Bioshock's Plot from a Historical/Philosophical Perspective
WARNING: This thread contains spoilers, and I apologize for the massive length in advance...
As many of you know, Bioshock is famous for its entralling and beautifully written story. The dynamics of every character from Andrew Ryan to Peachy bring the game to life in ways that can be called unprecedented in the gaming world. Levine made it his goal to create something fresh, unique, and narrative in an unparalleled way. In my opinion, he succeeded far beyond his initial goals. Not only is Bioshock all of those things, but it is also an allegory which represents the ideological trends which were dominant during the period. As many of you may recall, Rapture was completed(according to the little models of the city in the Rapture Metro Areas) on November 4th, 1946, just barely a year after the end of World War II, and at the outset of the Cold War.
Now if we look at the construction of Rapture as if it actually happened, we will see that Ryan and his followers submerged under the sea just as the battle between the US and Russia began to heat up. The threat of the atomic bomb was always present...people never knew when a bomb may fall from the sky and destroy civilization just as it had done in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This clearly gives the people of Rapture motivation to seek safety underneath the Atlantic Ocean. But it is more than that. It is an ideological escape as well. During our visit to Rapture, we constantly hear the propaganda announcements stating that "parasites" feed off of a Man's hard labor. Indeed as Ryan pointed out in the very first video,
"Is a man not entitled to the sweat on his brow?
No! Says the man in Washington-it belongs to the poor.
No! Says the man in the Vatican-it belongs to God.
No! Says the man in Moscow-it belongs to the poor."
What Ryan is declaring here is that his vision is that all men are entitled to what they earned-they should pay little taxes or no taxes, follow few laws, and receive little government help. This ideology is an extremely right wing ideology...If you look at the political spectrum you have-
LEFT WING....................CENTER.................... RIGHT WING
Now if you look at the parties he mentioned(excluding the Vatican since it is not technically a government) you have...
LEFT WING=Soviet Union and it's Communist Block(Eastern Europe, China, South America and some parts of southern Asia). These Governments have complete and total control of their people. Government evenly distributes all goods to all people, regardless of how hard they work. Ideally, this is to prevent inequality, however the ruling party enjoys more luxuries than any of its people.
CENTER=United States, Western Europe, Japan, parts of Central America and Asia). These governments allow some freedoms to their people, but still tax and enact programs which help the poor. Using tax money from the middle and upper class, the governments do things like build roads, armies, public buildings, and public services.
RIGHT WING=Rapture. People are hardly taxed, and are basically left to fend for themselves. There is no government distribution of wealth. This is essentially a Darwin-esque "Survival of the fittest" system in which if you work hard, you are rewarded, and if you don't, you are a "parasite" and deserve nothing. In Ryan's mind, the poor are poor because they are lazy, weak, and expect to be taken care of by the government with tax money from the rich. He rejects that, believing that "the sweat of a man's brow" is his, and should never be taken away from by any government.
Now, by understanding all of these different types of ideologies, it may be difficult to make a decision. Ryan certainly makes a convincing case that his ideology is the best ideology...after all, if the poor are lazy and weak, why should they "suck" the resources from the hard workers? In the end, Ryan obviously brings up some good points, however, when we arrive in Rapture, nothing is as wonderful as it should be.
Overall, Levine is criticizing Ryan's(or far right wing) ideology by showing how it will eventually destroy itself. By creating a right wing system like Ryan did, he allowed for people to compete with one another for wealth and power without government regulation. This is very similar to George W. Bush's "Neo-Liberal" policy of free markets, which essentially says that Big Business competition should be free to move as it pleases-government should not step in to regulate it for it will naturally regulate itself. This is where the idea of the "Great Chain" comes in. As Ryan says, "The Great Chain is too powerful and too mysterious for any one man to comprehend or control." The idea of the Great Chain basically means an invisible force which is present in an economy which maintains a balance between rival business interests. By maintaining this balance, the economy as a whole will benefit. As we are all whitnessing in the United States however, the Great Chain is broken, as these big corporations have corrupted themselves by becoming too large for their own good, and spending far more money than they actually posess. This is a result George Bush's failure to use the government to regulate this impulsive and uncontrolled corporate behavior.
The same situation can be seen in Bioshock. Over the years, the big businesses in Rapture got out of hand, especially Fontaine's Futuristics, which soon came to rival Ryan's own business interests. This is where Ryan begins to betray his own ideology. As part of his own system, the biggest, and hardest working entity should reap all the benefits. Ryan, on the other hand, does not want to fall behind his rival. He therefore uses his government to "kill" Fontaine and Nationalize Fontaine Futuristics. By doing so, he has strictly betrayed his own beliefs, as the practice of Nationalizing(government control of a business) is a strictly LEFT WING practice. With control over Fontaine Futuristics, Ryan unleashes a massive add campaign which convinces people to buy and use his plasmids. Without any regulation on the plasmid business, it gets far too big, and people use them far too much. Eventually people get addicted to the plasmids, and lose their minds. This is a criticism of massive over-consumption in capitalistic societies like the United States. When people begin to shop, they overspend with credit cards and the like, eventually forcing them into a state of extreme debt and destitution. When the "Splicers" begin to splice, they oversplice forcing them into a state of physical dispair and destitution.
When Atlas arrives, matters are made even worse as Ryan struggles to maintain his own position of power. Suddenly he is forcing people to splice and controlling his actions. At this point, he has nearly abandoned his original ideas simply because he has become so power hungry. No longer is he the benevolent leader who seeks to "save" the best in society-no, he has come to believe that he is the best in society, and should be the one, and only ruler of Rapture. So in essence, he has transformed himself into a dictator, and fights tooth and nail to keep Jack from de-throning him.
What Ryan fails to understand, even in the end, is that he is the victim of his own system. By allowing big business to rise up and become all-powerful, he has allowed these businesses to challenge his very own position of power. He becomes so disillusioned, that he doesn't even realize that he has betrayed himself, and the people who trusted him. This is why we discover all of his followers planning to kill him, McDaunagh included. In the end, there is a massive breakdown in the entire system, and the end result is the destruction of Rapture as we see it when we descend in the blathysphere.
Phew, that was a lot of typing, but I felt I had to get that out there. Believe it or not, but that is just the very tip of the ice berg...i could go on and on about the various other aspects of the game, but I want to hear what everyone else has to say. Do you think I made a mistake? Do you have anything else to add? I'd love to get a great conversation going...
Last edited by Forsaken Lament 04; 01-23-2009 at 07:26 AM.