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Ken Levine on BioShock's Narrative Drive
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Ken Levine on BioShock's Narrative Drive

April 25, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 7 Next

You're talking about how the concept of the unreliable narrator is prevalent in film, but you're talking about how our medium has to have its own forms of storytelling. Rather than taking cinematic techniques from film, do you think that you could take concepts? You're talking about mise en scene as well.

KL: Mise en scene, the unreliable narrator... all these things we take out of film. I'm not sure if like... okay, in Fight Club, he turned out to be himself, or he didn't turn out to be a different Tyler Durden. Spoiler alert! Not direct content, but concepts.

What I'm more saying is, if you don't want to do traditional cinematics, what can you take from film?

KL: Well, storytelling techniques, like the ones I've been describing. The element of mystery. They leverage mystery... games have a very sort of nerdy way of having to explain everything to people. Mystery can be your friend. I've talked about Cloverfield being Godzilla minus information. It reinvented a genre by just... it's exactly fucking Godzilla, right? What's the difference? A giant monster comes to a big city and destroys it.

MK: I've actually never been more annoyed by it. It would be like, "Oh my god, are you seeing this?" and the camera would be in the opposite direction.

KL: Again, I think it will go through a popular reception to it. Imagine if it was just... cut to the generals talking about Cloverfield. "We've got to get that monster. Send in the infantry!" Cut to the infantry preparing and coming up. Would you have preferred that movie?

MK: Well, not necessarily, but it felt like a tech demo to me. I felt like the narrative of the characters that we were watching was terrible, whereas I was impressed by what they were doing.

KL: Separate from whether the execution of the characters were to the best degree, the concept, I think, opens up new and exciting possibilities for storytelling in the film space. I think Lost -- and Abrams is involved in both of these things -- Lost is basically the concept of "don't give the audience information. Withhold information." That's the entire show! What does it have when the secrets are out? All those Japanese horror films. That's something too, where removing information can be a really powerful thing. Mystery stories are games. You're actively engaged in the pursuit.

CN: It's interesting. What's striking to me about BioShock to an extent is that there are things like Little Sisters and Big Daddies and science fiction elements, but in a sense, it's still real people and regular people. Not super commandos, and not Marcus Fenix. Outside of, say, Silent Hill, it's still unexplored territory.

KL: Well, I think... talking about another theme, the horror theme, that the game had, it's really hard to do horror with superheroes, because you have to relate to them. You have to put yourself there.

I think the thing that all horror is based upon is loss, right, and what you're afraid of losing: family, property, and sanity. BioShock's story is "loss, loss, loss." Loss of dreams, loss of hope, loss of love. That's what makes it horror. That's why one of the first horror things you see is the woman with the baby carriage. There's no baby in there. She's lost her mind, and she's lost the thing she loves.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 7 Next

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