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Autonomy, Heteronomy, and Bioethics in BioShock

Abstract

The digital game BioShock addresses questions about human enhancement, unbounded biomedical research and unregulated technology. Our analysis is situated in an interdisciplinary field between media studies, the history of ideas, and bioethics. We focus on the processes of generating meaning and knowledge while playing a game, and therefore on the context in which the game is played and how it may be understood by different audiences. What marks this medium as potentially more powerful than movies or novels is that the player interacts with the game and participates in both the narrative and the ludic experience.

In this chapter, we explore how the theme of autonomy/heteronomy is addressed in ludic terms in the game and give two examples of narrative elements that address autonomy within the context of bioethics and medical ethics. We show that in BioShock the medium of computer games has been used as a thought experiment, examining the consequences of unregulated medical research and practice.

Keywords

  • Bioshock
  • Ludic Experience
  • Human Enhancement
  • Game World
  • Audio Diaries

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This article is based loosely on Görgen and Krischel (2012) and has been completely revised and improved for this publication.

  2. 2.

    Technoscience is a phenomenon of modernity. Mitcham describes it as a product of human evolution:

    In the (…) technological milieu, on the basis of social organization, there emerges a transformation of science from theory to practice and of practice from tacit-based skill to systematically pursued technics. Sociology is replaced by technology. Although they remain distinctive cultural disciplines and social institutions, science and technology, thus conceived, begin to feed off of and to reinforce one another. Technology takes on the form of applied science (in engineering); science takes on the form of applied technology (from telescope and microscope to space probe and computer simulation). Commercialized, the new interactive phenomenon of technoscience reconstructs society in its image. Mitcham (1999: 129)

  3. 3.

    Steampunk fiction combines technical innovation with the industrial and technological aesthetics of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Similarly, retro-future implements high technology in a historicizing setting, although aesthetically, retro-future is instead associated with the time of technocratic high modernity.

  4. 4.

    Biohorror as a horror fiction subgenre deals with biological issues, such as mutation, evolution, and genetics, and is closely related to the subgenre of body horror, which focuses on the mutated or degenerate human body (Pullins 2001).

  5. 5.

    ‘Narrative ethics’ describes a methodological approach to a critical analysis of moral phenomena and structures that are communicated narratively (Joisten 2007: 11).

  6. 6.

    As a further hint on Rand, pictures of her are hidden in the Medical Pavillon.

  7. 7.

    Term originally used by William Gibson, taken from his short story The Gernsback Continuum (1981).

  8. 8.

    Among games, BioShock’s technoscientific urbanity implemented a whole new topological and aesthetic language and certainly contributed to the success of games such as BioShock Infinite, Remember Me, Dishonored, and others.

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Görgen, A., Krischel, M. (2019). Autonomy, Heteronomy, and Bioethics in BioShock . In: Görgen, A., Nunez, G., Fangerau, H. (eds) Handbook of Popular Culture and Biomedicine. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-90677-5_21

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