While researching literature that has discussed Bioshock, I came across an interesting piece by Adam Briggle and Meera Lee Sethi that discusses the relationship between narratives and scientific understanding. Briggle and Sethi illustrate that stories can frame complex ideas in ways that make them fathomable to a wide audience, making them an essential educational tool. Illustrating this point, the article looks to a quote from author David Foster Wallace: “Human beings are narrative animals. That is how we understand science” (35).
Briggle and Sethi focus particularly on a presentation given by David Rejeski, in which he made this point by looking to several particularly influential narratives that contain scientific concepts. One of the main examples given by Rejeski was Bioshock, along with Spiderman and Captain Marvel comics and Michael Crichton novels. Rejeski refers to these works as “deep, deep narratives” that served as the primary source of scientific understanding for many people: “the thing that scientists have to understand is that people will fall back on these narratives long before they will ever pick up a biology book” (37). While the dark themes of science fiction narratives like Bioshock and Jurassic Park have the potential to create a sense of scientific risk and unease, they also tend to instill readers with a sense of scientific fascination.
My initial reaction to Rejeski’s claims was directed towards the lack of actual science involved in Bioshock’s narrative. Many Michael Crichton novels, while fantasized in certain degrees, at least make attempts to ground themselves in the scientific world. Bioshock, on the other hand, takes place in a world of pseudo-science, where fantasy and magic has sprung out of “scientific” discovery. The scientific basis behind Eve and Adam is never actually explained, and is instead passed off as the result of the unfettered scientific progress allowed in Rapture. Similar claims can be made about the comic book examples that Rejeski refers to. However, Spiderman and Bioshock both fuel the human fascination with scientific possibility whether or not they are grounded in reality, and according to Rejeski this is makes them incredibly culturally significant regardless of the actual facts behind their subject matter. Ultimately, I have to agree with Rejeski’s assessment on this level. Wether the science behind Star Trek’s warp drive, Bioshock’s plasmids or Westworld’s hosts is ever truly explained is not actually that relevant. Instead, they instill an audience with a sense of scientific possibility that has the power to inspire.
All of this leads me to a final consideration: Bioshock’s inclusion in Rejeski’s list of culturally significant narratives. Bioshock has been significant to me for years, but does it occupy the same space in the public consciousness as Jurassic Park or Spiderman? My initial assumption would be that it does not. I doubt that many of my friends who do not play video games (which is most of them) have ever heard of Bioshock, while nearly everyone I have met has come across Jurassic Park at some point in their lives. However, some considerations still lead me to believe that Bioshock holds an important place in the public consciousness. For example, in previous posts I have mentioned the extensive internet communities that have sprung up around the game, and the well-recognized phrase “would you kindly.” Bioshock is also often referred to as a blockbuster in the gaming world, with 4 million copies sold across various platforms by 2010. While it may not hold a place in everyone’s minds, Bioshock has still managed to reach a broad range of consumers, enough to have scholars like Rejeski, Briggle and Sethi discuss it. In the end, the points rasied by the article point to the significance behind our class, as scholars can consider as games culturally important art forms that can affect societal change.
Sethi, Meera Lee and Adam Briggle. “Making Stories Visible: The Task for Bioethics Commissions.” Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2011, pp. 29-44.