The lights are on
In order to understand how this story came about and why I felt it important to write, I need to break a rule. I need to insert myself, just a bit, into the narrative.
I was raised in a Jewish home, and we worshiped at a Reformed synagogue. To understand what that means, know that during confirmation classes we ate meatball pizza. The Rabbi loved it.
While we didn’t keep kosher, we did attend Shabbat and holiday services. There was a menorah to light at Hannukah, services to attend on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Hebrew school to fidget in once a week after school and on the weekend.
I learned to read and pronounce Hebrew, but never really learned to converse in the language. I figured that would come in time, because my Rabbi suggested more than once that I should consider Rabbinical school (a humorous thought in retrospect).
My religion has always been a part of my life. In my freshman year at the University of Richmond, you’d think I was the first student at the school to ever ask for a kosher Passover meal based on the reaction. By the time I graduated though, there was a small spread for the Jewish students.
I continued to attend services, observe fasting on Yom Kippur, and swallow an unfathomable amount of matzah on Passover. That has faded over the years, and I might be what you’d call a “secular Jew.”
Being Jewish is still very much part of my background and who I am today. It isn’t the only thing, though. I’m a father, a husband, a gamer, a writer, a singer, and a lover of humor. All of these pieces make up the person you’d get to know if we met in person.
With the alignment of Passover and Easter again this year, I quipped on Twitter that I should have put together a list of game characters who are Jewish. I meant this as a joke, naming Borderlands’ Claptrap and Destiny’s Ghost (aka Dinklebot) as likely candidates.
Then, I received a note from Ken Levine, founder of Irrational Games (now secretively working on a new project). His message was simple. “Dude, so’s pretty much half the cast of Bio 1,” he said.
I had figured Sander Cohen as a sure thing. Cohen is one of the most Jewish names there is, as it translates directly to “priest” in Hebrew. And, with his “congregation” of artists that he had assembled, this seemed to make a lot of sense.
Levine continued, though. “Ryan, Steinman, Tenenbaum, Lutz…” he rattled off.
Ryan’s city of Rapture, founded on the principles of Objectivism, isn’t a bastion of religion. The philosophy has a selfish bent, which is in stark contrast to the tenets of most religions, especially Judaism and its 613 mitzvot (Hebrew for “good deeds”).
“It was less about faith and more about what their Jewishness meant to others,” Levine told me in a pre-interview message exchange. “Ryan’s Bourgeois family was ruined by the Bolsheviks. Tenenbaum’s family was slaughtered by the Nazis. Cohen and Steinman were cultural American Jews, but in that time, others defined them by their Jewishness.”
It’s from there that our phone interview begins, taking a path from Rapture, to Columbia, and into the future of Levine’s work with his new team.
Read on to learn more about how history shaped some of BioShock’s most important figures.