Art Essay – Art Deco Research (part 1)

We’ve been asked to write an essay on a unique time of art history. As an example of this, Tony showed us the use of art deco in Bioshock. It was a big style prominent in the 1920s and 1930s which found its way into everything from architecture to fashion, furniture to jewellery. The most obvious characteristics of the design was the symmetry – each item seemed to be divided in half and perfectly mirrored. There was an ostentatious feel to the movement, where people felt like their were living a more luxurious life than maybe they were. Finally, there was a distinct feel of mass-production and repetition, even though much of it was still being hand-made.

Given these observations, it’s easy to see where the creators of Bioshock – mainly director Ken Levine – saw the uniqueness of the art deco movement and decided to use it. Seeing that it wasn’t a style previously capitalised on in a first-person shooter game, I think this was an extremely risky but rewarding decision. The look of the game is like a character itself – the look of Rapture was heavily inspired by the story of John D. Rockefeller, where the Great Depression ruined a lot of the potential in the art deco movement.

Even comparing the signage from the real art deco movement (pictured above) and the advert for Rapture used in the game (pictured below) shows how they used symmetry and specific letter types. It felt like extravagant staircases and feature hallways were a big thing, linking the real world look with what they replicated in the game. Even something like the Chrysler building seems to be featured in the cityscape; that tall, uniformed architecture that showed off the wealth of the place.

There was a heavy reliance on clean lines and blocky shapes, which makes Rapture feel like it was frozen in the height of the roaring 20s. I really like the look of the game, but now it’s a part of Bioshock and would be difficult for other games to replicate. I find the neon signs reminiscent of the Vegas stripe, which first saw its popularity boost 20 years after its establishment in the 1930s when legalised gambling saw waves of visitors.

I don’t think I’ll be picking to write my essay about an art deco game like Bioshock, but there are so many other options out there. Even Bioshock Infinite seems to draw its inspiration more from American Victorian steampunk┬ástyle/architecture, since it takes place in 1912 this makes sense.

My next post will be about the game I’ve chosen to write my essay about and how the research for that goes.


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