There are some lines – whether it’s in a book, TV show, film or, as in this case, a game – which just stick with you. Lines which when you quote to someone, they can recognize and acknowledge. As a side-note, this happens to my family a lot when we gather together, where we’ll slip into quoting Airplane!, Mel Brooks’ films and Monty Python back and forth.
One of the most recent examples of this, for me, as you might have guessed was ‘Would you kindly’ from the game Bioshock. For those who haven’t played it, the game starts with your character involved in a plane crash. You swim over to an odd, tiny island and go into a tower, where you are confronted with a huge statue of a man. Walk around a bit and you end up going down into an underwater city called Rapture. And please be aware, from this point on this post will contain spoilers.
So, while in Rapture, you hear – over your radio – a man called Atlas. And unable to help myself, I kind of fell in love with him. He’s trying to rescue his family, and he needs your help to do it. There are splicers (as a friend of mine described them, crack zombies) all around, ready to kill you, as well as the terrifyingly creepy Little Sisters, and the Big Daddys who protect them.
Making your way through Rapture, you learn a little bit more about this strange city. There are recorded diaries scattered around, and picking them up you hear the stories and thoughts of various characters, from a woman whose daughter has been taken from her, to the scientists who developed the most important aspects of Rapture.
These aspects all add up to create a world around you that just feels real. It’s like reading a fantasy novel where the author doesn’t stop and explain everything, but adds just slight touches to help you know what makes the world different from ours.
Towards the point where you’re going to confront the leader of Rapture, you come across a diary that records the moment when a scientist asks a small boy to kill his pet dog. The boy refuses, over and over, until the man says “Would you kindly strangle…” etc. On the diary you hear the boy crying and weeping as he does it, and that feeling lingers with you as you move into the office of the man you have spent the last god knows how many hours heading for.
Here, you discover something very important.
You are not in control of your own actions.
You are being controlled by someone else, almost like, well, like a character in a video game. All those little things you did for Atlas, all those times he asked you, very simply would you kindly…
Turns out, the phrase is a trigger. A trigger for mind control technology, installed when you were just a child. And this is where you discover Atlas isn’t Atlas and is in fact someone completely different and though it’s been a while since I finished the game God damn it that still hurts.
So why am I talking about this on a blog that is about writing?
Easy. Because the writing in this game is fantastic. Everything – from the smallest pieces of dialogue from the splicers, to the words you hear from the diary – adds up to make this a world you can completely plunge yourself into. And ‘would you kindly’ is so simple yet so effective, it results in you taking a step back just to absorb the whole thing. It’s slotted into Atlas’ natural dialogue. It feels real, not forced, and it’s such a simple phrase to have such devastating effects. The game goes on from this point, and it’s pretty much fueled by rage; rage at Atlas, rage at those who programmed your character to follow these orders, rage at the whole of Rapture and the fate of the Little Sisters, now in your hands. Not just for the character. The writing in this game makes you feel all of that yourself. You feel the betrayal, the anger and the happiness with the game’s ending (if, like me, you saved all the girls. I haven’t played through it again yet but I really do plan to).
And, at the end of the day, that is exactly what you want from a good piece of writing. Whether it’s film or TV or books, you need to be drawn in so completely you feel what the characters would be feeling. Yet it’s games like Bioshock that are leading the way on this sort of thing, doing it in a way that other media cannot even think of achieving. Whether you enjoy games or not, if you’re a writer or have any interest in it, I would strongly suggest you check it out for the writing along. And the crack zombies.