A Look into the Philosophy of Bioshock 2
February 7, 2010
A Look into the Philosophy of
By Steven Hopper
GameZone takes a look at objectivism and altruism in Bioshock 2
Many gamers who played the original Bioshock and read the reviews were likely bludgeoned with all manner of philosophical debate and constant mentioning of author Ayn Rand and the concept of objectivism. Many gamers were simply concerned with whether or not the game was any good (spoiler alert: it was), and few really had firm knowledge of the philosophy behind the original game. Regardless of that fact, many played the game and loved it without requiring an in-depth study of objectivism.
In basic terms and as presented in the world of Bioshock, objectivism is the belief that the pursuit of individual happiness is the most moral approach to take, with little regard for the happiness of others. As presented in the undersea world of Rapture, the following of objectivist beliefs allowed for both the artistic and scientific communities in the city to operate without being censored or regulated, and as a result made the city at one moment a breathtaking bastion of discovery, and in another a failed science experiment filled with psychopathic citizens imbued with special and dangerous abilities.
Needless to say, with its presentation of an objectivist utopian culture gone awry, the original Bioshock doesn't paint the philosophical concept in a terribly positive light. However, almost as though playing the devil's advocate, the sequel is poised to further demonize the ideals of altruism, a concept that is as near to a polar opposite as could be possible. Altruism isn't so much as a philosophical concept as it is an ideal; one that focuses on a general sense of benevolence and utilization of the "Golden Rule," namely that others should be treated as you wish to be treated yourself. Altruism is basically the performing of good acts without any sense of reward, simply done for the greater good.
This is where Bioshock 2 begins to paint the picture of how even something as essentially good as this idea can go awry. Sophia Lamb, the new philosophical leader in town for Rapture's residents, is a pure altruist through and through, and in completely focusing on the good of the many, she loses sight of the individual rights of her citizenry. People become less of people and more instruments for the greater good, and this is what leads to a city on the brink of destruction to even further its demise at its own hand. Not to spoil anything, but you will discover fairly early on how little regard Lamb holds for even those closest to her.
The game's premise even fits as a morality tale against an extreme view of altruism. The player fills the role of a Big Daddy, who in the original game were the working force proletariat figures of Rapture, assisting the Little Sisters as they searched for ADAM throughout the city. After being awoken from a long sleep, you embark on a quest to find your own Little Sister by scouring the city and taking on Lamb's forces, threatening the system that she has put into place. You are, in many ways, another faceless entity who - in your quest - takes on the power structure to carve out your own personal gains; the objectivist's dream. You move out from the shadows of anonymity to become something unique, which on its own combats Lamb's altruistic agenda.
While reading up on Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead might give you more of a background when it comes to playing a game like Bioshock, it's not entirely necessary, considering that regardless of your personal ethics and understanding of the game's broad concepts, if you like playing a great game with a deep and complex story and even deeper influences you'll enjoy a game like Bioshock and its upcoming sequel.