The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
Bioshock has always been a singularly unique series. The
gameplay and setting are always superb, but what really makes Bioshock games
special is their political content. When you step into the world of Rapture and
the upcoming flying city Columbia, it's not just a stock background for
shooting generic bad guys. The world within Bioshock exists to provide a
compelling environment for an adventure and
to comment upon the past or present of American politics.
"Well, wait a minute. I played Bioshock, there wasn't any
political stuff in it!" you foolishly protest. Think again. I wrote up a post
back in the day explaining the philosophy behind the original Bioshock.
Andrew Ryan and his flawed paradise were based off of the ideas of the
influential political writer Ayn Rand.
Her ideas (objectivism) attained a small but fervent cult following among
strong libertarians. People who believe in Ayn Rand are a bit like Lost fans: no one really likes them, but
they stick to their beliefs anyway.
Ayn Rand's rhetoric was the ideological fuel that powered
Rapture. Rand was the first one to come up with the idea of a society which
only allowed "great people" to join. She saw great thinkers, philosophers,
artists, scientists, and athletes as being constrained by those weaker than
them. In her ideal world, everyone would be free to do exactly as they pleased
with no rules to hold man back from achieving his true potential. Andrew Ryan
built exactly that ultra-free paradise under the chilly Atlantic seas.
That's why Bioshock was so interesting on an intellectual
level. You actually get to explore an Ayn Rand-ian city and see what would
happen if somebody really did try to make a society of the great. The result of
course is utter failure. "Great" people are just as flawed as their ordinary
cousins. No true paradise can ever exist in real life. It's just not compatible
with human nature. Cynical, but sadly true.
Now look at Bioshock
Infinite. There's a lot in Columbia to process, and I'm not just talking
about the awesome zipline fights. Once again, Ken Levine and his team are fueling
up on more ideology for a single title than most games ever burn over a whole
franchise. The fractured city of Columbia is best described as America in its
most concentrated, extreme form. This is strictly speculation, but to me the
city appears to embody everything that is politically wrong with America. No
nation or political system is perfect. The fractured denizens of Columbia are
the living form of our mistakes, walking representations of the flaws inherent
to American politics.
Take the representatives of what is considered conservative,
right-wing politics. Throughout American history, there have been waves of
nationalism and anti-immigrant hysteria. What that means in simpler words is
that people get scared. People fear those who are different. Anybody foreign,
anyone who doesn't fit in, anyone who isn't "one of us" is considered an
outcast. From the Know-Nothing Party of the 19th century to the
Tea Party of the 21st, there have always been certain people who are
fundamentally afraid of anything foreign. Their fear pushes them to cling
tighter to their own country.
The Tea Party is a perfect example of this kind of thing.
Look at what they believe in. Fear of immigrants and foreigners? Check. Fear of
non-Christians? Check. Borderline worship of America's Founding Fathers? Check.
The most ironic part is that the conservative patriots of Bioshock Infinite
were conceived of well before the Tea Party appeared. Tea Partiers are driven by
fear and ignorance, two unfortunate qualities inherent to our nation. They're
That is the first fundamental sin of America: ignorance. Far, far too many people
live in ignorance of other people, other cultures, and other ways of living.
They allow themselves to think that different means untrustworthy. Ignorance
creates fear, and fear pushes them to hold even more tightly onto what they do
believe in: America and the Founding Fathers. The Tea Party is the latest
incarnation of the tide of ignorance in America, but it won't be the last.
Then there's the liberal, left-wing side. The other faction
of Bioshock Infinite believes in absolute socialism and zero private property.
This too is nothing new. Communism (and the various forms of socialism which
accompany it) sprang up after the Industrial Revolution. Back around the early
1900s, the rise of factories and industry had created a lot of problems for
average factory workers.
Communism was supposed to solve those problems and help the
workers. Only it didn't. In fact, it's proved to be one of the most
catastrophic experiments in human history. The food shortages caused by the
socialists in communist Russia and China killed millions of people through
starvation and disease. To this day, the only communist country to achieve any
sort of success is China, ironically by shedding most of their old communist
That's why I can't help but regard communism and socialism
as a whole with skepticism. Occupy Wall Street seems rather intent on reaching
some form of socialism (or not at all, depending on who you talk to) and that
seems like a bad idea. The European Union experimented with socialism, and look
how that turned out. If you haven't been following the news, the Europeans are
struggling with the various problems caused by socialist policies.
They're in trouble.
The communists and socialists and intellectuals are guilty
of the second sin of American politics: arrogance.
The American thinkers and writers of the 1920s who first conceived of socialism
in all its forms were conceited. They were arrogant enough to believe that if
they thought hard enough, any problem could be solved by communism and their
cleverness. The millions of people who died of famine in China and Russia stand
as a testament to the failure of the intellectuals. The word for that is
When The Dust Settles
That's a lot to digest. There are more ideas being thrown
around Bioshock Infinite than in a decent political theory class. The game
looks like it pits the two extreme ends of the American political spectrum
against each other. However, the liberal and conservative ideologies are
distilled to their unadulterated essence so that the player can see just how
flawed each one is. The lesson of Columbia is that when people try to push their
extreme ideology into the real world, no one wins... least of all the people
doing the pushing.
That's the thing, isn't it? No matter what either side does,
they'll never really be happy. The Tea Partiers want everyone who's not a white
Protestant Christian to leave America. The anarchist core of Occupy Wall Street
would rather the government left America. The problem is that neither of those
things will ever happen. It's just not realistic. Same thing goes for Columbia.
Of course, a lot of this is guesswork. My knowledge of the
background and competing ideologies driving Columbia are supplied by our good
friends at Game Informer and the previews adorning their magazine. For all I
know, the final message could be totally different. I think that my guesses are
realistic based on the previews, but that all could change.
However, I still stand by the two sins concept. That's just
history incorporated into Bioshock Infinite. It's not pretty or palatable, but
What do you think? Is American politics really guilty of the
two sins of ignorance and arrogance? Is there a way to solve them or are we
just running in circles? Please keep the comments clean. I know if this blog is done correctly, I have just offended all of you. Please remain polite.
On a lighter note, do those zipline fights look cool or