There are few games that brought me excitement and passion during my life. If I have to cite some of them, that would be the Phantasy Star series (SEGA Master System, the Shining Force series (SEGA Genesis), the Fallout Series (PC, Xbox 360) and finally at the center of this blog the Bioshock series.
I never have developed a particular attraction before, God knows why until I once offered myself a bundle of 2K games including XCom, Borderlands and finally Bioshock. Once I started the game, it was love at first sight! Why? Maybe because the games timeline taking place in 1959 that brings in it very close of Fallout pre-war. Before I go further down my feedback and thoughts about the Bioshock Franchise I will just warn of ****SPOILER ALERTS****. If you want to have a great experience, you should not read the rest of this post.
Bioshock was indeed really a shock as the way you start. You are on a plane, in 1959 flying over the sea. You would think what could go wrong? Well this is just the beginning. Your plane crash in the sea and you are the sole survivor capable to escape the sinking plane. Fortunately for you, there is a lighthouse that seems like a beacon of light in this darkness. Indeed, this is more than a lighthouse and is the entrance of a utopian project carried by Andrew Ryan, highly influenced by Ayn Rand philosophies. A world where there is something people call libertarianism, in which you are your own master. You know that utopian dreams are deemed to fail and you will just get a taste of it. Here you are, finding a bathyscaphe that brings you down the “Rapture”: a complete city located hundreds of feet underwater.
And things starts wild: you are the witness of a murder from your bathyscaphe and got it hammered by a spider Splicer. You are alone, lost in a deserted underwater city. How else it can becomes more gloomy than that? As a providence, you start with a radio in which a man called Atlas, posing as a revolutionary leader, is here to help you to survive and get you both out this place. Hearing Atlas voice brings some solace from such chaotic start.
What seems as an altruist is only masking his real intentions. In French we say “Hell is paved by good deeds”. The more you advance towards the story, the more you start to doubt about his real plans behind him. Oh yes, have you noticed the chain tattooed on your wrists? Time will come to talk about it.
You face an army of splicers, that are humans that have abused plasmids. Plasmids are some perks that can be found in the Rapture, it modifies your DNA (as real plasmids would do) giving you extra perks such as throwing lightning bolts from your hands or giving you telekinesis perks. These splicers were former Rapture inhabitants that progressively became insane by the isolation from the daylight and by the abuse of plasmids. It brings back that even in the brave new world people will never find satisfaction and will have to find ways to escape even the most perfect world. Thats brings some parallel to the Prohibition in the 1920s. Some politicians saw alcohol as the cause of society illness and decided to outlaw its consumption. Guess what? After a decade, it what just removed because it just proved to be ineffective and brought more criminal activity due to bootlegging and smuggling than before.
In utopian dreams, everyone have access to same privileges and same luxury. Of course this system is doomed to fail. Unless you live in a desert island, you will have a hierarchy composed by a ruling class and an ruled class. This is the structure of any society, societies will try to accommodate it as much as they can to reduce these differences or in contrast widens the gap between these two classes. If you widen such gap too much, you will instigate a call for change from the ruled class that will result in the Revolution and eventually into a Civil War.
This is what happened during the French Revolution. The majority of French population were either peasants or “bourgeois” (that would be something similar to the current middle class), above them where the ruling elite composed by the Noblesse (including the Royal hierarchy) and the Catholic Church. The ruling elite was nurtured by the ruled class through the collections of taxes. In the counterpart, the ruling class will provide physical (army) and spiritual (Church) protection to the ruled class.
In the end of the 18th century (1780-1800), the ruled class had enough of being heavily taxed and following the call of King of France, started to collect complains into delegates from all over the Kingdom. We can see a similar parallel to Andrew Ryan utopian city. Ryan tried to compensate such complains by letting the smuggling of good from the surface (through Frank Fontaine), the promotion of culture (through Cohen) and by bringing some psychological counseling in the person of Sofia Lamb (she will be discussed more about in Bioshock 2). With any utopian dream, you will have people attracted by benefits that will work to make such system efficient to their profit and get their share of power.
Thats introduce us to Frank Fontaine. Fontaine is one of these shark that can smell some good profits and will make the dirty job for a while. Frank is a seasoned con-man (if we rely on the Bioshock Wiki) and surely a smooth-talker as Atlas and is the man behind the smuggling and contraband. He is also the man behind Fontaine Futuristics and made huge profits from ADAM and did not have remorse to kidnap orphan girls to turn them into Little Sisters. This greed of power and lack of morality is raised when you face for the first time a little sister. It puts into a dilemma: should you harvest a little sister from her ADAM or should you rescue her by removing the parasite and having less ADAM harvested? Thats put you in a delicate situation and Fontaine will not mind to tell to just harvest them.
This lust of power surely raised concern from Ryan and decided to get rid of Fontaine once for all by “nationalizing” Fontaines businesses (a complete contradiction of Ryan’s utopian philosophy and show how short-lived utopians are when facing the reality) and by eliminating the competition. Fontaine escaped his death and indeed planned his takeover of Rapture by posing as Atlas. Again a direct allusion to Ayn Rand “Atlas Shrugged”.
By posing as Atlas, an Irish fishermen, Fontaine use the anger and misery of the low-income workers of Rapture that are servile mass to Ryan’s elite inhabitants of Rapture.
We can see that the Rapture reached a point of rupture as marked by the overall chaos and signs posted all over the game. Such event is referred as the Civil War in which Fontaine posing as a revolutionary leader promising a bright future to the working class once the despot will be deposed. Can anyone see some parallels with the Russian revolution?
The superchery is revealed at the end when we met Andrew Ryan and in a formidable twist learn about our origin Jack and the meaning of the word “would you kindly?”. An “Ace in the Hole” as referred by Suchong. It shows how easily we have been fooled from the beginning. We are alone, afraid and powerless against an army of splicers. Fontaine was making us feel we were not alone and someone was giving us an helping hand to get out this quagmire. He was nice and polite asking us to do what he asked by “would you kindly?”. And we did it without questioning it. Until we arrive up to Ryan and now we are just a puppet of Fontaine. A man thinks, a slave obeys.
But the game gives us the choice. The choice of following our primal instincts such as greed and selfishness (through Fontaines) or to follow the reason and the best of humankind (as symbolized by Tennenbaum)?
That deep implication in a game made it great and put the same formula found in Fallout’s Karma. None will tell you which directions to take but the decisions you will make will affect the future outcome.