Always Already Monsters

‘BioShock‘’’s (2007) «Splicers» as Computational Others




monsters, video games, first-person shooter, BioShock (2007), zombies, otherness, computational other, hauntology


The article explores the manufacturing of monsters in video games, using the case of the influential 2007 first-person shooter BioShock, and ‘splicers’—its most numerous, zombie-like enemies. I combine two methodological perspectives on the ‘manufacturing’ of splicers by analyzing [a] the title’s developer commentary and other official paratexts to trace the design of splicers, and [b] the game’s embedded narrative to reconstruct the diegetic backstory of splicers. I argue that video game enemies, including splicers, are ‘computational others’, who may appear human on the level of representation, but whose behavior is machinic, and driven by computational algorithms. To justify the paradoxical relationship between their human-like representation and machinic behavior, BioShock includes an elaborate narrative that explains how the citizens of the underwater city of Rapture were dehumanized and transformed into hostile splicers. The narrative of dehumanization, explored following Haslam’s dehumanization theory (2006), includes [a] transforming splicers into atomized creatures by depriving them of political power and social bonds, [b] creating fungible and interchangeable enemies through splicers’ masks and bodily disintegration, [c] justifying splicers’ blindness to context and their simplistic behavior by portraying them as mentally unstable addicts. The article concludes that all video game enemies are inherently monstrous, and that critique of video game representation should focus on how games fail to make monsters human, rather than how games render humans monstrous or dehumanized.

Author Biography

Jaroslav Švelch, Charles University and University of Bergen

is an assistant professor at Charles University, Prague. He is the author of the recent monograph Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games (mit Press, 2018). He has published work on history and theory of video games, moral dilemmas in video games, and on the Grammar Nazi phenomenon. In 2017–2019, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen, researching history, theory, and reception of video game monsters.

Acknowledgements: The research for this article was conducted within the ‘Games and Transgressive Aesthetics’ project undertaken at the University of Bergen, and funded by the Research Council of Norway. The text has benefited from generous advice and feedback provided by two anonymous reviewers, the editors of the special issue, as well as Kristine Jørgensen, Kristian A. Bjørkelo, Cody Mejeur, Jan Švelch, Daniel Vella, and the reading group at the Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta.


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How to Cite

Švelch, Jaroslav. 2019. “Always Already Monsters: ‘BioShock‘’’s (2007) «Splicers» As Computational Others”. Nordlit, no. 42 (November):257–278.