One of the central themes incorporated into both narrative and game mechanics in the Bioshock series is the use of Adam, Eve, and plasmids. Splicers went mad overdosing on them, civil dissent was fueled over the fight for it, and protagonists battled to survive using them. Surprisingly, unlike most video games, BioShock works legitimate science into the core of it’s fantasy and gameplay through genetic self modification.
Although Adam and Eve may have been seen as glowing red or blue vials by some players, these elements introduced principles of molecular and cellular biology to add a scientific reality to the underwater dystopia of Rapture. Adam was conceived as a raw form of stem cells that could differentiate into tissues that a human wouldn’t otherwise be able to create. Similar to how embryonic stem cells can differentiate into the tissues that form a heart or lungs in a fetus, only on crack. Eve, is designed to be a refined and expendable form of Adam , which for the sake of game design served the function of ‘fuel’ for powers that are unlocked throughout the game. These concepts were balanced with the use of Plasmids, which are circular pieces of DNA that express specific genes. Plasmids are commonly used as tools to deliver genes a researcher would be interested in studying in a living organism.
So, consider this: we are given the toolbox of an infinite number of genes found in nature, a plasmid to carry any number of these genes, and Adam to differentiate into any cell or tissue imaginable. You create a thought out process that, despite being far from any reality, makes sense. Imagine how a plasmid like “electro bolt” could have actually worked by differentiating Adam into electrocytes (muscle-like cells found in electric eels) using genes from electric fish engineered into plasmids. On their own these cells create about 0.15 volts but in unison and acting at a high frequency electrocute and stun unsuspecting Splicers. Sounds silly? Researchers are already keen on sequencing the genome of the electric eel to better understand how the animal already is capable of this.
Some plasmids would have easily unraveled in interesting ways to function biologically such as symbiotic relationships that allowed harboring and weaponizing bee swarms. However, other ‘plasmids’ were the result of giant leaps in logical steps to empower players with immolating fireballs, and freezing ice jets. I don’t like splitting hairs on a would-be science fiction, but it should be noted that there is no shortage on the biological phenomena that could have offered players the same pleasures of setting people on fire or strategic escapes (teleportation) from danger.
Similarly, new game mechanics could have been introduced by known genes and functions from 50-year old science text books. Why not borrow the glow of firefly luciferase to introduce flashlight mechanics commonly found in the survival-horror genre? Imagine hearing Subject Delta/ Jack breathing in deeply to circulate the required oxygen to catalyze the activity of luciferase. After a few deep breaths, the character’s fingertips start to glow green and slowly light up the poorly lit corners of Rapture.
Irrational Games should be applauded for introducing these ideas to gamers as it creates a believable rationale for narrative and mechanics. Considering how important Adam, Eve, and plasmids are to Bioshock, it would have added a great deal of immersion and believably if additional attention was given to using what we already know as fact and mold into fiction. Players who believe that the actions of a character in a game are plausible will ultimately enjoy a deeper gaming experience. This blurry line between reality and science is exactly what’s needed for the future of gaming. Not surprisingly, it may also inspire a new generation of scientists to approach the bench with imagination and creativity.
And I’m all for mad science.