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Political BioShock To The System

By: Anthony Cara



March 7, 2010 - Addendum: In April 2005, Super Columbine Massacre RPG! made gaming news headlines as it shocked and horrified the general populace with its seemingly insensitive treatment of such volatile subject matter. Some praised it for being bold and innovative, some criticized it for being poorly thrown together with some weak programming skills, but most couldn’t even get past the title and assumed it a hideous, tactless joke. The creator once defended himself by saying that had Super Columbine Massacre RPG! been a book or documentary, it would have been lauded by all for being a gripping, intense psychological experience and a relevant criticism of society. He argues that games could have the same potential as any form of art or media. Playing through the BioShock series (recently completing part 2 myself), one can easily raise the question again- Can video games ever be more than just mindless entertainment?- Can they achieve a level of real cultural significance and someday earn scholarly respect? It wasn’t that long ago when movies were thought of in much the same way, but now you can earn a PhD in the subject of film theory!

The ideological war between the late tyrant Andrew Ryan and the manipulative psychologist Sofia Lamb plays out in a series of Audio Diaries discovered throughout Rapture in BioShock 2. Even to those with little or no knowledge of politics or philosophy, it is painfully obvious that each villain embodies the extreme right and left views respectively. Andrew Ryan is clearly Ayn Rand (a not too subtle play on the name) and the statues that adorn rapture could easily double as the cover to the critically panned Atlus Shrugged. Sofia Lamb proves to be quite the Marxist Orwellian and the artwork which her adoring flock has made for her seems like something which could have been found east of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. Best of all, both are hopelessly corrupt and ultimately mad.

Since this is just a video game, it is clearly incapable of possessing any real relevance in today’s society right? Well a frustrated old man just crashed his plane into a tax building in Texas leaving behind a memoir that reveals he thought himself a helpless victim of Ryan’s “parasite” (see Journey to the Surface). It’s also clear by the Tea Party’s very existence that the conservative right fears Obama has learned to play poker by Sofia Lamb’s rules (see Learning Poker). The recently deceased Howard Zinn said, “You can’t afford to be neutral on a moving train,” but with both sides of the sociopolitical ideology spectrum proving themselves wrong and destroying themselves from the inside out, I would go as far as to say we can’t afford not to be neutral!

What’s a lone Big Daddy to do? I say stock up on drill fuel and plasmids, keep your head down, and keep your eyes, ears, and above all your mind open! Thanks for reading.

Addendum: In regards to my opening- I recently came across an old review for BioShock 1 that claimed the game’s story to be shallow and childish as its sole purpose was to criticize an already infantile philosophy. The reviewer claimed the shortcomings of Objectivism should be so clear to everyone that a game with a story like this makes as much sense as a novel written about the evils of stealing candy from babies. Given the marginal success of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series I wonder just how many people really feel that way. Furthermore, I wonder what this same reviewer would say had he the opportunity to play BioShock 1 and 2 back to back as the second game’s story is the polar opposite of the first. Would it still be so childish and irrelevant?

Finally, please look forward to Marcus Prunty’s full length review on BioShock 2, coming soon.



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