Bioshock Infinite and the Original Sins of America - Apozem Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Bioshock Infinite and the Original Sins of America

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.

The Patriots

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 nothing new.

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.

The Anarchists

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 ideas.

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 hubris.

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 it's true.

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 what?

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