Bioshock is often pointed to as an example of a game that turns the mirror back onto the player, making them question the very nature of the game following its major twist and conclusion. As Bioshock nears its final chapter, it is revealed to the player that the phrase “would you kindly” was used throughout the game to get the player character to perform specific actions. Both the character and the player were subconsciously controlled throughout the entire game without realizing it, a revelation that functions as a reflection on games themselves. In most games the player is expected to obey the game’s instructions without question in order to complete a mission/task, and Bioshock highlights this specifically. How much choice does the player of a game like Bioshock really have? While the player has control over their weaponry, powers and approach to each mission, ultimately the phrase “would you kindly” draws each player of Bioshock to the same confrontation with Andrew Ryan.
It should be noted that Bioshock’s self-questioning nature is a well-covered topic, and the game is regularly pointed to as a “deep” or “thought-provoking” video game (for example, I’m sure several members of our class will be examining Bioshock in Game Logs this semester). The phrase “would you kindly” is a particularly well-recognized term in circles familiar with gaming, and it has become a sort of video game meme on the internet as a result. I have played Bioshock through once, and my play through this semester allowed me to view the game with new eyes. I was aware of the game’s twist and message from the beginning, and so this allowed me to observe the game’s functions from an alternative point of view. Ultimately, I realized that the game directs the player in many more ways than just with the “would you kindly” phrase. For instance, a large, yellow navigation arrow looms at the top of the screen, constantly directing players to the level’s end goal. While I chose to play Bioshock without the arrow because I enjoy exploring the entirety of each level, the arrow functions in the same way that “would you kindly” does, always pushing the player towards a singular goal and inhibiting exploration. The game’s on screen prompts also suggest a similar lack of player choice. Text phrases like “PICK UP EVE” can be read almost as commands, partially explaining why I tended to bound through levels picking up everything I could get my hands on. While it was almost always beneficial to do so, my compulsive collection of items may have been spurred on by the game constantly telling me what to do.
Bioshock’s “would you kindly” phrase works in conjunction with several game mechanics to guide each player of the game in a particular direction. While Bioshock does offer different endings and multiple ways to tackle each level, players are guided down a particular path that leads to the same levels in the same order. In more ways than one, Bioshock questions player choice and the very nature of games