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"You're Getting to be a Habit with Me": Diegetic Music, Narrative, and Discourse in "Bioshock"

Date

2015-09-18

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Degree Level

Masters

Abstract

In 2K Games’ Bioshock (2007) the player, as the protagonist Jack, is thrown into a dystopian, futuristic alternate history of America. Rapture is an underwater city saturated in music: popular songs from the mid twentieth century; classical-style soundtrack pieces composed by Garry Schyman; characters humming, singing, whistling or playing instruments; musical vending machines; and even the sounds of whales and other creatures all participate in forming a textured soundscape. The songs from the 1930s - 50s used throughout Bioshock recall a real-world cultural environment—a popular music culture that is both comfortably recognizable yet strangely unfamiliar. They occur within the game world and are heard by the player and game characters, and thus the songs are diegetic or “screen music.” In Bioshock, such music is an explicit component of narrative production, game environment creation, and player immersion. Significantly, diegetic music participates in the construction of narrative through a constant interplay or negotiation with the video game’s other elements—visual, textual, ludic—and ultimately functions as a distinct discourse able to mediate for Jack/the player between contesting factors, via established conventional codes of musical, cultural, film, and now video game signification. Bioshock’s use of music initiates a pre-game discourse during installation and prior to every game session in the disc-loading scenes, and this musical discourse is continued throughout the narrative. The story’s opening and descent into Rapture further establishes and “naturalizes” the presence of diegetic music as part of the story being told, and as a vital component of the audio-visual environment enhances player immersion. At the same time, these opening instances and subsequent occurrences of diegetic music at significant points in the story demonstrate that music’s culturally encoded emotive potential produces ironic and poignant effects, while its lyrical intertextuality generates narratological and ludic commentary in various song/scene pairings.

Description

Keywords

Bioshock, Narrative, Narratology, Ludology, Video Game, Literary Theory, Film Theory, Diegetic Music, Discourse, Digital Humanities, New Media, Cultural Studies

Citation

Degree

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Department

English

Program

English

Committee

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