The Philosophy of Bioshock

Welcome to a special edition of 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more. This week – the Philosophy of Bioshock, feat. Jared from Wisecrack & MatPat of The Game Theorists.

Ep.33: The Philosophy of Bioshock

Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Ryan Hailey
Narrated by: Jared Bauer, Matthew “MatPat” Patrick
End Animation by: Tim Collins

The Philosophy of Bioshock

Hey guys and welcome to a special episode of 8-bit Philosophy. This is Jared, creator of 8-bit Philosophy and we’ve got a special episode for you guys. Now while many games are certainly philosophical—very few are as effective at integrating philosophical concepts in to the plot as Bioshock.

Not only is the Bioshock trilogy a pioneer of gameplay- mixing elements of survival horror, RPGs, and FPS games, but it’s also flaunts a level of intellectual sophistication rarely seen in games. To some it’ss considered one of the smartest games ever made. Welcome to this special episode on The Philosophy of Bioshock. Oh, and we’re skipping the second one.

“Who is John Galt?” Is the cryptic question posed in Atlas Shrugged, the most famous book by Russian born thinker Ayn Rand. Similarly, “Who is Atlas?” posters adorn the walls of Rapture—transforming the original question of Rand’s work.

In the book, John Galt, engineer, genius, and heartthrob, encourages a strike of the mind, where all the world’s industrialists are encouraged to leave their roles in an ever increasingly controlling, regulated, and rule driven world.

Frustrated with the inefficiency of Socialism, and it’s lack of care for the individual and their hard work, Galt retreats to Galt’s Gulch to shut down the industrial motor of the world.

The original Bioshock takes place in Rapture, a digital homage to Galt’s Gulch, in which all the world’s best minds were brought together undersea by one man- Andrew Ryan. The names Andrew Ryan is effectively an anagram for “Ayn Rand” (Well. More or less.)

Andrew Ryan’s political philosophy is lifted right from Rand’s concept of “objectivism.”

Objectivism is a sort of guide to living a worthy life—its main tenants are: reality, reason, self-interest and capitalism.

Basically, Rand believes that Reality is concrete and objective—there’s no point in talking about the mystical, divine, and supernatural as guiding forces for humanity—actions should be determined solely on the basis of intellect. An easier way to say this is: Ayn Rand is an atheist.

And apparently so is Andrew Ryan:

Ryan: I believe in no God – no invisible man in the sky. But there is something more powerful than each of us: a combination of our efforts, a Great Chain of industry that unites us. But it is only when we struggle in our own interest that the chain pulls society in the right direction. The chain is too powerful and too mysterious for any government to guide. Any man who tells you different either has his hand in your pocket or a pistol to your neck.

Andrew Ryan serves as a mouthpiece for Rand’s condemnation of coercive governments in favor of a society based in belief that coercive government policies violate people’s autonomy. Her reaction is an ethics if egoism or radical self interest. Objecivism. It holds that people ought to work hard to achieve happiness in their own lives, work hard, and not treat others are mere means to an end.

Andrew Ryan’s Monologues might as well have been lifted directly from Rand’s work:

Ryan: Though my physical defenses fall, you’ll not defeat me. My strength is not in steel and fire, but in my intellect and will. You hear me, Atlas? Andrew Ryan offers you nothing but ashes! In the end, all that matters to me is me. And all that matters to you is you. It is the nature of things.

Rapture was founded under the belief that the communist parasites in the world above were freeloaders that stole, violated, and unjustly took from the captains if industry. Ryan was tired of working and not getting what he deserved—just like Galt.

Ryan: “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 everyone.” I rejected those answers. I chose the impossible. I chose Rapture – a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small, and with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.

Also like Ryan, Rand was a proponent of Laissez-faire capitalism or, the idea that a good government exists only to protect individual rights, and stays out of people’s personal lives and the market.

Similarly, in the world of Rapture, The plasmid market is severely under regulated—the belief is that the unfettered market provides the best options for consumers.

Ryan (tape): There has been tremendous pressure to regulate this plasmid business. There have been side effects: blindness, insanity, death. But what use is our ideology if it is not tested? The market does not respond like an infant, shrieking at the first sign of displeasure. The market is patient, and we must be too.

So what went wrong? Does the ruinous state of Rapture suggest that a society run by such tenants is doomed to fail? Or did Ryan pervert Rand’s beliefs?I suppose the next step is: what happens when it all goes wrong? Or “what went wrong?”

This is where ADAM comes in. ADAM is a resource so potent that it led to a civil war between Ryan and Fontaine, err… Atlas. Due to Ryan’s ideals of a free market economy, ADAM was completely deregulated, creating a population of addicts riddled with side effects-— resulting in rampant chaos and instability., that ended with people boosting plasmids to defend their lives—the resulting chaos and instability is the setting for the downfall of the undersea utopia.

The civil war in Rapture can be attributed either to a failing in free-market principles—to a philosophy that doesn’t figure in the cost of production for workers.

Or perhaps Ryan simply misused Rand’s Philosophy. it can be attributed to a misuse of Rand’s philosophy. Using the little sisters as mules for magical sea slugs to create ADAM certainly treats them as mere tools for your own goals. And Ms. Rand would certainly disapprove.

Lets be clear—the trendy discussion on Bioshock Infinite has something to do with quantum entanglement and multiverses— and while it’s a great discussion—it’s already been covered ad nauseam. We are going to abbreviate the discussion because… science is hard. So we’re going to skip it.

The third installment of the Bioshock series moves from the underwater world of Rapture to the floating city: Columbia.

A play on the United States Capital, Columbia is a sort of floating Eden founded by a man named Zachary Hale Comstock.

Comstock is a fictional stand in for nineteenth century New York political figure Anthony Comstock—famous for his fight against obscenity and his rather prudish values. The Comstock character mirrors Anthony’s public feud with noted anarchist Emma Goldman, who is doubled by Daisy Fitzroy.

Comstock founds Columbia with the promise of providing a place for God’s people, apart from the world of sinners in the Sodom below.

This image of Columbia as a shining beacon in the sky has its philosophical justification in the concept of American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the belief that the New World was promised to God’s chosen people. And through this philosophy, Bioshock Infinite provides us with a tasty satire of America’s Historical landscape.

For philosopher Willaim Spanos American Exceptionalism is the driving force behind the war on terror, the class of civilizations, the Vietnam War, and numerous global conflicts.

Delivered on the ship Arbella in 1630, the sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity” by John Winthrop is the (primary text?) of American Exceptionalism. It explained to the settlers of the Massachusetts Bay that “[they] shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon [them].” This mirrors “Sermon on the Mount” delivered by Jesus that states: “you are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

For philosopher Willaim Spanos American Exceptionalism is the driving force behind the war on terror, the class of civilizations, the Vietnam War, and numerous global conflicts.

American Exceptionalism is a way of justifying a particular lifestyle. Columbia, Like America, is considered God’s country. Forgiveness of sins, Salvation, and Baptism are all religious themes in Infinite—but like it’s predecessor, this game explores the dark side of this philosophy.

Similar to Comstock’s Colombia, The expansion into the new frontier was justified as a mission from God—to ensure that the new world doesn’t backslide like the old world sinners of Europe.

America was to be a land populated by exceptional, chosen people, exempt, and above the rest of the world. Secularized as manifest destiny—American Excpetionalism justifies and demands the extermination of the indigenous people of the “wilderness,” AKA Native Americans, for the sake of securing the national identity of the Christian settlers. Those not willing to accept Christianity were forcibly moved or eliminated.

American Exceptionalism is not just a question of land—the ideology of this philosophy is inextricably woven into the fabric of history. Slavery, labor strikes, the abuses of Irish and Chinese workers who built the American Railroad system—are all justified by the lofty goal of a promised city for God’s people.

Fearful of the anarchist Vox Populi, afraid of the Irish and Chinese threat, and scared of racial mixing, Columbia is a paranoid place.

Infinite explores America’s haunted past—The Battle of Wounded knee which is considered the end of the U.S and Indian wars, is heralded. Laws enforcing racial segregation for relationship and marriage, and lynching are not just the norm—they’re commonplace. Perhaps this is why the enemies in the games are robotic George Washington’s called “Patriots.”

With Bioshock Infinite we get the prospect that the Hero, Booker Dewitt is both Comstock and Andrew Ryan—when it is revealed that in another dimension the hero of the game is simultaneously the villain. Bioshock exposes the paranoia of an Us versus Tthem Dichotomy—it challenges our conception of good guys and bad guys—of freedom fighters, revolutionaries, dictators and terrorists.

Kill little sisters or save them, throw a ball at an interracial couple or at the racist announcer, accept or reject the baptismal forgiveness of sins.

One of the essential dilemmas of Bioshock is the freedom of action, choice, and free will. For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Matt and I run a channel called Game Theorists. Thanks a lot to Wisecrack for having me. Let’s get in to it- this is the importance of choice and Free Will in Bioshock.

In the first Bioshock we are told: “Andrew Ryan reminds us – we all make choices, but, in the end, our choices make us.” So… if we make choices, we must be free. But then again, if our choices make us then how can we be free to make them? This off conundrum leads us to the question: Is Free will even possible?

In Oone school of thought known as, Hard Determinists suggests believe that there is no such thing as free will. If all action can be boiled down to cause and effect, then all of our actions are always bound by an external force.

Even you, viewer, may think you are free to click off this video right now. But keep in mind that if you do, there is a REASON you are doing so. So the question is:, are you truly free in your actions, or are your actions a result of a series of events that you had nothing to do with? Our “choice” in our actions is merely an illusion.

Andrew Ryan reiterates this with the phrase “A man chooses. A slave obeys.” In what is perhaps the most brilliant part of the original game, Andrew Ryan makes a statement on the nature of gaming itself, and how you, as a gamer, are destined to mindlessly follow the fixed path of the game’s narrative. And “interactivity,” or the idea that you as the gamer have any bearing on how the game will turn out, is merely an illusion.

Infinite presents a possible way out of the problem of free will—the multiverse—an infinite number of worlds to choose from. The fact that Booker is able to go back and choose to not be baptized—to smother baby Comstock in his crib seems to be a way out of a deterministic universe.

Except that this very choice isn’t a real possibility. Although Infinite might tease the promise of actual choice, it’s perhaps more fatalistic than its predecessor.

Even when it seems that there is choice for the player—the game hints at the problem of free will.

The first choice—to flip a coin- is quite interesting. You are prompted with the “choice” to press Square and flip the coin. Except, in reality, you are not free to not flip—if you never ‘press Square’, the game doesn’t progress, it just stays there. But if you do ‘press Square’ to flip… well it always ends up heads.

Or cConsider the scene in which Booker is prompted with the choice to “Bring [them] the girl and wipe away the debt.” You are free to walk around the room. The game even presents you with the OPTION of pressing square to hand Elizabeth over. Yet, the only way to progress in the game isn to press square and pick baby Elizabeth up.

Even though “Press Square” is an OPTION that you can seemingly deny, the game proves that this “choice” is merely an illusion. You are fated to hand Elizabeth over. Whereas most games would just show this event in a cut scene, Bioshock makes you press square. It forces you to recognize that you are in fact not free, and anything that indicates otherwise, is merely an illusion.

Perhaps the only way to truly assert your freedom in the world of Bioshock is to simply turn off the game.

Jared: Jump through this dimensional tear by clicking here to see the Wisecrack crew debate against MatPat.

Which game is more of an artistic masterpiece – The Last of Us or Pacman?

Be sure to check out the Wisecrack Channel page and subscribe for more smart stuff. And hey – Help us win the debate by hopping over to that video and casting your vote for us!

MatPat: That seems relatively unfair.

Jared: You’re just afraid that the Wisecrack army is going to take you down!

MatPat: Well, at the end of the day, the choice of whether to click or not is theirs…OR IS IT?!?

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South Park on RELIGION – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of The Joker – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of The Joker – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Star Trek – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Star Trek – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Marvel’s Daredevil – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Marvel’s Daredevil – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Bill Murray – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Bill Murray – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Deadpool – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Deadpool – Wisecrack Edition

Game of Thrones: Get Ready to DIE! – Wisecrack Edition

Game of Thrones: Get Ready to DIE! – Wisecrack Edition

Are Video Games RUINING Gaming? – Wisecrack Edition

Are Video Games RUINING Gaming? – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of South Park

The Philosophy of South Park

Inside Out: Is Joy the VILLAIN?

Inside Out: Is Joy the VILLAIN?

The Philosophy of Dark Souls

The Philosophy of Dark Souls

The Psychology of Final Fantasy (VI thru XIII)

The Psychology of Final Fantasy (VI thru XIII)

The Philosophy of House of Cards

The Philosophy of House of Cards

The Philosophy of The Walking Dead

The Philosophy of The Walking Dead

The Brilliant Deception of Inception

The Brilliant Deception of Inception

The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

The Philosophy of Fallout

The Philosophy of Fallout

The Hidden Meaning of <br />Halo

The Hidden Meaning of
Halo

The Genius of <br />Michael Jackson’s Thriller

The Genius of
Michael Jackson’s Thriller

The Hidden Messages in GTA V (Grand Theft Auto V)

The Hidden Messages in GTA V (Grand Theft Auto V)

The Philosophy of Bioshock

The Philosophy of Bioshock