The Screams we’re Used to Hearing

Because every respectable piece of gaming media calls Bioshock “the game that brings gaming back to its old glory” (and other such niceties), I decided to try out the demo. A few minutes into the game, I could see what all the fuss was about. The atmosphere is truly breathtaking and unique, and I hadn’t felt this urge to uncover something, something that feels substantial, since Half-Life came along.

A few more minutes into the game, SPOILER ALERT one of the splicers guts someone with something that looks like a pair of large fishhooks or scythes. The guy screams and drops a few vital organs. I didn’t think much of that, since I’ve seen worse in other games and this one is quite definitely marked “mature”. However, my girlfriend left the room at that point. And she wasn’t even watching, she was just listening.

Now this is something most gamers might never notice, but the screams (at least in Bioshock) are frighteningly realistic. Stomach-churningly so, for someone who has actually heard actual humans actually scream with pain before. And that’s the girlfriend connection — she is in the unfortunate position that she hears that sort of thing from time to time due to her job in a hospital.

So now, at least with Bioshock, but probably before, we have reached the point of realism in gaming where the screams of game characters can get you to the edge of vomiting. Just by being realistic! And all the time, this went past me like so much smoke. I didn’t notice anything special about it; previous games have had similar screaming, similar noises and nowadays they don’t even touch me anymore. I didn’t even think they sounded particularly realistic. Is all of this weird?

Should we ease off on that and go somewhere else? Would Bioshock’s intensity and atmosphere be possible without the death-screams, the violence etc.? It’s something I’ve been asking myself for quite a while: Is the violence necessary, the realism of it, in order to make a game work? Just after I gave up trying to find out, the question materializes again in my mind.

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