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by Corey
Rated: E · Essay · Cultural · #1927697
Rhetorical Analysis of the “Bioshock” series as a non-traditional artefact
In this essay, I will do a rhetorical analysis of Irrational Games and 2K Games’ “Bioshock” series as a non-traditional artefact (2008, 2010, 2012). The “Bioshock” series is a (mostly) video game based series, which deals strongly with the concept of utopia. “Bioshock 1” and “Bioshock 2” take place in Rapture, a city built at the bottom of the sea, meant to be a utopia, but failed and turned dystopia. “Bioshock: Infinite,” the upcoming game, deals with a new city, Columbia, and has similar themes as the first two. In this essay, I will identify the “Bioshock” series as a non-traditional text. After that, I will go through three major points:

1. detecting persuasion in choices about ethics (non-discrete),

2. applying the democratic (non-hierarchical) nature to two examples,

3. and the rhetoric in a pathos saturated climax (non-expository).

Each of these points will show how rhetorical activity can be detected in a non-traditional text where they are least suspected.

Identifying “Bioshock” as a non-traditional artefact

In this paragraph I will identify the “Bioshock” series as a non-traditional text by proving it operates in (1) non-expository, (2) non-discrete and (3) non-hierarchical ways. (1) A non-traditional artefact is most often metonymic or narrative (i.e. non-expository) (Brummet, 2011). “Bioshock” is metonymic in many ways. For example, Rapture, the ruined underwater city, is metonymic of utopia and dystopia because of how Rapture is developed as a utopia meant to be free of God and government, only for man, but has failed and turned into a nightmare and dystopia (Bioshock, 2008). This metonymy is dynamic throughout the series, discussed later in this essay. The “Bioshock” series is inherently narrative, as it tells a story, much of which contains explicit narration. However, even many diffuse parts of the text are narrative. The best example of this is the interactive website that came prior to the “Bioshock 2” release: somethinginthesea.com (2009). It is a purely story based part of the text, offering no explanation of what the site is otherwise, and was supplemented by real life posters, posted on street lamps and buildings around the United States (McWhertor, 2009). This website and its posters brought the story directly into the real world. It is narrative because it involves the story. I have now shown that the “Bioshock” series is narrative and metonymic and therefore a non-expository artefact. (2) A diffuse text has no well defined boundaries for its time or space (Brummet, 2011). The “Bioshock” series is a diffuse text because it has no well defined boundaries, which can be proven by attempting to answer ‘what are the boundaries of the “Bioshock” series?’ This question creates more but easier to examine questions such as: do you consider the sequel within the boundaries? What about the players? Is the book an alternate text with alternate boundaries? And so on. The broad range of answers to each of these questions contributes to a broad range of answers in the original question. Since the question ‘what are the boundaries of the “Bioshock” series’ has such a broad range of answers, I have proven the boundaries of the “Bioshock” series cannot be well defined and therefore the “Bioshock” series is a diffuse, non-discrete text. (3) Lastly, democratic is a form of non-hierarchical text (Brummet, 2011). The “Bioshock” series is a democratic text because it brought together by the players who are going to play it. It is chosen by the players when they purchase it, which can be seen as players using their money to ‘vote’ for “Bioshock” as a successful product. As well, the players have control over how strongly they involve themselves with “Bioshock” through how much time they choose to invest into the game and how other texts affect their experience with it. This involvement is a democratic process because players have assembled the text and allow other diffuse texts to contribute to it. I have now shown that the “Bioshock” series is a democratic text and therefore is non-hierarchical. Since I have shown the “Bioshock” series operates in non-expository, non-discrete and non-democratic ways, I have proven it is a non-traditional text.

Persuasion in choices about ethics

In “Bioshock,” players are faced with the choice of saving or killing Little Sisters, girls who have been genetically altered to become gatherers of a special substance (ADAM) (Bioshock, 2008). The trade off being you will gain more power at the instant if you kill them. In this paragraph I will (4) briefly show that these ethics-questioning decisions are non-traditional in nature, (5) determine some of the rhetorical activity involved, and (6) show how it is detected. (4) These ‘good or bad’ choices are a part of “Bioshock”, and since “Bioshock” is a non-traditional text as proved before, so are the parts of its sum; therefore the choices are non-traditional in nature. (5) I will now determine some of the rhetorical activity involved in the in-game decisions. The first time you are asked to save or harvest a Little Sister, two primary characters are communicating to you on either choice, offering their arguments to make you choose one action over the others (‘it must be done, they are no longer even human’ versus ‘the Little Sisters can be saved’) (Bioshock, 2008). First off, there is rhetoric in the two different people trying to convince you do two different things. They are actively trying to persuade you by their rhetoric. However, there is much deeper, unsuspected rhetoric within this situation. The game and its creators are actively trying to persuade you to make a decision regarding ethics, and by doing that, they are persuading you to consider your morals and categorize yourself into what you believe either action entails (this is shown as a part of (6)). This is a persuasion because the player has the option to not continue with the game, and therefore have the game maker’s persuasion fail. I have now identified rhetoric within the decisions about Little Sisters in “Bioshock”. (6) The unsuspected rhetoric within the ‘good or bad’ choices of the game can be detected by examining “Bioshock” as a diffuse artefact. The boundaries of “Bioshock” can include the makers of the game, as well as the players, because they are both involved with the game somehow. This inclusion is important because there is now a connection between the player and the game makers. This connection is possible because “Bioshock” is diffuse. Since I have proven the connection between the player and the game maker, I will now examine that connection. What does the player want with the game maker? To try the game the makers have created. More importantly, though, what does the game maker want with the player? They want them to play their game, and they achieve this through persuasive means (which can be proven with the definition of advertising). However, this persuasion does not stop at the purchase of the game because the game makers know there is some indirect benefit involved if the player completes the game. For example, if the player finishes the game, they may recommend it to their friends or boast the game in some other way. Since I have shown that the game makers persuade you to play the game, even after purchase, and that to play the game, you must make choices about ethics, I have shown that the game makers are persuading the player to make decisions about ethics. In this proof, I have revealed that to detect these unsuspected modes of persuasion one can look at the different connections between different parts of the diffuse artefact. I have now proven the non-traditional nature of the decisions one makes within “Bioshock” about the saving or harvesting the Little Sisters, I have found rhetorical activity within the situation and determined that it can be detected by looking at the different connections within the diffuse “Bioshock” artefact.

Two examples of rhetoric in “Bioshock” as a democratic artefact

In this paragraph, I will use two examples to show how to detect rhetorical activity in the “Bioshock” series (as a democratic artefact). In "Bioshock" and “Bioshock 2”, advertising is heavily prevalent and used as a way to signal the player spots to purchase upgrades or supplies and how to use those purchases (2008, 2010). Jason Rose, a recent master’s graduate at Louisiana State University, points out the irony of advertising being effective in a crumbling and catastrophic city (Rose, 2011). This irony can be detected by understanding how the text is democratic. The text is democratic because the player is including their understanding of advertising into the artefact. When this understanding includes how pervasive advertising is, the player realizes how ironic it is for advertising to be used in Rapture. I have now shown one of my examples. In the upcoming game, “Bioshock Infinite,” the setting is very familiar to World War Two (2012). "Bioshock Infinite" uses propaganda posters (pathos appeal) to develop Columbia, a city similar to Rapture but in the sky, and its firmly patriotic and nationalist utopia. This pathos appeal can be detected by understanding the democratic way the game works. The player will be able to bring in their ideas of propaganda and propaganda posters to understand the pathos appeal used in the posters and how the posters develop Columbia as a patriotic and nationalist utopia. The bringing in of ideas into the diffuse text of “Bioshock” is a democratic process because the player is assembling these texts together. When analyzing the democratic nature of “Bioshock: Infinite,” it is apparent the player is bringing in an understanding of propaganda posters, which leads back to pathos appeal. This is how the analysis of the text (in its democratic nature) finds rhetorical activity (pathos) in the text. I have now shown how rhetoric can be detected in both of my examples by analyzing the democratic nature of the text.

Rhetoric in a pathos saturated climax

For this paragraph, it is a good idea to view the Youtube video reference and refer back to it as necessary (MrSnuggleduck, 2010).

In this paragraph I will (7) show that the climax (the good ending) of “Bioshock 2” is saturated with pathos, (8) identify rhetoric within the climrax, and (9) show how metonymy and narrative help detect such rhetoric. (7) Pathos is created as a mode of appeal in persuasion to affect the audience’s feelings (Keith and Lundberg, 2008). “Bioshock 2” uses a heavy focus on pathos appeal throughout the game, and while the player is experiencing the climax of the game, they are completely saturated in this pathos. Kayleigh Stone, an English student, explains on the choice between saving or harvesting the Little Sisters; from a point of utility, every Little Sister should be harvested to maximize your power, yet many will still choose to save them (2012). The Little Sisters’ last line of defence is the pathos appeal of avoiding the shocking image of killing a child and instead experiencing the positive music and good feeling of seeing her saved (Stone, 2012). From Stone, the heavy focus on pathos is apparent. Furthermore, just at the beginning of the climax, the player experiences ‘their daughter’ (Eleanor) either saving or drowning the major antagonist of the story. Saving or drowning is determined by, and the culmination, of how the player has acted throughout the game with regards to their choices regarding saving or killing certain characters (Little Sisters included) (Bioshock 2, 2010); it is also important to note how much the game emphasizes your choices because this affects pathos appeal and also to note that when there is a choice of this nature, there is almost always persuasion. At this point, the scene involving Eleanor has completely saturated the player in pathos appeal because of how strongly it has affected their emotional state by reminding them of every thought provoking choice they’ve made in the game (and perhaps more). I have now shown that the climax of “Bioshock 2” is saturated in pathos. (8 & 9) In the climax, Eleanor’s narrative is persuasive (i.e. rhetorical). She is trying to convince the player evil is just a word, mercy is victory and utopia is a people, not a place (Bioshock 2, 2010). At first, the player might not think the climax is rhetorical because it offers no arguments or examples, but by examining metonymy and narrative, the persuasion can be detected. From (1) we know that Rapture was developed in the series as metonymy for utopia, and when Eleanor mentions utopia, the two become connected. By considering this connection, it can be shown that Eleanor is trying to persuade us to accept a new meaning of utopia, and change what is metonymic of utopia. This is shown by realizing persuasion is the only reasonable connection after such huge development in the pathos appeal and that any other connection between the two would squander the developed pathos. Examining the narrative helps explain how to detect the persuasion. For example, in the narrative, Eleanor’s frequent referencing to the player (‘you’, ‘we’, ect.), when she says “you are my conscience father, and I need you to guide me,” and as she absorbs your consciousness (regardless of how sci-fi it is) (MrSnuggleduck, 2010), all develop pathos appeal when the climax is seemingly already saturated in pathos. This inconsistency is what allows someone analyzing the climax to realize that there some rhetoric present and it is using up some of the pathos appeal; the narrative is simply refilling the pathos appeal to saturation. I have now shown that the climax in “Bioshock 2” is saturated in pathos, I have identified rhetoric within the climax of “Bioshock 2” and shown how metonymy and narrative can be used to detect this rhetoric.


In conclusion I have shown that the “Bioshock” series is a non-traditional text. This was important for the rest of my arguments. I have proven that by looking at the different connections of a diffuse text, one can determine rhetorical activity in ethic-questioning choices regarding the Little Sisters. I have used the dramatic nature of the “Bioshock” series to detect rhetoric in two examples of advertising and propaganda. Lastly, I have proven that metonymy and narrative can be used to find rhetoric in a pathos saturated climax. These conclusions show the non-expository, non-discrete and non-hierarchical ways in which a non-traditional text operates and how these ways can be used to detect rhetorical activity in Irrational Games and 2K Game’s “Bioshock” series, a place where rhetoric is least suspected.


Bioshock. (2008). Boston: Irrational Games and 2K Games.

Bioshock 2. (2010) Boston: Irrational Games and 2K Games.

Bioshock: Infinite. (2012) Boston: Irrational Games and 2K Games.

Brummet, Barry. (2011). Rhetoric in Popular Culture. 3rd. California, Thousand Oaks, USA: SAGE Publications, Inc..

Bourgonjon, J., Rutten, K., Soetaert, R., & Valcke, M. (2011). From counter-strike to counter-statement: using burke’s pentad as a tool for analyzing video games. Retrieved from http://www.onderwijskunde.ugent.be/downloads/Bourgonjon_DC.pdf

Keith, William M. and Lundberg, Christian O. (2008). The Essential Guide to Rhetoric. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

McWhertor, M. (2009, March 5). Kotaku: Bioshock 2 warns “there’s something in the sea”. Retrieved from http://kotaku.com/5165091/bioshock-2-warns-theres-something-in-the-sea

MrSnuggleduck. (2010). Bioshock 2 Good Ending. Youtube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NtWeTrLQk8

Rose, Jason. (2011). Emotion and Rhetoric in Bioshock. Master’s thesis, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, United Stated.

Stone, K. (2012, January 26). Rhetoric in bioshock. Retrieved from http://persuasive3.pbworks.com/w/page/50247360/Rhetoric of Bioshock

There's something in the sea. (2009). Retrieved from http://somethinginthesea.com/home.html

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