Bioshock’s underwater city of Rapture is an environment that physically embodies broken dreams. Built by the visionary Andrew Ryan, the city was meant to represent the high-minded ideals of creative and scientific freedom, along with the optimism of 1950’s America. The freedom that Rapture offered ultimately lead to its downfall, however. The invention of Plasmids and Adam gave citizens new, powerful abilities, but ended up driving the populace into a state madness and obsession. The once-pristine, rusted and flooded environments of Rapture stand as a testament to what Rapture once was and how the errors of man caused everything to quickly go awry.
In Dr. Lerner’s Film Music course, I learned a great deal about how music is used to compliment film, and I find that many parallels can be drawn between video game and film soundtracks. In the case of Bioshock, dissonant, diegetic music can regularly be found playing from phonographs and radios within the game’s world. I am drawn to one particular memory from my first time playing Bioshock, when I found myself pinned between one of these radios and a horde of angry splicers. As Bobby Darin’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea” played in the background, I desperately used the last shells in my shotgun to dispatch my attackers that dashed at me from the dark. When the cacophony of my firing had died down and the splicers lay dead, I finally could take a deep breath. All the while, “Beyond the Sea,” kept playing softly.
Not only did the diegetic soundtrack serve to draw me into the world, but it served to highlight the broken dreams of Rapture just as the broken physical environment does. “Beyond the Sea” embodies late-40s-early 50s American optimism, with its melody and lyrics conveying a sense of cheerfulness and comfort. The splicers that attacked me, on the other hand, were a reflection of Raptures failures and the monster the city had become. The music served, therefore, as a dissonant soundtrack (or a soundtrack that does not match the actions on screen). Dissonant soundtracks are a common filmic technic, and they often emphasize particular themes or emotions by choosing music that purposely counters what is expected in a scene. Like the once-shining statues of Rapture, the diegetic music represents what could have been. Rapture was founded on optimism and creation, and the contrast between the music and reality confirm this. Ultimately, Rapture’s decaying physical environment and the game’s music work together to solidify that Rapture is a land of tattered dreams and corrupted potential.