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Body Talk: The Best Stories are Built on a Pile of Corpses

Alex Spencer | 27 Jul 2013 09:00
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6th September, 1960: Fort Frolic, Rapture

What appear to be three plaster cast statues sit around a dinner table. A daughter looks sheepishly at her empty plate, forever. Mother's arms are tied behind her back. Father is at the head of the table in his rabbit mask.

It's at this point - his slashed wrists are outstretched and bleeding onto the whitewashed table - that it becomes clear what they are. Not statues at all.

It's a crime scene, and the perpetrator is in plain sight - Sander Cohen, Rapture's very own Joseph Goebbels, who addresses you throughout via speakers and audiologs. It's not the first example of his handiwork you've encountered, nor will it be the last.

This scene, taken from BioShock, comes in the middle of a level which pushes the idea to its logical extreme. From the moment you enter Fort Frolic, you're faced with these grotesque statues, and Cohen happily owns up to them. They're his "masterpiece", he announces. There's no whodunnit in the above scene, only the more troubling question of why.

"Obviously, you might not want to make the story a mystery," says Stern. "It may just be general mood you're trying to communicate, rather than the specific identity of the killer, but it's the same principle. You're implying story by the way you've built the world."

You're implying story by the way you've built the world

In the best examples, the world is used to guide the player's eye, by making the most of architecture or lighting In Dishonored, the corpse of the mother is framed by the window you climb through, making her the first thing you notice. In BioShock, the bodies are obscured by the corner of a wall, meaning you have to scan from left to right, with each family member picked out in highlights and a dark patch in the middle of the table, leading finally to the only blood present in the scene, underlining that these are not statues.

It all works together to create a sense of drama for the player. The illusion of motion without actually changing anything. After all, these are moments frozen in time - and in the case of Fort Frolic's victims, literally so - just waiting to be found by the player.

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