The Importance of Sound in Bioshock

Sound serves as a key element in Bioshock. With that in mind, I’m going to look at how Karen Collins’s article “Game Sound” applies to Bioshock, specifically in terms of diegetic sound, or sound that occurs within the character’s space. Interactive diegetic sounds are those that “occur in the character’s space, and the player’s character can directly…

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Sound serves as a key element in Bioshock. With that in mind, I’m going to look at how Karen Collins’s article “Game Sound” applies to Bioshock, specifically in terms of diegetic sound, or sound that occurs within the character’s space.

Interactive diegetic sounds are those that “occur in the character’s space, and the player’s character can directly interact with them” (126). In the game, these relate specifically to the use of the radio and the audio diaries the player collects as they progress. The radio conversations with Atlas, and the occasional other character, trigger at key moments and get used to give the player goals and instructions. For example, Atlas instructs the player of what to do when they encounter one of the “Little Girls,” getting ADAM to unlock additional powers which help the player progress. The audio diaries develop the world by giving backstory on characters and events. Hence, the player can pick up multiple diaries on or by Dr. Steinman explaining his obsession with beauty and dissension into madness. A key point is the player can choose to listen to these diaries, or even whether to pick them up, so how much plot information they receive gets determined by how they play and whether they pay attention to the interactive diegetic sounds. 

The player encounters audio diaries throughout the game, and can choose whether to pick them up and listen to them

The player encounters audio diaries throughout the game, and can choose whether to pick them up and listen to them

Nondynamic diegetic audio “occurs in the character’s space, but the character has no direct participation in it” (126). Bioshock uses this type of sound to drive the player in the correct direction or alert them of danger. Collins describes a specific type of nondynamic diegetic audio, acousmatic sound, or “sound with no clear origin visually” which “may inspire us to look to the direction of a sound” (130). Most of the wandering Splicers operate under this type of sound. The Splicers aren’t reacting to the player, hence the nondynamic, but their noise warns the player of nearby danger, as the Splicers will attack as soon as they are within sight. This sound then gives the player time to prepare before moving forward and attacking.

Before they see and attack you, Splicers make noise, indicating their presence to the player

Before they see and attack you, Splicers make noise, indicating their presence to the player

As the audio plays such a key role in the game, it makes it very difficult to play at times if you can’t hear clearly. For example, often while listening to diaries or the radio, the player will get attacked. The fighting sounds then block out the other sound, which can result in missing key information.