most of the stories printed since June have been previews written by folks with priority access greater than mine – they were given full copies of the game to play at their leisure (or not).
So last month I did what any self-respecting gamer would do in this situation: I called up someone at Irrational and begged for a copy of the game.
First: a note of disclosure. We do get early review copies of games and other ware here at The Escapist. It’s not like we’re in Siberia or anything. So to hear me, from my ivory tower, complain about envy must be … well, envy-inducing. I’m aware of my hypocrisy. But this is BioShock we’re talking about. Yes, I could have waited until August 22 and walked into almost any store and purchased the game. But … why?
I needed BioShock. I needed it so bad I would have snatched a finsky from my mother’s purse to buy it. I would have knocked over a PhotoMat. I would have … begged. And so I did. And on Monday, August 21 – a full day before the game was available at retail – our copy of BioShock arrived at The Escapist world headquarters. Had I not already called in sick that day, I would have gone home sick. As it was, I crawled out of bed, put on pants and drove to the office to claim my prize, then relocated my bedding to the couch so I could spend the afternoon playing BioShock.
Is gamer envy a function of hype? Here’s another tree-in-the-woods query: If the hype surrounding BioShock didn’t exist, would I be making these queries at all? Would I even care? Which came first, is, I suppose, the most apt way to put it: the game or the hype?
Every so often a game comes along that’s truly worthy of hype, adulation and envy. BioShock is one of them. Granted, taking the hype machine’s word for that is problematic. So do what I do: Establish a veneer of Zen calm, pretend to be a superior being, allowing the hype to wash over and through you, and then make up your own mind about what’s worthy of lust and/or envy. Of course, doing this based on the hype-fueled lusting of others kind of defeats the point. So pretend not to read that stuff. In fact, it’s probably best not to play games at all. Babies and bathwater be damned.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.