happy new year 1959

Inspired by Eric's most recent post on his thoughts on Bioshock -- though I warn you, spoilers abound! -- here, I thought I would write a few of my own. As for spoilers, I will avoid them until absolutely necessary, and then there will be great big warnings. Promise.

To begin with, everyone had told me that I would love Bioshock, and I absolutely did. It's so much of what I like in video games, from the compelling storyline, to twists, to the look of things, plain and simple.

Here's what I'm talking about...

Set in 1960, you're on a plane that crashes over the mid-Atlantic, and find yourself next to a lighthouse. Climbing into the lighthouse, you take a bathysphere down and it's a city beneath the waves. Completely in disrepair, it's an Art Deco-themed city where something
clearly has happened, and, as you travel through the city, you piece together more and more of the story. The story, incidentally, is fantastic.

You get pulled along into this world, and get more attached to it the more you explore. The whole time, you're genetically altering yourself with what are called "plasmids," and give you the ability to shoot lightning, fire, confuse enemies &c. There are weapons involved as well, so more often than not, you're attacking with a "one-two punch" of plasmid + wrench / gun.

You're being led along this whole time by a voice over a short-wave radio named Atlas, and your goal is to find him and his family, and rescue him from Andrew Ryan, the creator of this city of Rapture. Ryan, meanwhile, is talking to you as well, calling you a "parasite," and what's fantastic is that Rapture was created as an Objectivist / Ayn Rand paradise. In fact, Ryan's first speech to you is:
"Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? NO says the man in Washington, it belongs to the poor. NO says the man in the Vatican, It belongs to God. NO, says the man in Moscow, It belongs to everyone. I rejected these answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture! A city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be constrained 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!"
Please note the banner reads "Altruism is the root of all wickedness."

So of course it appealed to my Ayn Rand-ian loving heart. In this case, of course, Ryan is what you are fighting against, and as you experience what he does to stop / kill you, you feel yourself aligning more and more with Atlas and his resistance movement. It spurs you on. Atlas and his lovely Irish brogue and neat turns of phrase -- asking you "would you kindly" do such-and-such and saying he hasn't heard from you "in a dog's age." It's lovely, and particularly as a woman, you begin to look forward to his next communication. He is also a handsome devil, which is just icing on the cake.

It's almost as if you're developing this deeper relationship with Atlas, even though for most of the game, he's just out of reach, and you're traveling through to find him. I got excited, when he was right around the corner, and you begin to believe in him and his cause and crusade against Ryan. Below are the posters in his propaganda campaign against Ryan -- great design, too! -- and they tend to be in hidden places, so you get swept along in the underground nature of it as well.

Here be spoilers to follow! If you want to read -- Dad, I want you to play the game, so don't read! -- highlight the text below (it's colored white) to read it.

So, I thought the game would culminate in your finding of Ryan. It happened rather quickly. Well, not too quickly. But sooner than I would have expected. Herein lies the twist.

To begin with, you realize that you are Ryan's son, fathered by a stripper in Fort Frolic, or the "pleasure" area of Rapture. You've also been mentally conditioned to automatically respond to a command when someone uses the trigger phrase "would you kindly?" You realize pretty quickly that that is the particular phrase that Atlas has been using all along, making you progress further through Rapture.

Once Ryan is dispatched (he uses your mental conditioning to have you kill him -- it's a bit disturbing), you take his genetic key to prevent the city of Rapture from self-destructing. As soon as you fix it, though, Atlas comes on the radio -- phew! -- and tells you: "Good work, boyo!" This is comforting, until he starts to laugh maniacally, and his voice changes. He then reveals that he is not Atlas. Atlas was a cover-up for who he really is, a man named Frank Fontaine, Ryan's ultimate rival, who up until this point, you think was killed in a shootout a few years ago. Fontaine then tells you he brought you to Rapture solely to kill Ryan, conditioned you to hijack the plane to crash, and now has no use for you.

It is at this point that the game heads into high gear. It's great. My mind was blown. But -- in a sense, that doesn't fully express what I felt. I felt... betrayed. I had put so much trust into Atlas -- I had loved him, in the sense that you feel that devotion towards someone whose cause you follow, but also in the sense that I had developed a connection with him. Through all of the mess of Rapture, he was always there -- and then --- gone. Frankly, trying to kill me.

Eric speaks of Fontaine becoming someone that is beyond redemption -- beyond grace -- and must therefore be killed. I saw it more as a deep betrayal, and saw my first goal as escaping Rapture. If I had to kill Fontaine to escape, so be it, but if I could get out and free, that was fine. Of course, this isn't an option. You have to kill Fontaine -- but that comes later. As I progressed, Fontaine came on the radio more and more, his brogue replaced by a thick Bronx accent, mocking me.

Every time I heard his voice, it was like a knife -- this overwhelming feeling of how could you? How could you just use me? Wrapped up in expectation, this betrayal was deep, and it deeply affected the later part of my game. It's still hard to listen to movies people upload on YouTube when I hear Fontaine's voice, because that raw emotion is so tied to his voice.

I feel as if this isn't doing an adequate job to explain my feelings, but it honestly surprised me. I had no idea it would take ahold of me so much, and I'm still not completely sure I understand why. Of course, this makes me love it more. end spoilers

So, all in all, time well spent. It also stuck with me. I've been doing drawings and doodles of people and places in Rapture for the past few weeks, and you start to mull every single decision over in your brain -- which I would say is the sign of a great game. Lovely.


Abby said...

Wow! I had no idea. It sounds teh awesome. I remember reading Atlas Shrugged in high school and being a little astounded.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm like the second actual response that isn't spam.

Anyway, I agree completely with your review. However, I'd viewed the Fontaine/Atlas transformation on Youtube previously, so I knew what to expect once Ryan was killed. But I still felt very, very pissed off at him.

"Would you kindly get stepped on by a Big Daddy?"