In 2007, videogame Bioshock was released to wild critical acclaim and helped dispel the notion that videogames were merely playthings. Not only was it praised for its cinematic storytelling and moody setting – an underwater Art Deco utopia called Rapture- but it was hailed as a masterpiece of the game industry because it made one think. This wasn’t your typical mindless first-person shooter. Bioshock grappled with heavy philosophical questions, taking massive influence from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, to create a game like no other.
Ken Levine, the creative mastermind behind Bioshock, has cited Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged as a paramount influence. Rand’s magnum opus distills her philosophy of Objectivism into literary form. Objectivism is, in her own words, “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Essentially, it’s the belief that each individual holds the right to seek out happiness and live out his or her life to its full potential, free of restraint.
Atlas Shrugged portrays a world where its best and brightest have all retreated to a sheltered paradise for themselves, leaving civilization to decay into anarchy. Bioshock depicts a similar setting where one man creates an underwater haven called Rapture, a city molded by the principles of Objectivism and inhabited by the world’s elite scientists, artists, and thinkers where they are free to continue their work unrestricted by the societal limitations of the world.
While both works portray a utopia for free-thinkers, Bioshock demonstrates what happens to a society fueled by Objectivism: desire and greed runs rampant and power struggles tear the city apart. Bioshock places players into the aftermath of an idealized dream, now a living nightmare. Won’t you play?