One Week Ago – Before Beating BioShock:
I have a confession: I never beat BioShock. I played a fair amount of it, but my gaming PC in 2007 tragically died before I managed to make it to the credits. As anyone who has lost save files can understand, the prospect of replaying everything seemed too daunting, so it fell into my backlog of regret for more than a decade – until now.
You see, it’s not just that I haven’t beaten it: somewhat miraculously, I still don’t know BioShock’s twist. I know there is a twist and, from the way people talk about it, it seems to be a doozy. But here I am, 12 years after BioShock launched and three years since its remaster, and I’ve managed to survive every conversation about this now legendary FPS without hearing anything more than three simple words: “Would You Kindly?”
Seriously, that’s all I know. I’ve helped make lists about gaming’s biggest moments and craziest twists, but “Would You Kindly?” is the only way anyone has ever described this particular twist to me. Somehow, and I genuinely don’t know how, I’ve avoided hearing or seeing anything more than that, and I am downright amazed by it – to the point where I stopped telling people I hadn’t beaten BioShock just for fear of jinxing my already impressive streak.
The fact that I made it twelve years without learning what “Would You Kindly?” means is basically a miracle.
It seems to me that no matter how much time has passed, BioShock’s biggest moment still has this air of reverence around it. Even in 2019, people are careful about saying too much in a way they wouldn’t with other gaming or movie twists, at least from my naive perspective. I think part of it is that the shorthand “Would You Kindly?” is so completely nondescript to anyone not already in the know, but apparently communicates everything necessary to those who are. This encouraged a sense of mystique, of course, like it was such an amazing moment that even the chance it might be ruined for someone within earshot made people cautious.
I don’t know if the actual moment could ever live up to a decade of secrecy and suspense, but I’ve decided to finally find out. Everything in this article so far was written last week, before I started playing BioShock again, and now I’m going to dive back into the underwater world of Rapture and find out what those three words actually mean.
Would you kindly join me to see how it goes?
Two Hours In – Returning to Rapture:
Well heck, “Would You Kindly” was right there on your package in the opening cutscene, and then Atlas said it like three times in the first hour.
So that’s a thing I never noticed. I guess “Would You Kindly?” was a little bit more of a spoiler in hindsight than I would have expected, but I still have zero clue what it could mean or lead to. I just know it involves Atlas, but I feel like that’s not really a surprise. I am guessing it also involves Andrew Ryan, but I don’t need a decade old spoiler to tell me that.
I’m still in areas I played through on my first time around, and I’m sure I’m not anywhere near a twist yet, but I am undoubtedly enjoying my return to the claustrophobic and thrilling world of Rapture. BioShock holds up fairly well in 2019, even if it shows its age in less flattering ways at times – I’m actually playing the original 2007 version because the PC port of the 2016 remake is apparently still plagued by crashes. But I’m not here to re-review BioShock, so let’s pick this back up once I actually know what the heck everyone is talking about.
Now that I’ve noticed a couple “Would You Kindly?”s, I’m worried whatever is coming will be a bit less impactful as a result, but we shall see!
Eight Hours In – 15 Minutes After the Twist:
F**k. Jesus Christ. Like… holy hell…
So I got to the twist, and god damn. Even knowing a twist was coming, even noticing “Would You Kindly?” a few times before it, even putting some of the clues leading up to it together myself… I was not prepared for that moment. It undoubtedly, unequivocally lived up to the decade of hype that preceded it for me.
BioShock’s twist undoubtedly, unequivocally lived up to the decade of hype that preceded it for me.
More than that, even though I’m writing this less than twenty minutes after it happened, I instantly understand why people were always so careful to say too much about it. Not only because it’s significantly more involved and complex than I thought it would be (it’s not really something you can quickly describe), but also because it’s so well crafted that even deciding to write this article now makes me worry someone who has never played BioShock before will read it.
Before I dig into the meat of this, seriously, if you haven’t played BioShock, do both of us a favor and stop reading, go buy it, and meet back here in eight hours – I don’t want that guilt on my conscience.
We good? Cool, then let’s talk about the great big “Would You Kindly?” in the room.
BioShock did such an excellent job of making me think I knew what was going on before pulling the rug out from under me.
This is a master class twist. I thought I had figured it out beforehand, but I seriously hadn’t. Audio logs and radio voice lines leading up to entering Andrew Ryan’s office do such an excellent job of making you think you know what’s going on. So when I dropped down from the vent, saw “Would You Kindly?” scrawled onto the wall, and heard Suchong’s recording say the baby I thought grew up to be me looked 19 by age one, the whole world turned sideways on me.
I assumed, as I’m now sure the game wants you to, that I was just Ryan’s regular bastard child – some stranger dialogue made me think maybe his clone, but even that was far too pedestrian for the messed up world of Rapture. When the full truth of it was revealed, the rug was pulled out from under me so forcefully that everything following it hit me even harder.
That Ryan was just a normal guy, not a boss fight or grand confrontation, caught me completely off guard. The scene with him revealing your trigger words – the now infamous “Would You Kindly?” – was simultaneously excruciating to watch and a brilliant way to contextualize why some dude on a crashed plane would enter a sunken city and throw himself into the middle of a genetically-enhanced civil war.
The death of Andrew Ryan as he screams “a man chooses, a slave obeys,” just to make a point to you is a powerful one, but it’s just so flippin’ smart that BioShock disguises your character’s forced servitude as standard video game objectives up until that point. It seamlessly ties plot and gameplay together, making the connection undetectable until the perfect “Would You Kindly?” moment – a moment I figured would have come far closer to the end of the story than it did.
It’s fascinating to only just get this far in the first BioShock after having already beaten BioShock Infinite years ago. Choice (and the illusion of it) was so core to that story, and now I know exactly where those themes came from. Of course, Infinite makes its connections to the first game more explicit toward the end (spoilers), but I love finally having a better sense of just how deep its parallels run.
Look, I know I’m ultimately gushing about old news here, and I’m sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes at my naive amazement at a 12-year-old twist. But spoilers are insistent. I can’t believe I managed to avoid one as legendary as this for as long as I did, and getting to experience it fresh a decade later feels like winning the lottery.
And seriously, the “Would You Kindly?” moment is a great twist – one still worth celebrating in 2019. I finally know what all the fuss was about, and I’m happy I was able to share this moment with all of you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to beat this game before this computer dies too.
Unless… there’s not another twist, is there?
11 Hours In – BioShock Beaten:
Nope, just two equally strange and abrupt endings. Oh well! At least “Would You Kindly?” ruled.
Tom Marks is IGN’s Deputy Reviews Editor and resident pie maker, and he’s glad this Splicer is finally off of his chest. You can follow him on Twitter.