Review: Bioshock’s Objectivism

Bioshock is a video game franchise created by Ken Levine, the basis of the first game is based on Objectivism being applied in an underwater city called rapture. Intended to be an utopia of the producers, certain (non-objectivist) conditions made it less habitable than expected. When the discovery of genetic altering material ADAM occured (with severe side effects), the people who hold opposing ideological views against the founder- Andrew Ryan were able to take advantage of the chaos created by ADAM and disrupt Rapture. The player controls Jack, a survivor of a plane crash near the terminal of bathyspehre (a Rapture technology for transportations) finds his way into the fallen city and must make his way of escaping. Bioshock 2 continues the story from Bioshock 1 but with a new protagonist- Delta who must prevent another villain from her communist goal of erasing autonomy of everyone in Rapture. Bioshock Infinite was based on a new premises though the creator made a spin off to tie the loose ends in both stories.

Bioshock is a spiritual successor of another video game franchise called System Shock with an similar game play but set in the outer space. Bioshock uses the survival horror genre and moral choices to create an unique experience for the players. The success of the franchise is based on its original story and compelling characters, the story was told in the form of audio recordings and people encountered by the protagonist, the unique style allows for the story to be understood as the player progresses.

Warning: Contains spoilers

While the story was mainly told through the gameplay, a tie in prequel novel titled Bioshock: Rapture offered more insight into the story. Below is my summary of the first 2 games and the novel:

Andrew Ryan (Russian: Andrei Rayanovsky) is a self made billionaire (as an anagram of Ayn Rand, Alisa Rosenbaum) who grew weary of the world after the atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese, he forged a plan to build the freest society on earth- underwater. An English engineer called Bill McDonagh arrived at Andrew Ryan’s penthouse to fix the plumbing system, he improved the quality of the system out of his own expense which led to Ryan noticing his honesty and pride, McDonagh was then invited to become the building engineer of Ryan’s secret project. At the same time, murderous con artist Frank Fontaine discovers the project and seek to profit from it.

When Rapture was complete, the workers involved in the project all had to live in the newly created society, other producers were invited by Ryan to join the society in exchange of all their possessions for Rapture dollars (while Ryan slowly liquidates his assets to fund Rapture) Rapture runs as a night-watchman state that everyone owns private properties, Ryan supports himself by collecting fees and providing security and maintenance of the buildings. Ryan hired a team of scientists to improve the conditions of Rapture, the more notable ones were Julie Langford the botanist who supplies oxygens while Brigid Tenenbaum, a geneticist was recruited by Fontaine to produce gene tonic called ADAM which can splice the DNA of users. Life at Rapture was quite divided, the workers lived in ghettos of Rapture due to them having little resource and skill to begin with (though not all were stuck in the condition) while the producers arrived after the construction of Rapture were able to form multiple successful businesses. The natural condition of lack of space and resources have led to problems involving a grocery owner killing a waste cleaner who refused to dispose his garbage then committing suicide. The unrest allowed Fontaine to take advantage of the situation. He formed his own smuggling business to supply the banned items under the guise of running a fishery. Fontaine obtained services from Tenenbaum and Yi Suchong, a Korean scientist representing Greed, to develop gene tonics commercially (which requires little girls as medium for mass production). He opened a fake orphanage for this purpose while pretending to form private charity to undermine Ryan.

Ryan in the meantime employed a clinical psychiatrist Sofia Lamb to deal with the gloomy (lower class) population. *This part made no sense as Ryan was a good judge of character, Lamb was destined to cause trouble. Lamb’s communist/utilitarian ideal began to undermine Ryan as she rallied people to join her crusade against the conditions in the ghetto. Ryan engaged in public debate with her hoping to use reason to dispel her but to no avail. People began to form a cult around her and even willing to kill for her. Ryan later imprisoned her and some of her followers over the crimes she has committed. Lamb also bored a daughter and entrusted another follower Grace Holloway to take care of her daughter. Lamb would not return to significance until Bioshock 2 (we will come back to her).

Fontaine, learning from Lamb, created Fontaine’s Home for the Poor to raise his image while continue to experiment on the unfortunates.As Fontaine’s influence grew stronger, Ryan discovered the criminal activities and had it shut down as well as apparently killing Fontaine during a raid. But it was all part of Fontaine’s scheme, he secretly created Bioshock 1’s protagonist Jack Wynand using an embryo from Ryan’s mistress, Jasmin Jolene. Jack was smuggled out of Rapture to live on the surface as a sleeping agent who would be used against Ryan later. The fake death allowed Fontaine to avoid his punishment and began the second phase of his plan- creating a new identity called Atlas (with an Irish accent), proleteriat hero similar to Big Brother.

Meanwhile, McDonagh began to think he had made a mistake. Unlike Ryan, McDonagh has a more realistic outlook. Ryan slowly began to stray away from objectivism and turn to being the Big Brother, he nationalized Fontaine Futuristics and even contemplated to charging people for oxygen. Fontaine’s alter ego is also gaining support from the rapture populace due to the perceived altruism he was able to fake in public. Rapture Civil War began at the fateful New Years Eve party in 1958 where Atlas’ revolutionaries planted bombs and killed many in IRA fashion. Atlas and Ryan continued their arm race in the heart of the cities. Ryan employed Suchong to create Big Daddy who are the protectors of Little Sisters who can gather ADAM (from corpse). Atlas used guerilla tactics to destroy the confidence of Ryan’s followers which proved to be successful early on but the desperate Ryan began to use pheromones to control the splicers (people who uses ADAM) even though it is against their free will. The disappointed McDonagh and others attempted to assassinate Ryan but all failed and their corpses were hung outside of Ryan’s office (at this time, Tenebaum also grew maternal and started to protect Little Sisters). Seeing the tides being turned, Atlas awoke his sleeper agent and Bioshock 1 began.

Jack, arrived at Rapture via a lighthouse and he was contacted by Atlas who offered Jack support in exchange of helping his non-existent family and himself to escape. Ryan is being portrayed as the antagonist in the process he tried to stop Fontaine and Jack. Eventually Jack reaches the escape submarine but Ryan managed to send a wave of splicers to destroy the submarine in the process, which led to the anger of Atlas and forcing Jack to kill Ryan with the catchphrase “Would you kindly?”. With Ryan dead, now Fontaine has the full control of Rapture and he sent his minions to destroy Jack but not before Jack was able to escape with the help of Little Sisters to Tenenbaum’s Sanctuary, she erased the conditioning placed on Jack but discovered Fontaine also placed a fail which would slowly stop Jack’s heart from beating. As all heroes, Jack found the antidote. Jack finally defeated Fontaine in the last confrontation and escaped with the Little Sisters he has saved during his quest, Bioshock 2 began 8 years later.

With Fontaine and Ryan dead, Lamb was able to rise to prominence again with her cult “The Rapture Family”. Rapture family believes that everyone must live together in soliarity so that everyone can survive the dying Rapture, the theme of the cult is for members to be reborn into selfless entity serving the “Family”, only then can a person reach salvation. She took over the prison she was confined in and controlled the now grown up “Big Sisters” who kidnap little girls across the coastline to create more Little Sisters. The story began with Delta, a Big Daddy who was pair bounded with Lamb’s daughter Eleanor suffered an accident on a gathering mission, who woke up to the stress call of Eleanor. He journeyed through rapture to find Eleanor while Lamb tried to stop him. Lamb’s ultimate goal was to have Eleanor control everyone in rapture through a single conscious, thus eliminating the concept of self in the process. The game ends when Rapture is destroyed and Lamb being brought to Justice.

It’s nice to see a game made about Objectivism. There are many debates on whether the game is pro-objectivism or anti-objectivism, I think Ken Levine’s interview gave us the perfect explanation:

…when Rand writes a book like Atlas Shrugged, she can populate it with people who are perfect avatars of her vision. But we wanted to tell the story of a world where there are very imperfect creatures under the rigours of this ideology, and what would actually happen. To me, it’s a good way to express that doubt I have about ideologies. To set the bar where that ideology really has the opportunity to flourish, and see what happens.

Rapture did not work because not everyone was an objectivist who had the same sense of life, and it fell apart when there was limited resources (as well as some arbitray laws that were against a free society such as prohibition of religious books). So no, it was an inspiration but certainly not the full story.

Bioshock Infinite is the sequel which was inspired by the French Revolution that shows both sides of the forces were evil much like how Rand talked about the Red and White army being equally oppressive during her time in Russia.

All 3 games worth a good play through if you have time, they are available for purchase on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Alternatively, you can view play-throughs here


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