Bioshock EP5: The Flame War Plasmid!

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jun 18, 2013

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 115 comments

As part of my ongoing effort to repeat mistakes of the past, here is the Spoiler Warning where we we talked about both Objectivism and religion.

Link (YouTube)

About four years ago we had a thread where an Objectivist weighed in on Objectivism in BioShock. It made for an interesting thread and was surprisingly civil, given the subject matter. At some point (and I can’t find it now) I said that it’s not at all clear what property anyone owns in Rapture. If Ryan owns everything, then he didn’t build an Objectivist society, he built an Objectivist house and invited a bunch of assholes to live with him.

I mean: Ryan is a totalitarian thug. If they really wanted to explore with the ideas of Objectivism then they ought to have messed around with the classic conflict between individual liberty and the common good. It’s like if I wanted to make a game about (say) environmentalists, so I fill the gameworld with standard mooks who talk about trees a lot. And then their leader loves pollution because ENVIRONMENTULISM!

The further I get from this game, the more childish and sophomoric its handling of Objectivism seems. There doesn’t seem to be anything of the philosophy in the characters, in their discussions, or in how they relate to one another. The game comes off like a college senior who just got done reading Atlas Shrugged and is looking for a way to work bits of it into conversation.



I have to give the game credit for at least having the ideas on the canvas. I suppose I’d rather a game fumble philosophical themes than have another macho melodrama. And getting the gameplay and the themes lined up is something few games attempt and fewer still pull off. BioShock fell down, but at least it fell down trying.


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115 thoughts on “Bioshock EP5: The Flame War Plasmid!

  1. anaphysik says:

    Shamus, a question: You originally said that you no interest in playing Bioshock (beyond the demo) (DRM was part of it, but obviously SPIRITUAL SUCCESSOR RAAAAGE was a big thing too). But you were obviously quite knowledgeable about it during the SW season. So did you end up playing it anyway, or did you play it specifically to prepare for SW? And if the latter, was it in a ‘ugh, gotta slog through this for SW’ mood?

    Just curious.

    1. Shamus says:

      I did eventually play it.

      I had some kind of turning point in 2009-ish where I became convinced that I was going to have to put up with some of this DRM crap or leave the hobby. (Which didn’t turn out to be true. Things began to turn around over the next couple of years. Ubi and 2K have relented and Microsoft is getting laughed off stage.) At the same time, my previous nemesis (Steam) was quickly becoming the face of GOOD DRM, which still sounds crazy to me.

      I seem to have settled into a position of, “If you really HAVE to do DRM, it should at least be as tolerable as Steam”.

      But really, I’d love to go back to the days of Owning Things.

      1. I think DRM is an example of an issue I’ve been coming to terms with as I get older–that sometimes the best way to fight something bad isn’t some form of “boycott”, and you may in fact be better off accepting the bad thing in the short term while still complaining about it loudly and demanding at every opportunity that it be abolished.

        The trouble is that this policy tends to make you look like a hypocrite. How can you complain bitterly about and oppose something without letting it basically dictate 100% of your actions?

        It’s a question that ties in neatly with Objectivism, because, if you’ve read Atlas Shrugged (or at least read about its plot), you know that is basically the story of THE ULTIMATE BOYCOTT. People drop out of a corrupt society rather than support it, and that society collapses. I know tons of erstwhile Objectivists who endlessly try to come up with ways to drop out and “go Galt”. But Ayn Rand actually discouraged this practice. Hypocritical?

        No. Now, there IS a time to “go Galt”, (Ayn Rand wrote an article about it, in fact), but that time is not when the first unjust restriction pops up. It will also be different for each person depending on your personal interests, situation, etc. The time to “go Galt” on a topic and initiate your boycott is when no other method exists for seeking a solution. The game publishers may be slow and stupid, but they’re not yet completely blind and deaf to public opinion to the extent that it’s ONLY possible to hit them in their wallets. Likewise with the American government. That’s why boycotting right now is a largely ineffective and pointless statement that only really hurts the boycotter by preventing them from doing things they really want to do. That’s why dropping out and building a Galt’s Gulch somewhere is generally pretty silly. The time may come, but it is not this time. This is the time to play your game AND complain like all get out, or likewise pay your taxes AND complain like all get out.

        1. Cybron says:

          “that sometimes the best way to fight something bad isn't some form of “boycott”, and you may in fact be better off accepting the bad thing in the short term while still complaining about it loudly and demanding at every opportunity that it be abolished.”

          I have to strongly disagree. If the numbers don’t say this DRM nonsense is hurting their bottom line, than the people using it won’t listen to what you say.

          EA certainly didn’t pay any mind to anyone’s complaints until Sim City blew up in their faces.

          1. The fact that Sony just announced that the PS4 would allow used games completely contradicts your statement. Not to mention the many, MANY other publishers and developers out there in every medium who insist on releasing products without DRM. I have dozens of eBooks on my Kindle that say “released without DRM at the request of the publisher”. I have hundreds of songs that I get to listen to FREE with the enthusiastic support of the creator. I have games without DRM that were intentionally released that way by the publisher.

            Waiting for such a spectacularly noisy and indistinct channel as the “bottom line” to reflect your ideological preferences is a fool’s game when you can go on forums or other communication hubs and state your EXACT desires LOUDLY AND WITH AUTHORITY directly to the people who might actually care about them. Oh, AND you can play that game you wanted at the same time! Win all around for you!

            1. I am not following how “Complain loudly about DRM while giving a company your money” is more effective at causing change than “Complain loudly and NOT give them money.”

              1. AyeGill says:

                It’s not, but it has the side effect of also letting you play their video games/listen to their music/read their books.

              2. Peter H. Coffin says:

                It’s also far easier to dismiss the “complain loudly and give no money” as noisy blowhards that would just pirate stuff if it were easier than it is to dismiss the “.. and give the money”, who are by absolute definition your customer base whom you must please if you wish them to spend *more* money on your stuff.

              3. I think part of it is also that the publishers have basically no idea what could be affecting their “bottom line” (as this is a subjective medium).
                Is it that the game is just bad? Did we not market it enough? Was the budget too small? Were the graphics too outdated? Was the game aimed at a different audience to what we advertised to? There are so many potential reasons, but DRM boycotting is almost invisible to publishers – You have to look at a community which is dedicated to NOT buying your products, which often seems like it is full of wackos who just hate capitalism.

              4. If your only goal in life was to have companies use good policies, yes, that was sensible. If you care about the company policies because you ACTUALLY WANT TO USE THE PRODUCTS, there’s no sense in you depriving yourself while you still have the ability to complain. Companies are actually much more likely to listen to actual customers than to random yahoos.

                More proof:

          2. Felblood says:

            I must question this statement as the converse is manifestly untrue.

            The numbers certainly don’t seem to prove that DRM improves the bottom line, but the leaders of powerful corporations still buy it.

            Why? –because it makes their investors happy, and unhappy investors, not unsound business decisions, are what motivates the board to fire a CEO.

      2. Tom says:

        Have you tried the Humble Bundle, Shamus? I think their approach has potential, and the industry can learn from it: instead of trying to make it harder to pirate, which harms legitimate customers and is seen by pirates simply as a challenge, they’ve just made it *easier* to purchase legitimately at what you feel is a fair price. And yes, you actually own your own copy. DRM-free.

        Of course, it’s just a drop in the ocean, and I’m alarmed by the way they’re drifting towards Steam.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Well, that and the fact that you can only get very specific games at very specific times.

          For example, I don’t think Bioshock has been in a humble bundle yet…

        2. Peter H. Coffin says:

          “Easier” in a purely monetary sense. They’re somewhat harder to buy through, the availability varies, you buy (by design) bundles of games in which the one you want is, and maybe the others have value and maybe they don’t but you certainly don’t get to choose them, and the whole deal muddies up the value of sales counts. Did “Special Bubble Challenge” really sell 250,000 copies? Or do those “sales” merely ride along with the actual sales of “Solitaire With Friends” and nobody would give a bent dime for Special Bubble Challenge on its own merits?

          1. Pete says:

            Well there is the fact that those sliders at the bottom let you pick who the money goes to. Its probably a bit clearer if you see ninety percent of the moneys going towards Solitaire With Friends.

      3. Paul Spooner says:

        I’m more interested in the “The Public is the Patron” model we’re moving toward with Kickstarter and pre-funding development. That way the product can be distributed freely after development and both DRM and “ownership” become minor issues.
        DRM, Patents, Copyrights, and the like have always struck me as infantile. Grown adults yelling “Hey stop it, I thought of it first!” at each-other. I realize there are some specific benefits, but taken as a whole the entire system seems self-damning.

      4. Sam says:

        Shamus, unrelated, but, this ad needs to go
        See the right most part of the image

        1. anaphysik says:

          I know, such shameless advertising for the Carnegie Science Center. Shamus, you sellout!


          1. Sam says:

            and another…I’m hoping if I complain, you’ll block them. My 11 year old brother goes on here! And this is one of the few sites I didn’t use ad block on, up until 5 minutes ago. Sorry!
            It sucks, since half of them are ‘Wartune’
            My last 5 ads were
            Virgin Mobile USA
            American Red Cross

            1. Shamus says:

              Stupid Wartune. I’ve blocked them twice before. First I blocked Then they changed their URL to Now they’ve moved again. I block by domain, so when they move their website Google treats it like a brand-new ad.

              Blocked again. Jerks.

  2. Infinitron says:

    Hmm, the underrated sequel Bioshock 2 had more to say about about class war and classism in Rapture…but even that didn’t really have anything directly to do with Objectivism. Class differences are a feature of almost every organized society.

  3. anaphysik says:

    You guys mention freezing a person and using them as a sword. The “vorpal gnome” was a running joke in my college D&D group. (Additionally, one of the players rolled a LOT of fumbles, and so wound up carrying a shitton of spare weapons (main DM was using a houserule wherein fumbles could lead to hitting yourself or your teammates, but you could drop your weapon to avoid it – this guy had such poor dice luck that at the end of a battle he often ended up with piles of weapons at his feet XD). Him running out of weapons and thus picking up the gnome in the group and using /him/ as a last-ditch weapon was also a running joke.)


    Edit: With my first comment stuck in moderation (currently meaning there are two comments posted, plus one in the cue), “There are nearly three comments!” is pretty funny.

  4. Jokerman says:

    “BioShock fell down, but at least it fell down trying.” That was a cool sentence :D

  5. anaphysik says:

    “[Mumbles & Ruts talking about TF2]” Rutskarn: “Sour about that Bioshock.”

    That is seriously the first time outside LaGTV that I’ve heard the “sour about that ___” phrasing. And it sounds so wrong to my ears, because Ruts said “about” and not “aboat” :|

  6. Objectivism nearly always gets mauled by the people who try to present it (although I’m not entirely sure this is what Bioshock meant to do). I don’t doubt this is true for numerous other ideologies as well, but the main difficulty with Objectivism is that most people only know about the political aspects but Objectivism is not a political ideology–it is fundamentally based on Ayn Rand’s revolutionary epistemology built largely on Aristotle’s metaphysics. The ethics and politics arise from that base, so if you don’t study and understand the metaphysics and epistemology, you are going to get it wrong because the ethics and politics CANNOT be applied without the base. Many people have almost no epistemology and a confused mess of a metaphysics–what ideology they have consists of some rough and ready ethical and political ideals stacked on a rather vague base that they call either god or society, often without being particularly clear as to the referents of those terms.

    For the most part, there’s no problem with this–you don’t need to be a physicist to build a house. However, in times of serious ideological assault, this policy leaves you adrift in your house that was never meant to be a houseBOAT.

    The sneers and misinformation don’t really bother me, though (well, aside from the part of me that hates things being INCORRECT), because the fundamental fact is that Objectivism is getting a LOT of ATTENTION these days. People may not agree with it, but almost everyone is at least aware that there is such an issue as the individual vs. the state or reason vs. irrationality. This awareness in various forms is what originally led to the Enlightenment and the creation of its various artifacts, like the U.S.A.

    However, there is no such issue as individualism vs. the “common good”–this would mean that there is something that’s good for “people” (a “common” good) that’s not actually good for *anyone* (individuals). How can something be good for a group but NOT good for the components that make up that group? This is a nonsensical contradiction. If something is good for a collective, it is *and must be* good for the ALL the individuals that make up that collective, and vice versa. That’s why the true conflict is one of individuals vs. the state–a state is not a group of people. It is an imaginary ideological construct that people anthropomorphise by giving it qualities that pertain only to human beings, like “interests” and “desires”. That was the fundamental revolution of the American Founding Fathers–that the state, being as it is an ideological construct, does not have preeminence over people–it exists and can exist only to serve them, and only in specific delineated ways.

    1. Shamus says:

      Your final paragraph is exactly the sort of thing I’d love to have seen in the game. The whole idea of “common good” leads to all sorts of interesting discussions and different ideologies have really different ideas about what it means. One person thinks, “Common good means making people do what they should, not what they want.” Another thinks that it means that if we all vote on something, whatever idea wins is the common good. Another thinks there is no such thing as common good. This always leads to sideways conversations and people talking past one another. Again, that kind of conflict would have been what I was after if I was exploring these ideas in a game or story.

      1. Oh, absolutely. This is part of the reason why I love the Dragon Age games so much–there are tons of different takes on various issues. I don’t agree with ANY of them, but engaging in the conflict and just SEEING THE SIDES is tremendous fun.

        If you read Ayn Rand’s Art of Fiction, she talks a lot about setting up proper conflict in fiction (because the conflict, ultimately, IS the story), and she makes a distinction between “drama” and “melodrama”. Melodrama is conflict between people. Drama is conflict within a person. A battle between “the good guy” and “the bad guy” may be exciting, suspenseful, etc. but it’s not ultimately very INTERESTING. What’s really interesting and mentally engaging is conflict within a person–the endless struggle to resolve contradictions and find a way forward.

        The best fiction, of course, involves BOTH types of conflict. Video games, for the most part, focus on the melodramatic aspects: shoot up the bad guy. There aren’t always great mechanisms for internal conflicts–you may ponder, in your mind, “why am I shooting these people up”? But you very often can’t DO anything about it in the game, and an interactive media is all about DOING things. It’s fine in a book or movie when you can’t do anything about the internal conflicts on display, but when you can’t do anything about them in a video game it winds up annihilating that aspect of the conflict and turning it into a straight melodrama with some ludicrous ideological maunderings smeared on it for no apparent reason.

    2. Mike Moore says:

      That’s quite clearly not a contradiction. If someone is sentenced to life in prison for a crime they committed that’s good for the group and bad for the individual. There are thousands of similar examples – for example, in chemotherapy healthy cells are killed off, good for the organism as a whole, not for the individual parts; sure these exampls can be circumvented by saying ‘being put in prison’ is good for the person (etc., depending on the example) but 1) in the US at least that’s clearly false due to the prison conditions, and 2) if you’re going to resort to semantic wrangling the discussion will get nowhere.
      Similarly, the argument that there is no such thing as ‘people’ holds no water. From a reductionist perspective, if we see that each ‘individual’ is merely a series of physical and chemical interactions in causal chains then there is no ‘person’, there’s only a collection of atoms. From a sociological perspective, ‘individuals’ only exist in terms of social interactions in a group. It’s very hard to understand what the ‘I’ of the ‘individual’ even means, let alone prove it exists, and it’s probably fair to say that the ‘people’ has a more demonstrable existence than the individual.

      1. Xapi says:

        I was gonna write something very similar to what Mike said, I agree with him, as I usually do with that other guy that has the same name.

      2. Being sentenced to life in prison for a crime you PROVABLY committed IS good for the individual–it’s CERTAINLY better than being lynched by a mob because you happen to be black and in the proximity of an alleged crime. Is it worse for that individual than *not being sentenced at all*? Maybe–but life in a brute anarchy where might makes right isn’t good for ANYONE. Up until the point where that person committed the crime, they enjoyed all the many tremendous benefits of living in a civilized society. Are you going to claim that their life in a brute anarchy would necessarily have been superior? Can you even predict what their life would have BEEN like in such a state?

        Where you go wrong is in thinking that “good” and “bad” are contextless absolutes. A *lot* of people do this, but it’s rather simple to demonstrate the absurdity of it: take ANYTHING you think is an unequivocal good in EVERY context, and I’ll demonstrate how it is potentially bad for you in a different context.

        It is this fact–that there’s no such thing as some kind of “universal good” or “universal bad”, that abrogates against such concepts as a “common good” except in the most abstract (and therefore, largely irrelevant) terms–because a “common good” is itself an extreme abstraction of the myriad vastly different goods, bads, and CONTEXTS of every single person included within it. This is why *individual liberty* is the ultimate “common good”–because, to the extent that it’s possible to do so, it enables people to deal with the details of their individual contexts and thus seek the things that are good for them even while surrounded by other people with different contexts with different things that are good for *them*. A rigid system that seeks to define those goods and bads in terms of specific objects cannot succeed simply because people are not interchangeable robots.

        As for your “reductionist perspective”–this is HILARIOUS. Nobody can “see” these atoms or chemical interactions you posit. The only reason people know they exist AT ALL is BECAUSE, using their individual minds, they were able to make observations, form conclusions, build apparati which enabled them to make still more observations, form conclusions, etc. etc. etc. until they arrived at atomic theory and some conception of the ultimate constituents of matter. Atomic theory is IMPOSSIBLE without the existence of the individual mind–but you would state that BECAUSE of atomic theory, the individual mind is a MYTH. This right here is the ideological fallacy Ayn Rand called the “Stolen Concept”–using information that depends on the existence of a FACT to DENY THAT FACT. Bravo, terrific textbook demonstration of it.

        This is why epistemology is of tremendous fundamental importance in philosophy, otherwise people may genuinely believe that it’s possible to know something that somehow contradicts the fact that it’s *possible to know something*.

        It is the simplest thing in the world to demonstrate that there are individuals–go out in the street and point at them. The fact that physicists cannot yet DESCRIBE them in terms of atoms does not in any way change the fact that boom, there they are, you can point to them. I challenge you to go out in the street and point to “the collective” or “society”. Not that inability to point to something means it DOESN’T exist–I couldn’t point to “justice” because it’s a high-level abstraction from other abstractions. I couldn’t point to atoms, either. But the claim that the existence of individuals is HARD to demonstrate is entirely absurd–they’re not abstractions at all. They are walking around. One of them is sitting here typing this sentence.

        1. McGurker says:

          I’m confused at what you say. Something can be good for a majority of a group, but not to certain members. So, a rich man has an issue of individual vs “common good” when he can decide to use his money to benefit the world, say by buying water-purifiers for third world countries, but that means he’ll have less money. Where is the contradiction?

          Also, you’re talking about the non-existence of “good” and “bad”. How can you be an existentialist AND an objectivist?

          1. anaphysik says:

            “How can you be an existentialist AND an objectivist?”

            (SMBC Theater – Doctor of Philosophy)

        2. Octapode says:

          Spot of chemical nitpickery, we’ve been taking pictures of atomic bonds and individual atoms (and even recently the electron orbital of a hydrogen atom) for years now. It just takes a bit of technology, just like it takes technology for us to be talking to each other on here.

          1. anaphysik says:

            It’s double bizarro because she seems (*seems* (giving benefit of the doubt here)) to be claiming that atoms functionally didn’t exist until we conceived that they did o_O. Which is both generally considered dumb (excepting in the rare idealist philosophy of mind) and counter to some of the (supposed) basic tenets of objectivism. So that seems weird and totally out of place.

            Anyway, even considering that as a simple slip of the mind, it should also be noted that there is a VERY definite difference between “atoms” and “atomic theory.” There’s the physical reality of *stuff*, and then there’s what we’ve hashed out in an attempt to accurately model that *stuff*. THESE ARE NOT THE SAME.


            Shamus: I know you lifted the verbotenen-Topics restriction last time the objectivism debate thing whatever came up (which can be reached via the links you posted in the description), and I guess you consider it to be fine for folks to have those types of discussions in this thread too (seeing as how you haven’t been quashing those topics :/ )… but maybe we can go back to ‘regularly-scheduled shut yer pieholes and talk about games and marine geology and whatnot’ for the remaining episode threads?

            1. Syal says:

              It's double bizarro because she seems (*seems* (giving benefit of the doubt here)) to be claiming that atoms functionally didn't exist until we conceived that they did o_O.

              I’m pretty sure what she actually said was “we only know about them because we could think well enough to want to look for them”.

        3. Syal says:

          take ANYTHING you think is an unequivocal good in EVERY context, and I'll demonstrate how it is potentially bad for you in a different context.

          A piece of beef jerky.

          1. anaphysik says:

            A piece of beef jerky stuck in your throat.

            A piece of beef jerky when you have no mouth and must eat.

            A piece of beef jerky that has acquired the taste of human flesh, because of a rogue cell.

            Some parasite eating your piece of hard-earned beef jerky.

            Also, beef jerky is just yucky anyway.

            A beef jerk.

          2. hborrgg says:

            I think the correct smart-aleky response to that challenge would be


            Your own individual self-interest.

            1. Syal says:

              But I’ve seen that one blow up in people’s faces before. I’ve NEVER seen having a piece of beef jerky end up badly.

        4. Chamomile says:

          “Being sentenced to life in prison for a crime you PROVABLY committed IS good for the individual”“it's CERTAINLY better than being lynched by a mob because you happen to be black and in the proximity of an alleged crime. Is it worse for that individual than *not being sentenced at all*? Maybe”“but life in a brute anarchy where might makes right isn't good for ANYONE.”

          Well, yes. But that doesn’t have anything to do with anything anyone has said.

          The possibilities here are:

          A) Criminal grows up and benefits from civilization, commits a crime, and is allowed to go free and continue benefiting from civilization as though they had committed no crime. Most likely goes on to commit crime again and again. Take, for example, the son of someone powerful in a corrupt society. To avoid making this discussion more political than it already is I won’t name any specific nations, but I’m sure you can fill in the blanks yourself (fun trivia fact: everyone who reads this paragraph will think of a different nation, but all of them will assume that I am making a transparent reference to the specific nation they’re thinking of).

          B) Criminal grows up and benefits from civilization. Criminal commits crime and is then imprisoned to stop him from committing crimes again. Criminal’s quality of life drops like a rock.

          The contest is not between society and anarchy, nor is it between the abstract concept of the state and a specific individual. The contest is between a single individual and a group of several other individuals. By penalizing the single individual so that the larger group benefits, we can be said to be acting for “the common good.” And that isn’t even controversial. You shouldn’t be able to just go around murdering people and taking their stuff.

          Where things get hairy is when the few being sacrificed for the sake of the many haven’t committed acts that destroy our ability to trust one another and work together at all. When you can murder someone at-will, and the only restriction on murder is the possibility of being murdered back, it gives you a serious disincentive to meet anyone other than close friends or family face-to-face and that impairs our ability to invent the internet, and thus successful societies tend to consider murder universally wrong.

          But things aren’t always so clear-cut, and for an example of that see any argument between a Keynesian and an Austrian. Seriously, any of them. Ever. No, never mind, not the ones on Youtube, but between a Keynesian and an Austrian who actually know what they’re talking about.

      3. Syal says:

        From a reductionist perspective, if we see that each “˜individual' is merely a series of physical and chemical interactions in causal chains then there is no “˜person', there's only a collection of atoms. From a sociological perspective, “˜individuals' only exist in terms of social interactions in a group.

        I’ve never before heard someone try to argue that the existence of a high and a low means it’s impossible to have a middle. ESPECIALLY immediately after condemning semantic wrangling.

    3. That's why the true conflict is one of individuals vs. the state”“a state is not a group of people. It is an imaginary ideological construct that people anthropomorphise by giving it qualities that pertain only to human beings, like “interests” and “desires”.

      The relationship between Objectivism and government is always one I find interesting. Any form of government seems in opposition to the core ideals. I’ve never had anyone manage to fully explain how one jumps from “I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine” to “Let’s create a structure that limits those with power from hurting those without.” I agree that such a government is a GOOD thing, but don’t see how you defend it from an Objectivist viewpoint.

      1. Klay F. says:

        No. No, government is NOT in opposition to Objectivism’s core ideals. Objectivism’s core ideals, at least as far as the role of the State is concerned, is that the State should be restricted to defending Negative Liberty (that is, restricting people from using Force, Fraud, or Coercion). Infringment of negative liberty paralyzes a person’s rationality (both the victim’s and the perpetrator), and since rationality is the only objective “good” it must be preserved.

    4. kernly says:

      “However, there is no such issue as individualism vs. the “common good””“this would mean that there is something that's good for “people” (a “common” good) that's not actually good for *anyone* (individuals). How can something be good for a group but NOT good for the components that make up that group? This is a nonsensical contradiction.”

      You’re pretty clearly wrong here. Now, obviously something can’t be good for the group and bad for “the components that make up that group,” since one would have to assume that “the components” means “everyone” and is synonymous with “the group” unless you narrow it down. However, “individualism”/allowing individuals to act in their own interest can obviously be very good for AN individual or a proportion of individuals, while being very bad for the rest. Look at the prisoner’s dilemma for a classic example. The best policy for the individual is obviously NOT the best policy for the group in that situation. And the world is full to the brim with such situations. That’s why something like a government is crucial, to make the anti-group decision much less viable.

      “If something is good for a collective, it is *and must be* good for the ALL the individuals that make up that collective, and vice versa.”

      Nope. For example, putting mass murderers in jail is pretty bad for the mass murderers, but good for the non-mass murderers.

      1. Syal says:

        This actually brings up an interesting point; assuming putting someone in prison is roughly equivalent to removing them from the collective (because that’s the main point of prison), do they still count as part of the collective?

        1. kernly says:

          Of course. Otherwise things just get nonsensical. The happiness maximizing strategy becomes just putting all the sad people in jail so they aren’t counted anymore.

        2. Chamomile says:

          “assuming putting someone in prison is roughly equivalent to removing them from the collective (because that's the main point of prison)”

          This is actually a highly contentious point. There are four main philosophies about what the main point of prison is:

          1) Rehabilitation, to turn people who are bad for the collective into people who are good for the collective.

          2) Deterrence, to counter the positive incentive of committing crimes (free stuff, revenge, etc. etc.) with a negative incentive (jail).

          3) Retribution, to balance the scales of justice by harming people who have harmed the innocent.

          4) Incapacitation, to prevent people from committing crimes by putting them in jail.

          To avoid pouring any gasoline on this fire, I won’t make any argument for or against these four, but I do feel like it’s beneficial to the discussion to point out that there are different perspectives on why jail should be a thing.

      2. hborrgg says:

        I think the issue is that you’re both talking past each other with different definitions of the word “good.” You’re using in the utilitarian sense where “good” is a quantifiable value (i.e. x good minus y bad equals z good overall) but that isn’t necessarily the case.

      3. Tomas says:

        I think you are missing Jennifer’s point. The well-being of a society has to be a function (mathematically speaking) of the well-being of its individuals, while the concept of “the common good” seems to suggest that they are detached.

        1. kernly says:

          “the concept of “the common good” seems to suggest that they are detached”

          I completely disagree. The common good explicitly refers to the good of the group, which is by definition a bunch of individuals. I am not missing her point at all. She explicitly said that:

          “If something is good for a collective, it is *and must be* good for the ALL the individuals that make up that collective”

          Which is clearly false – there are obvious cases where sacrificing some proportion of a group is very good for the group as a whole. For example, quarantining someone dying from a highly contagious incurable disease may cause their passing to be more painful, but would save the group from many more deaths. Another example would be having an army, which takes on much greater risk upon itself in order to keep the larger part of the population out of harm’s way.

          This isn’t an exclusively human or even exclusively mammalian phenomenon. Look at ants. For a very explicit example, look at those ants that explode themselves into a sticky mass in order to block the entrance to their colony.

          There are really clear cases where some proportion of individuals in a group can be sacrificed for the good of the rest of the individuals in that group, which directly contradict the statement I quoted above.

      4. Klay F. says:

        NO. NO it ISN’T “bad” that they got put in jail. Anyone that isn’t acting rationally, (i.e. using force, fraud, or coercion on other beings) is already acting against their own self-interest.

      5. Klay F. says:

        No putting a mass murderer in jail is not “bad” for the mass murderer. If said person is infringing on other people’s negative liberty, then he is already acting against his own self interest by putting himself at grave risk of getting shot/arrested. Anything that happens after that is just a consequence of acting irrationally. Any action that is good for the individual, but negatively affects the collective, is automatically bad for the individual, because cause and effect don’t just stop once it plays out once.

    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “However, there is no such issue as individualism vs. the “common good””“this would mean that there is something that's good for “people” (a “common” good) that's not actually good for *anyone* (individuals). How can something be good for a group but NOT good for the components that make up that group?”

      Simple,long working hours,little free time,state controlled pregnancy,child indoctrination practically from birth,all of those would lead to a society that can be economically great,with little to no starvation,poverty and crime.But would it be good for the individuals of this strong society?Absolutely not.

      1. hborrgg says:

        Putting aside any debate over the efficiency of central planning vs a free market what is the ends of this perfect state once its economy is booming? Build huge buildings? Produce lots of tanks? Pay off enough city-states for a diplomacy victory? I don’t think I would consider any of those an ultimate “good.” Even “well, fewer people would die” doesn’t necessarily make a great “goodness” meter.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well that really depends on the situation.In current world,achieving lower starvation,less disease and reduced crime is the common good.Once that is achieved,raising the life standard of every individual would be the next goal.

          1. hborrgg says:

            But still that distinction only works if you are using a different definition for good than you do when talking about what is good for an individual (or in this case switching definitions partways through). Otherwise you might as well say that such extreme measures are in the best self-interest of the individuals involved since their quality of life will improve eventually.

      2. Klay F. says:

        You cannot just throw these random-ass conclusions out there with no context. A government doesn’t just poof into existence with those qualities.

    6. Tomas says:

      Some very interesting and well-formulated points. I had not reflected on the contradictory nature of the term “the common good” before. Scary how one can take such a concept for granted (for years) without scrutinizing it the slightest.

    7. startigo says:

      objectivism is presented in the game the way it’d work in reality. Objectivism is not a feasible ideology. It can’t work in human society. It requires too many people to know what would be good for them, when they don’t. At all. I mean look at chamus’ twelve year saga. The central core of it was that he bought a house too expensive for him. He didn’t know at first it was beyond his means. If even smart people have trouble making the best choices for themselves, then how the heck is everyone the world over going to do that. So you either let them screw up and destroy themselves, and consequently rapture would result from that, or you set up a system to control them, which is not objectivism any more, and rapture would result from that.

      This is the core of the common good vs the individual argument. The central core to the argument is that the individual does not know what is best for him. This plays more heavily with higher income earners and people of wealth, because they are usually the target of this, but look at the 2008 banking collapse. Rich companies gave out terrible loans and sold those loans around. Then everyone defaults and suddenly recession. The common good would have been regulation to prevent subprime lending and loan speculation. But individuals wanted their houses/ wanted their money.

      Now in aggregate I’m not saying that the government is all that great in defining what a common good is. I’m just saying it is better then individuals. And often the failings of government come in when individuals use it to enrich themselves.

      1. Akri says:

        “objectivism is presented in the game the way it'd work in reality. ”

        For that statement to work Objectivism would actually need to presented in the game to begin with, and I’m not sure it is. You could argue that the end result is what would happen in a real Objectivist society, but I don’t think you can argue that everything leading up to it presents how such a society would actually reach that point.

        It’s like if there was a game that tried to show the flaws of democracy by having a single dictator whose army bullied everyone into voting for him. Sure, that’s an actual problem that can occur, but it’s not really an issue with democracy, but with a dictatorship pretending to be a democracy.

    8. If the epistemology et al. is as much about half-deliberate semantic errors as your last paragraph, I have my doubts whether learning about it would really improve my perception of the coherence of objectivism.

      Come now. The “common good” in opposition to the “individual good” is not about things nobody benefits from and is not about epistemology. It’s about collective action problems. There are many many areas where if everyone does the thing that is individually the most useful to them, then either everybody ends up worse off or the vast majority do. This is the basis for Hardin’s so-called “tragedy of the commons”, which is actually a tragedy of completely ungoverned resources in a free market. That is, the common land can support around 100 grazing animals on an ongoing basis. The people in the area may have 200 animals–or, they may have 100 at the moment but each person would be better off breeding a few more.
      If everyone with animals co-operates, they can successfully make use of it on an ongoing basis. But any individual person is best off grazing as many animals there as they can, as many as they have, as many as they can breed. If the people just each individually do what’s best for them, the commons will get overgrazed and end up supporting far fewer animals. In this case everyone who was pursuing their individual benefit will actually be worse off from ignoring the common good. Or possibly some people will successfully breed more animals than others, make a surplus from selling them, use the surplus to hire gunslingers or police or lawyers or judges or all of the above, and take over the commons as their own private property. In this case a few people will be, at least financially, better off from pursuing their individual benefit, but the vast majority will no longer have the commons available to graze their animals at all and will be decidedly worse off.

      The common good is more about game theory than about epistemology.

      1. Klay F. says:

        What you just describe was actually how an objectivist society would likely work. As they are thinking rationally, the people realize that co-operating is in their own self-interest.

        Self-interest does not mean, me me me me me me fuck you. Acting in your own self-interest means taking into account how your actions affect the actions of others, which in turn affect you. The world isn’t a single cause and a single effect, despite what people think.

  7. Lame Duck says:

    I think the only real commentary that you could argue Bioshock makes about Objectivism is “An Objectivist society would be very susceptible to corruption”. Everything else is basically just set-dressing. That is admittedly several steps above a lot of other games in which the closest thing you get to a commentary on anything is “Fuck yeah!”, but it’s still not great.

    1. An interesting thought. It is probably true that an Objectivist society of the kind in Bioshock would be highly susceptible to corruption–but that’s true of ANY society built around a single point of failure like a singular ruler. This is the reason why the largest portion of the Constitution is focused on what we call “separation of powers” and “checks and balances”–creating MANY complex points of failure leads to a more robust system where the scope of corruption is limited.

      It’s *not possible* to stamp out corruption in any system without literal magic, and Objectivism does NOT claim to be some kind of magical problem-fixing Final Solution. Politically it is simply a *framework* wherein solutions CAN be created with minimum loss or destruction. It is not even possible to fully limit the scope of corruption–doing so DEPENDS UPON the hope that SOMEWHERE there are enough honest people to hold off the dishonest ones. This has not always been true, but because honesty is, in fact, in one’s own self-interest, it us USUALLY true, and if you can’t depend upon it perfectly all the time in every situation, in abstract, general terms, you can depend upon it as if it were a rock.

      1. startigo says:

        The dishonest ones succeed more readily, especially with less checks on their power.

        1. Basically, the more hierarchy in a society, the easier it is for those with positions of power to take advantage of those with less power. That’s one reason the ideal of social anarchists is no hierarchy at all. If you can pull that off, anyone trying to extract rent (whether through corruption or other means) will find a bunch of equals they have no power over saying “Ahem. What are you trying to pull?”

          It’s not an easy thing to pull off, I’ll admit. And many social anarchists haven’t thought nearly hard enough about what it would take.

          1. stratigo says:

            no such thing. humanity has always had hierarchy. There has been no society without it, and any attempt to eliminate it had failed. Objectivism is not possible with humans unless you change humans

            1. Please note, I said nothing about Objectivism there. I don’t think it’s workable either.
              As to hierarchy and the possibilities . . . well, there have been societies with very little of it. In New Guinea, the mountain tribes have/had no real chiefs, just high status people who are more likely to be listened to. You could call that hierarchy, but there isn’t enough to allow anyone to give anybody else orders and expect to be obeyed.
              In general, hunter-gatherer societies often have/had pretty soft hierarchy because everyone’s pretty self-sufficient. If your deal gets only a little bit raw, you can move out and be better off. Authorities then have little leverage–what’s a chief gonna do, fire you? You hunt and gather for a living and you can just keep doing that. Safety in numbers is useful, but only counts for so much.
              Modern times are different. But much of the complexity and dependence, and the forms the complexity takes, are not technological necessities. They result from shaping the technologies and organizations in particular ways. But the internet, and things like distributed open source software development, show us that there are potentials for complex technology and complex social efforts to operate in more horizontal ways than they normally do.
              It wouldn’t happen by accident, it would require social rules and structures and processes to be thought out and applied carefully. Human societies have always had rules and I think always will. But those rules can be used to entrench hierarchy or shrink it, and I think shrinking it so far that you end up with something where, as sometimes in the past, nobody can give anyone else an order and expect it to be obeyed, is something possible to do although not easily and not overnight.

  8. X2-Eliah says:

    Flame war plasmid?

    That would be Incinerate + Enrage…

    1. Zombie says:

      In Bioshock 2, where you could combine plasmids, I wish that could have happened. You used both and then a splicer started yelling about politics and religion to other splicers.

      1. And then got carted off by the Secret Police!

  9. Guildenstern says:

    After playing through all the Bioshock games I’m reasonably sure that the fact that Rapture conveys Objectivism really, really poorly is kinda the entire point. Maybe that’s a cop-out for not having done much research and lazy writing, but still, the other games seem to suggest this by setting up Ryan as a despot in a supposedly highly individualistic society, Sophia Lamb as a Lenin-esque cult of personality figure in a supposedly class-equal society, and Comstock as an unrepentant monster in a supposedly Christian-based society founded on forgiveness.

    Again, that could just be a “get out of jail free card” for not ever conveying a given ideology accurately, but it seems to me that Bioshock games are all about showing the breakdown of ideologies when people that don’t understand them take the reins. Almost kinda meta in that sense.

    1. Shamus says:

      That is a really interesting observation, and I hadn’t noticed that. (I only played BS2 for twenty minutes, so I didn’t even hear the name Lamb until now.)

      1. Guildenstern says:

        It’s been a while since I’ve played 2 as well (no plans to again, since it’s basically all the worst parts of 1 repeated ad nauseum) so perhaps I’m remembering wrong, but given how Bioshock 1 and Infinite play out that interpretation just seems to make the most sense to me personally. I didn’t really grasp the idea, either, though, until I put together a kind of long, rambling video thing on Bioshock Infinite a while back. Grain of salt, though, as this all could just be head-canon or somesuch as I do really like the games and might be trying too hard to make them make sense.

        1. Thomas says:

          I heard (unsourced) that large parts of the tone and theme of Infinite were slightly readjusted fairly late in the game due to a conversation Levine had with a designer who’d become fairly upset by the direction of the game. So it might not necessarily be a completely reliable indicator of the style of idea that the original Bioshock was trying to convey

          1. Guildenstern says:

            I’ve heard the same, and Levine himself talks about it in an interview or two here and there, but ultimately we’ll never really know what the changes were, I don’t think. It could have been something as grand and sweeping as shifting the focus from “blame ideology” back to “blame the people” but other stuff I’ve heard Levine talk about makes me think it unlikely that he would have taken a stance that was steadfastly speaking out against one specific ideology. In any event, speculating on it when we have little to no information is probably a moot exercise, but you’re right, it does make one wonder in some ways.

      2. For better or worse, we live in a pretty cynical age. Seems to me our cultural schtick is very pessimistic about ideologies and the whole nature of social organization (not without reason). Having ideologies either hijacked by bad people or fail utterly at pointing towards the kind of results they’re intended to be about or both is a very early-21st-century kind of thing to do. It’s a theme that’s been around for a long time (Mark Twain f’rinstance) but I think it’s particularly dominant right now.

    2. X2-Eliah says:

      Interesting. Do you think it is an intentional design, or design-by-accident?

      1. Cineris says:

        That’s an interesting angle but it’s not really borne out in any way within the text itself. (Note: I haven’t played Bioshock 2 or Infinite, so I am speaking strictly about Bioshock.)

        To be honest I think it’s a stretch to say that Bioshock is about Objectivism in any way — Granted, it’s been several years since I played the game but I don’t remember Objectivism being discussed pretty much at all. Maybe in the introductory Bathysphere sequence, but beyond that? Do we see anywhere that Ryan’s philosophy is ever actually portrayed meaningfully in the game? You might point to the audio logs that describe the conflict between Atlas / Ryan but ultimately these are less about exploring a betrayal of principles and more along the lines of halfheartedly trying to explain why Rapture is overrun with mind-controlled freaks. (The answer is: Because Bioshock is a linear corridor shooter and the developers were too afraid to let you actually wander around without constantly respawning enemies harassing you.)

        The game as a whole is just really incoherent narratively and philosophically.

      2. Peter H. Coffin says:

        I think it was by design and a very large chunk of the philosophic point, if you’re going to attribute any such thing to a game. They all represent less a criticism of the philosophies as themselves or the societies founded upon them but showing how those societies are easily corrupted by individuals *that aren’t willing to buy into the core principles*. Ryan and the success or failure of Rapture by the time we get to the game’s setting has already been rendered essentially moot: The core principle of Rapture were destroyed by a population driving by ADAM addiction first, and Ryan’s attempt salvage the thing or re-work around that gets wrecked by Fontaine and the game plot itself. “pride in excellence” just doesn’t cope well with addiction and shame. Similarly, classless equality fails as soon as you start getting some that believe they are more equal than others (and have the means to assert it), or that being forgiven is enough and the “go forth and sin no more” part is optional/for suckers.

      3. Guildenstern says:

        Seeing as how their primary objective with Rapture (and later Columbia) was to create a dystopic metropolis I’d wager that it was probably a deliberate choice to go with “flaw in the interpretation of ideology” rather than “inherently flawed ideology based on inadequate research”, (or at least I’d like to think so).

        I did see part of an interview pertaining to Infinite where Levine states that the game isn’t attempting to say anything about religions, but rather how mortal men interpret and use them. I used part of the clip in the above mentioned video thing because I think it helps support the idea that the “broken interpretation” angle was what they were trying to do. Just my take on it all.

        1. startigo says:

          I’d argue objectivism is the opposite face of the coin from communism. Just as flawed, but for many of the same reasons.

    3. Artur CalDazar says:

      I took it more as “These ideas do not exist in reality as we plan them on paper”. Kinda like how there’s no true communist, not even Ayn Rand followed objectivism perfectly.

      Which is an actual problem people have with objectivism, nobody would really follow it no matter how pure their intentions could be. Ryan strays far from his starting ideals, but being human he doesn’t think he has, if he is an objectivist then he views his rational as objectively morally correct, and uses that to justify things to himself.

    4. Zukhramm says:

      But in Bioshock, the ideology doesn’t break down, it’s never even there in the first place. And anything breaks down if you but an evil video game villain in charge, so it’s a kind of an odd point to try to make.

      Most of all, it’s really boring. It’s boring and annoying to bring up an interesting topic just to have it serve as a backdrop for something else.

      1. Guildenstern says:

        Ryan seems far from an “evil video game villain”, if only because that drudges up memories of over-muscled men in giant robot suits firing rockets at you while shouting “Die!”. Ryan made what was admittedly an overly-optimistic and ill-advised attempt to set up his idea of a perfect society. But he was also a perfectionist, and when the people in that society weren’t living up to his ideals he tried to cull the herd, as it were. His attempt to make a totally free society ironically drove him to be a totalitarian despot, forcing people to do things *his* free way, not *their* free way. I always thought Ryan was interesting *because* of his failures, though obviously many disagree.

        And isn’t everything in Bioshock kind of a backdrop? I mean, everything that’s gone sideways did so years before you arrived so you’re not really thrust into the middle of a problem so much as you are discovering the remains of one. The most fun I had with the game was wandering around and putting together the broken pieces that Rapture left behind.

  10. anaphysik says:

    I know Mumbles was joking, but to clarify the ‘ocean producing most of the world’s oxygen’ – that’s talking about the ocean /SURFACE/ (and even then, primarily its upwelling sites). Diatoms aren’t terribly common in the aphotic zone, except as siliceous ooze ;P.

    I’m also not sure how the whole ‘growing trees’ thing was supposed to work considering that /they have no sunlight/. Even if you could generate lot of light (and in the correct frequency distribution for plants to optimally use), you’d be using and dissipating massive amounts of energy doing so, likely having to bring in tons of stored energy from the outside world to sustain it – hardly a self-sufficient set-up :/

    I mean, sure, this is supposed to be pulp, not hard sci-fi, but /come on/.

    1. Klay F. says:

      I seriously doubt energy is a concern in Rapture, considering the entire thing seems to be situated above a ginormous volcano.

      1. bucaneer says:

        Plants are good, cheap and pretty efficient oxygen factories… because visible light is practically infinite and free. Using them to produce oxygen in conditions where there is no natural light is, well, a plan that perhaps should be rethought. Even if they do have a limitless source of energy that can be used to generate light, it still isn’t anywhere near a workable solution.

        By analogy, it would be like if you had some transportation problem while living on top of a large basin of oil. You could, using a long, complicated, expensive and inefficient method, synthesize something vaguely edible out of the oil and use it to feed horses that draw carriages, but it might be a good idea to first check if there was a more direct way to use the oil as a fuel.

        For Rapture, the obvious solution would be water splitting, either by electrolysis or thermolysis. Pros: there’s no shortage of water, the volcano provides all the energy you may need, and you can use the hydrogen that would be produced as a side product here for whatever steampunk needs. Con: it is more difficult to turn into a plot contrivance when needed.

        1. BeardedDork says:

          Plants, are pretty much the worst photosynthesizers on the planet, yes they do it, but virtually everything else that does it, does it better. Algae, Cyanobacteria, and Dinoflagelates (which I think is what anaphysik meant instead of Diatoms) are all far far better at it and all live in the water anyway. If you want oxygen efficiently, you don’t want plants you want a host of other organisms. If you want, your office to look and smell nice you want plants. Plants also have the problem of being in and of themselves pretty bad at reproduction. Most plants rely on some other organism for a significant part of their reproductive cycle, as opposed to cyanobacteria, which just divide and make more.

          1. bucaneer says:

            I think you mixed those up – all Diatoms are strictly photoautotrophs, while Dinoflagellates are a mixed bag ranging from photoautotrophy to full heterotrophy, so the former are better representatives of photosynthesizing microorganisms. Still, that doesn’t affect my point – oxygen production by photosynthesis is a bad idea when you have no light, or when light is extremely expensive to produce.

            1. BeardedDork says:

              It’s possible, I’m not a microbiologist. In fact now that you mention it I was thinking the SiO2 shells would make them poor photoautotrophs, but they would make them even worse heterotrophs, so I concede I was likely mistaken.

              Light production is a requirement of having humans around. I agree it would be inefficient and unnecessary to generate full spectrum white light, but a lot of photosynthesis happens with relatively low energy red light. You may as well use what light is produced to also generate oxygen.

          2. Fleaman says:

            You sound like you know what you’re talking about so maybe you have a better handle on this than I do, but it’s my understanding that plants have a whole buttload of ways to reproduce without needing some fly to suck off a flower, and a lot of them don’t even require a second plant. Sprouting clones from root beds and such. Still outdone by algae, but that sounds like being super-double-great at reproduction to me.

            1. BeardedDork says:

              Not really. The vast majority of plants are extremely specialized, in how they reproduce, often accompanied by an extremely specialized animal to help.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, ultimately it comes back to building an interestingly “themed” setting, versus building an interestingly “shaped” setting. Bioshock has a lot of themes, but is fairly shapeless when taken as a whole. What do these people eat? What do they breathe? Where does the power for all this steam come from? A volcano you say? How do they scrub out the Sulfur?

      Of course, most people don’t explore these questions in real life, so it’s not surprising that they are overlooked in fiction and game-worlds. Still, I pass by a HUGE HOST of games just because they ignore these fundamentals from the box art onward.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        Mostly it seems like putting it underwater was a clever way to force linearity onto things for practical reasons of game scope, in a credible way. We keep turning to Half Life 2 as the example of how to do this brilliantly with narrative, Bioshock does this with setting pretty well, and (as we’re currently seeing) Tomb Raider does it kind of poorly with a lot of cut-scene manipulated frog-marching.

      2. hborrgg says:

        Why they eat fish of course!

    3. Could be worse. They could be using sleeping humans as a power source. I mean, how moronic would that be? {cough}The Matrix{/cough}

      1. GM says:

        I personally think that was a lie.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I wonder if subsequently Rutskarn did get to play I am alive,a game set in post apocalyptic world where one of the mechanics does revolve around you threatening people with a gun,which is often empty.

  12. MikhailBorg says:

    Nothing to do with the discussion, but here’s a picture of two cosplayers as BioShock Splicers from this year’s Anime Mid-Atlantic. I saw them and knew I had to get a picture for the Spoiler Warning fans.

  13. LunaticFringe says:

    “The game comes off like a college senior who just got done reading Atlas Shrugged and is looking for a way to work bits of it into conversation.”

    Well, I mean, it is Ken Levine’s writing so… (I joke but you’re right, there’s basically almost no philosophical weight behind Bioshock at all). The closest thing I could compare it to is really bad reference humour where there’s no actual substance to the joke. Bioshock constantly references ‘Who is John Galt?’ and Atlas Shrugged yet does nothing in regards to actual Objectivist principles. I honestly think that it gets a free ride largely just because of Rand’s infamy and if it had been some other random, lesser known figure (like Derrida) had been the subject it wouldn’t be praised to the same extent. I mean, the only person I see get strawman’d more then Rand is probably Nietzsche (for the whole Nazism thing that he had nothing to do with).

  14. The Rocketeer says:

    I never bought into BioShock. I never saw the nigh-perfect, thought-provoking new advent of the “thinking man’s shooter.” I saw lots of pretty lights over a tremendously unbalanced, haphazardly paced trick plot with a veneer of high-school level navel gazing.

    And years later, I feel more and more justified in thinking so- especially after hearing basically no one liked BioShock 2 and playing BS: Infinite, which had the very same problems, only magnified. The mechanics of the games have never been more than serviceable, and the high-minded “philosophical” aspects have never stood up to any level of scrutiny, with or without the cascade of muddy and superfluous speculation about authorial intent.

    The BioShock series aren’t bad games. Well, two of them aren’t. BioShock and BS: Infinite are fine. But they get talked up as some kind of megalith on the gaming landscape, and twice I was fool enough to believe that fiction just long enough to realize I shelled out sixty damn dollars for a game that’s all thunder and no lightning.

    Fool me once, shame on etc., etc.

  15. Nalyd says:

    Well, Bioshock gave about as measured, deep, fair, and sensible an exploration of objectivism as anything Ayn Rand wrote. . .

  16. hborrgg says:

    I think it would be really hard to write a story that’s really “about” something as big and complex as objectivism today. At best you’re only really going to be able to tackle one iteration or one person’s view of what an objectivist society should look like, and even then it can be really hard to add in enough apparent realism that the audience actually stays on the same page and listens to what you are trying to say (as opposed to “Pffft! Rapture would have been fine if everyone just wore yellow shoes all the time. This story is stupid!”)


    Anyways, one interesting thing that I think came up in the audio dialogs is that Ryan clearly did believe in his own philosophy and he really was trying to keep as light a touch on the Fontaine issue as possible, but it turned out to already be way too much. Between Fontaine’s propaganda and his own, even the slightest attempt to flex a little bit of muscle left people completely outraged that he was being so oppressive and government-like.

  17. Ilseroth says:

    I was (and I think still am) a fan of the Bioshock series, but then I had never bothered to expect anything out of it other then shooting things under the sea. While it’s depiction of Objectivism is in no way thorough, giving you an enemy that is trying to kill you for reasons other then simply “Muahaha, I am evil” is fairly refreshing comparative to most games.

    That being said, I hadn’t played System Shock 2 prior so I had no pre-established expectations with regards to Bioshock.

    As other people have said, I do think that if you were to try to get a “greater meaning” out of the story, it would simply be a “Corruption of Man” tale. You have ADAM + EVE, The fact that when push came to shove every person in the city fell to greed, power, and envy. They attempted to paint Ryan as a idealistic fellow, so strong in his beliefs as to attempt to seclude himself from the world.

    You could say that he was weak to give in and take over Fontaine’s business, and they did try to show it via the audio logs. “It’s time to give the Great Chain a tug” (may be not exact) and he is clearly distraught that things had turned this way. While a lot of people disliked Ryan, at the very least I thought he was interesting, just surprisingly naive.

    I may be a bit misanthropic in saying but, get a few thousand or so people and tell them to work hard for their own benefit, no small number will try to find short-cuts. Just a few using short-cuts will cause problems in other areas, which will have a domino effect on everything else; and that doesn’t even include the fact that this a tub under the sea.

    Perhaps I am just a bit jaded (woo Customer Service job), but part of the issue with that much of an idealistic society is the belief that others will adhere to a ideological viewpoint, and will not compromise it for their personal gain. This isn’t a knock on any particular philosophic viewpoint, plenty of them seem as though they, if followed logically and intelligently by all of society, may work.

    But what happened in Rapture I think is pretty much the outcome of that level of ideology. But then, to show my level of trust, I have trouble driving because the entire time I am on the highway, I consider the velocity and mass of the cars around me and whether or not any of the people in them may or may not actually know how to deal with any particular situation. I know *I* can drive, but considering my interactions with humanity on a daily basis trusting others to deal with massive chunks of metal hurtling at 60+ MPH is… unsettling.

  18. hborrgg says:

    I only got around to playing this game fairly recently so what exactly is up with all the character models in this game? Even the people who aren’t deranged splicers (except maybe Ryan) if you get close enough all look really wonky with cartoonish proportions and nothing at all like their portraits. They almost remind me Dishonored characters except the art style doesn’t really fit here.

  19. Neko says:

    It would be pretty funny to be playing Bioshock and come across some non-weaponised plasmids. You fight your way past the turrets, hack the safe, and get the Phermone Plasmid that makes your sweat smell nicer. Or the plasmid that helps you get a good night’s sleep. The hair colour change plasmid.

    Any other fun ideas?

  20. Not entirely ontopic, but BioShock is a old game now….which leads me to:

    GOG which is now having a summer campain at

    2013 #NoDRM Summer Sale

    Is what they call it. 50% off on 500 titles, and some up to 85%

    If i weren’t broke I’d have dived into their catalog myself.

    But hopefully others here may find interest in this.

    Disclaimer. I have no affiliation with GOG, and in fact I’ve yet to be a customer with GOG even. I am a big fan of GOG for being NoDRM and keeping old games workable on modern systems.

  21. Ah, very nice, this topic is open again. I missed the boat on commenting on the first one.

    I’d like to address the question about the claim that a criminal’s best interests are that the law doesn’t punish him. (and therefore peoples’ self-interests are in conflict) I think this question is missing the point. You can’t just ask a question like that (of what his self-interests are) in media res, after he’s already committed the crime. His best interest would have been to not commit the crime in the first place, and to live in a society which respects and legally upholds individual rights. Rand’s contention was that the rights-respecting way of life was best for everyone, regardless of their level of ability.

    It’s a major point of Objectivism that reasoning like that – which tries to argue points out-of-context – is flawed. You have to look at the whole picture.

    1. Cineris says:

      As human beings, one of our cognitive quirks is that we are really good at ignoring information that we don’t have. So it’s easy to posit a very limited scenario that leads to skewed conclusions, even if, as you point out, with a little more extrapolation we can understand the scenario in a different light.

      Of course with a complete enough perspective you might conclude that human action is meaningless anyway.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      “His best interest would have been to not commit the crime in the first place”

      No, it would have been to not get caught, by putting a little more thought into the plan, as anyone who’s played a thief in a game with quickloads will tell you.
      This is the fundamental problem with selfishness, if you’re only interested in other people’s well-being if it affects your own, the problem with committing crime is getting caught, not anything that happens to others, and no criminal thinks they’re going to get caught. Yes, you’re better off in a society where people don’t rob and steal from you, but if you start doing it to others and don’t get caught it’s unlikely to spread quickly enough that it comes back to bite you hard enough to be a net loss over your lifetime.
      Ultimately, society has to either convince you to you’re not going to get away with it eternally, and thus you’ll end up with a net loss, or that the common good is just something you should look out for out of the goodness of your heart or for the warm glowy feeling of living in a way society approves of.

      1. “No, it would have been to not get caught, by putting a little more thought into the plan, as anyone who's played a thief in a game with quickloads will tell you.”

        …And if you put even more thought into the plan than that, you realize that the only way to win that game is not to play it at all. Real life does not have quickloads.

        But Rand didn’t simply contend that crime doesn’t pay in the long run. She had a lot to say about the nature of self-esteem and happiness; about how living as a parasite (and thief is even more directly and obviously so) is inimical to self-esteem.

        Really, there’s far too much material on the subject to get into here. Suffice to say, Rand’s contention was that everyone’s rational self-interest, if you give sufficient thought to the matter, excluded lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, etc. You’re free to disagree with her on that, but it’s not something she simply overlooked.

        1. Apologies for my insufficient proofreading. That should read: “(and a thief is even more directly and obviously so than other moochers)”

        2. Nidokoenig says:

          The point wasn’t that life has quickloads, it’s that every action has a risk and reward set-up and crime is no different, getting a mortgage can be just as hazardous and detrimental to your living conditions as nicking a TV if things don’t go how you planned. If you’re not concerned with other people’s well-being there’s not a lot to differentiate the two. Sometimes it’s rational to take a risk.

          The self-esteem thing is more cultural, thievery can be a very skill-based exercise and succeeding at it a source of self-esteem, not to mention that actions detrimental to an out-group can be held in very high esteem by one’s in-group, which can also build self-esteem.
          There’s also that self-esteem is a reward aspect of an activity, which means you have to have some basic notion of value for it, which means parasitism and thievery can be profitable enough to be a net reward unless everyone views them as utterly toxic, or the price is fixed in some other way, which is the same “The system only works if everyone drinks the same Kool-Aid” problem that communism and anarchism have.
          You also need a system that ensures basic subsistence, healthcare and shelter, because self-esteem is a luxury item that’s only a rational concern after those are secured.

          1. “The point wasn't that life has quickloads”

            I know. It just played nicely into the point I was making.

            But it’s true: life does *not* have quickloads, and I submit that you are grossly underestimating the risk involved for the criminal. Rand pointed out that any lies are unsustainable in the long run. Any one lie will inevitably require further lies. And those lies would all require more lies, still. Watch any episode of Seinfeld.

            The difference is not just quantitative, but qualitative. It’s a different category of risk than a mortgage. With debt, you can rebuild your life some day if it fails. With crime, you could spend your life in prison or be killed by the police or the innocent acting in self defense. Even if you survive, you’re (rightly) ostracized by society. From the standpoint of an Objectivist society, you’re dangerously insane and it would be foolish to trust you with any value. It would take a monumental effort to gain back any trust; many times the effort of recovering from a mortgage.

            This was Rand’s contention: crime does not pay, and if sufficient reason is applied to the question, one can see that it is a losing game. You know, the War Games thing. Even – and especially – if your core concern is your own well being.

            Again, you’re free to disagree, but this was her position, which she stated explicitly in her non-fiction. It wasn’t just something that she overlooked.

            “The self-esteem thing is more cultural”

            Oh, I don’t just mean the cultural thing. I mean as a matter of the core internal logic that makes up a man’s psychology. It was her contention that attempting to hold logical contradictions was unhealthy to a man’s psychological well being.

            If you believe that you have rights, have worth, and are entitled to respect by your nature as a noble and rational being, then by what right do you disrespect and prey upon others? Are they not entitled to rights, then? Are they worthless because they’re not as clever as you, the man who is smart enough to make crime pay? If so, how could you ever have a friend? Another criminal? Hardly: someone who shares your views would see *you* as prey; they couldn’t respect you. Not in the way a man respects a friend. Furthermore, they’d be a threat to you – they’d prey on you the instant you let your guard down.

            In fact, *everyone* would be a threat to you. You’d be under everyone’s constant scrutiny. Normal men pick their friends by finding the best in people. You couldn’t do this. The competent would be too likely to discover your lies. You’d have to surround yourself with fools and knaves. And you can just ask anyone who has worked IT Helpdesk if constantly dealing with fools is the key to a happy life.

            And if friendship is impossible, you can forget about love. Or family. Oh, sure, you could make a family but you’d have to lie to them as well – which would be nigh-impossible, considering the sheer number and scope of lies it would take to sustain people in such close quarters. And if they were criminals like you, even worse. If they’ve accepted the criminal premise, then you’re prey to them, too. Unless they irrationally believed that family somehow made you exempt. Which would be yet another logical contradiction to destroy your inner psychology.

            And there’s more than this, even. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Hopefully, even if you don’t believe me, these few examples can at least show that there is a lot more to it than the simple equation of, “If not altruism, then criminality is viable.”

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