Major plot twists in video games are a rare occurrence, at least if you only count those that come as a complete surprise and have a major impact on your experience up to that point and beyond. One such magical moment that stands out happens two-thirds of the way into Irrational Games' Bioshock. And before we proceed, and even though it is a four-year-old game, we felt it prudent to inform those of you who have yet to play Bioshock (go do it, already!) that this piece is pretty much a spoiler through its entirety.
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
The story of Bioshock is really rather straightforward up to this point. You crash with a plane in the middle of the Atlantic ocean where you find a lighthouse for no apparent reason. You enter it and explore the once utopian city of Rapture as you're guided by a voice calling himself Atlas. It feels rather fitting that the main character is just as clueless about the world of Rapture as the player, and you think nothing more of his role - he is an observer, an explorer, who just happen to be stumbling upon this place and who just happened to get in touch with this fellow Atlas.
Or so you're lead to believe. And in most video games, that's where it ends. We don't really need anything else. You're fighting for the good cause, taking out deranged junkies, and trying to find that elusive dictator who turned this place into an underwater hell.
Anyway, as you arrive at Andrew Ryan's offices you are handed the revelation of having been made a puppet, a mind-controlled slave, forced to do what he has told as long as the phrase "would you kindly" was used. And as you beat Andrew Ryan to a bloody pulp with a golf club, without being in control it dawns on you just how well this twist has been integrated into the story. The first thing you do as you enter into Rapture is to use a plasmid to gain further access into the city. What normal person would inject themselves with an unknown substance with just the voice of an unknown individual to convince you?
The twist in Bioshock really turns the whole experience on its head. The voice who has been guiding you is now your nemesis, and it turns out you're not at all an innocent victim of a plane crash who just happened to stumble on Rapture. Instead, you're the illegitimate son of Andrew Ryan,a product of Rapture and a living mind control experiment.
In many ways, the plot and twist in Bioshock can be seen as a way to remind players of their own free will. In way too many games we go about killing and carry out missions without any real thought given to why we are carrying out these tasks. Another layer of the brilliance in Bioshock is the harvesting of Little Sisters, a decision that is left up to the player, and one Atlas/Fontaine doesn't force upon you. As a result you end up with a guilty conscience or a sense of having done the right thing, not because you made a conscious decision, but rather based on your gut instincts as a gamer.
In a way, the twist in Bioshock is also a reason why the story in Bioshock 2 didn't carry the same impact. You are too aware of what kind of place Rapture is by then, and the whole layer of making decisions in the dark is kind of lost.
I'm hoping Irrational Games has a similar revelation in the works for Bioshock Infinite. Once again, it seems a pretty straightforward deal. You're Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent who takes on a task of saving a girl from a mechanical beast known as Songbird in the floating city of Columbia. I'm sure there is much more to the story, and I can't wait to be blown away.
The only shame with the twist in Bioshock is that it really is the climax of the story, and the things that happen afterwards sort of getting overshadowed by the revelations in Ryan's office. The closing hours of the game feel like an elongated hunt for the man responsible for pulling your strings. But the "would you kindly" twist of Bioshock still stands out as one of Gaming's Defining Moments.