BioShock is one of the finest narrative-driven franchises ever crafted, and the fourth game should face ludonarrative disonnance with no restraints.


With genres pigeonholing games into quite tight parameters, it’s not often that a franchise can be found which defies convention to bring a truly unique gameplay and narrative format to widespread audiences. BioShock did this, and since 2007 has bucked the modern trends at every turn in favor of doing its own thing. Success is a formality for the 2K-owned property, but failure isn’t abnormal, as diving to the depths of the ocean or reaching for the stars will naturally be met with mechanical or visual blemishes, as well as negative dents to the otherwise stellar story. Some inconsistencies are trivial, but others are more pressing, and BioShock 4 could remedy the mistakes of the past.

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BioShock 4 already has a laundry list of wishes from fans, and its new developer Cloud Chamber has its work cut out if it’s going to live up to the expectations of its audience as well as the games that preceded it. Ludonarrative disonnance is a narrative quirk that even some of the industry’s best storytellers can’t seem to bypass, but with a legacy as bold as BioShock has conjured, the fourth game needs to face it head-on in the unapologetic way that only the property knows how.

RELATED: BioShock 4’s New Protagonist is Going to Face an Uphill Battle


Ludonarrative Dissonance is a Hard Obstacle for Gaming to Overcome

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Ludonarrative dissonance is the conflict between the story being told through gameplay and what is happening in the main narrative. It’s a tonal contrast that can have a significant impact on the experience, especially if it’s one that prioritizes character development. Watch_Dogs 2 suffers hugely as its story presents a happy-go-lucky band of youthful and rebel-ish rogues, only for Marcus to have the option to terrorize the neighborhoods of San Francisco with an arsenal of firearms. Uncharted and Mass Effect are perhaps even more blatantly affected by it, as Shepherd can commit to the Renegade route with evil deeds while being universally hailed as a hero by the crew as well as the galaxy he’s reluctantly fighting for.

In BioShock it’s perhaps not as obvious since the atmosphere is so thick, but Jack’s unassuming aura makes it puzzling when he is that proficient at offing Rapture’s baddies. BioShock Infinite has its own share of ludonarrative disonnance as the sky city of Columbia is said to be the home of regular (though very disagreeable) residents, so it’s a wonder when the events of the story truly set in the streets of the city turn into perfectly-crafted battlefields and the inhabitants find a way to become trained soldiers fighting for who-knows-what. It’s a frustrating disconnect that few games have faced head-on, and when they do (like The Last of Us 2) the results can be something special.

BioShock 4 is in the Best Spot to Tackle Ludonarrative Disonnance

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BioShock is a franchise that has the narrative chops to rival any in the industry as its environmental storytelling is truly pioneering, and the characters it presents are deeper than the Atlantic Ocean in which Rapture was founded. Ken Levine’s abstract response to Ayn Rand’s works is nothing if not different, and the unrestricted nature of the story means that being tripped up by ludonarrative disonnance is something that should be beneath it. Watch_Dogs 2 isn’t trying to tell a complex and thought-provoking story, meaning it has an excuse to fall into the trap, but BioShock 4 is built on a legacy of challenging beliefs and quizzing players as much as entertaining them.

The pressure on Cloud Chamber to uphold the quality of the BioShock franchise is massive. Not only is each game a pleasure to play, but its thought-provoking stories and complex characters are like the freshest bolt of lightning captured in the thinnest and clearest of bottles. The ludonarrative disonnance in previous games were noticeable because the rest of the experience was so memorable and impactful, and as the development of BioShock 4 continues, tackling an issue that has affected the series for years could be the perfect way for Cloud Chamber to make a universally positive impact on such a beloved series.

BioShock 4 is in development.

MORE: BioShock 4’s Open World Might Sacrifice One of the Best Parts of the Original Game

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