When I decided to play the original Bioshock for the first time, I was familiar with the general premise of the game – a visionary industrialist armed with the philosophies of Ayn Rand decides to escape from the oppression of society and create a sanctuary where the greatest among us can thrive. What I wasn’t expecting was the level of persistence that this philosophy would permeate throughout the city of Rapture. Upon escaping the plane wreckage, I was treated to the banner inside a bathysphere station:
“No gods or kings. Only man.”
A simple statement that conveys a rejection of superstition and hierarchy, while honoring the strength of the individual human. I entered the bathysphere with cautious excitement, still wondering how I found myself in this situation. In my confusion, I was able to learn about this brave new world. I enjoyed the scientific marvel of Rapture – the neon lights, the intricate tube system that encompassed the city, all with a pleasant female voice speaking on the central tenets. This voice would later chime in during my journey through the city, espousing Andrew Ryan’s ideology of self-reliance and contempt for the dependent “parasites” that hate three things – free markets, free will, and free men.
My wonder for this beautiful man-made structure was quickly ended once the bathysphere reached its first destination. While waiting for the bathysphere to release and unable to step into Rapture, I was restrained and resigned to watch a citizen of city attacked and maimed. My first reaction was to find a weapon and an escape route, but the monster quickly turned his sights onto me. Finally able to leave, I grabbed the conveniently-placed wrench, dispatched the first monster and looked for sanctuary. My experience has felt less like a shooter and more like a survival horror story.
Every section of the city represented an idea that I loved, supported by an ideology that I hated. The medical pavilion displayed the ingenuity of Western style medicine, along with potential for rapid treatment of any ailment, while staring at bloody graffiti stating “Aesthetics are a moral imperative”. The gardens within Arcadia provided the necessary oxygen to sustain the entire city, but such a vital commodity was subject to the free market. Even the toilets required payment for use. The citizens would be allowed to enjoy the vast hedonism and flamboyance brought by the artistic elements of the community, but the freedom of expression was stalled at the idea of religion, showing boxes and boxes of smuggled bibles being seized and cast away in secured rooms and religious individuals segregated for psychological treatment, left to mumble childhood song lyrics (“Jesus loves me, this I know…”).
While one should not sell themselves short, the naming convention of the sections of the city (Mercury Suites, Neptune’s Bounty, Hephaestus, Olympus Heights, Prometheus) show the megalomania of its leader, believing himself to be among the gods.
The horror of this game comes through in so many elements. It starts on the most basic levels – the collapse of the city, the perversion of its citizens, and the need to survive the onslaught. The selfish screams of my potential enemies echoed through the halls – the ramblings of loved ones leaving, the loneliness, the complaints of trickery, splicers shouting “Why have you forsaken me?” – further reinforcing the selfishness that is central to Ayn Rand’s, and subsequently Andrew Ryan’s, philosophy. The horror later spread to me, as I harvested a Little Sister out of my frustration for the initial toughness of the game. I found myself with my own form of selfishness, desiring to be as powerful as possible so that I could survive against the newer splicers. Even with the ability to respawn, I desired expedience, and that need to press forward quickly led me to the harvesting of a child.
After surviving a battery of security bots and splicers, the real horror comes after my meeting with Andrew Ryan. His serenity during the collapse of his great city, combined with his resignation of his fate, was unnerving. He was aware of every move that I made throughout the game, and at any point through the game, Ryan could have intervened, simply released a wave of security measures, and removed me from the equation. He maintained his ideology all the way to end, allowing me the free will to stop whenever I chose. As Ryan stated, “A man chooses. A slave obeys”, and given that I was left to a cut scene for this portion, I found myself completing the last major act of my enslavement – the killing of Andrew Ryan. Later forced to reverse the self-destruction of the city, I was left to die under the hands of security bots. However, even after the release of the spell, I became a slave to my own revenge, and Tenenbaum’s encouragement, against the voice of Atlas – Frank Fontaine, who has been “kindly” asking me to restore the city for his own purposes.
The final horror came in defeating Fontaine, spraying him with napalm among the voices of little girls cheering me to “kill the bad man”. The final view of mentally and psychologically compromised Little Sisters stabbing Fontaine to his timely demise was the bittersweet ending of this horror. Among the screams of disfigured citizens, drawings of tombstones, recordings of dead family members, and madness of the prominent figures of Rapture, BioShock had created a level of terror not only in the destruction of civil order and violence, but also in the ease in which people can accept a few simple ideas that lead to turmoil and devastation based on flawed ideology and unchecked arrogance.