Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BioShock 3

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

With two successful games in the BioShock franchise on store shelves, the writers and designers over at 2K Games are likely turning their minds to what comes next. Many, myself included, were concerned that BioShock needed no sequel, but BioShock 2 – while it may have lacked the raw originality of its predecessor – showed that there were great stories yet to be told in the city Andrew Ryan built. I offer up these suggestions, free of charge, for future BioShock iterations.

Some spoilers follow, major ones for BioShock, and lesser ones for BioShock 2.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
(William Shakespeare, from Hamlet)

The villains in the BioShock series, at least thus far, have been defined by their philosophies. Andrew Ryan, creator of the underwater city of Rapture and antagonist for most of the first game, was a Randian objectivist who trusted entirely in the free market and individual self-interest. Frank Fontaine, the secondary antagonist, was the kind of villain who would thrive in such an environment. In BioShock 2, Rapture is being rebuilt and reformed by a collectivist, Sofia Lamb, who leverages her personality and knowledge of psychology to gather the remaining citizens of the sunken city under her wing.

There are, of course, a number of political philosophies that have not yet been explored by the BioShock series, but Adam Serwer makes the excellent point in this post for The Atlantic that one of the weaknesses of BioShock 2’s premise is that:
“The collectivist cult of personality Lamb creates in the aftermath of Rapture's destruction is so clearly inspired by real-life monsters responsible for the death of millions (i.e. Stalin, Mao) that there's little payoff. It's not hard to imagine how Lamb's dream got twisted.

Ryan's fall is more interesting because we've never actually seen a society completely based on extreme libertarian ideals, so the reimagined sci-fi "Galt's Gulch" is fascinating.”
So instead of turning to yet another video game Machiavellian or Marxist gone horribly awry, BioShock 3 should look to some lesser known and infrequently explored political philosophies. How about a society ruled by Plato’s philosopher king, a figure who values wisdom and a complete understanding of every situation above all else? Social contract theory has worked its way into most modern political philosophy, but Rapture is a spectacular example of a place where lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” as Thomas Hobbes wrote. An antagonist who offered protection and stability in exchange for the relinquishing of all personal rights might make for an interesting character, something between a mob boss and a parent.

What about a society based on a twisted version of John Stuart Mill’s principle of Utilitarianism, in which every major decision is made so that the greatest number of people will be the most happy, regardless of any overarching ideas of justice or morality? The things that would make the remaining citizens of Rapture happy could be twisted indeed. Just thinking of the outcome, I worry for the poor little sisters.

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
(Friedrich Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil)

Perhaps an even more exciting prospect is to make the player play the part of the political reformer, either working directly for someone who seeks to redeem Rapture through a new approach to governance or by giving the main character a voice and the means to influence the lunatics and splicers that roam the hallways of the underwater city. Their intentions could be noble and easily recognizable. What if they wanted to create a simple, direct democracy, and establish a system for voting? How about a few hints of socialism to help get Rapture on its feet, like healthcare to help citizens get over their Adam addictions and back into the workplace?

Seeing a political dream that became twisted over time can make for a compelling story, but seeing your own dream and your own decisions become corrupted over time could be even more powerful. Gone would be the simple, binary moral choices of the first two games, to save or harvest, spare or kill. Each decision would change the face of Rapture itself, at least for a little while. Moral quandaries would be so much more complicated; instead of deciding whether to be greedy or merciful, the player would be deciding whether it was in the common interest to kill an enemy of the new republic. Perhaps it would save many more lives in this time of transition, but then what would have become of their dream of peace and justice?

Regardless of what 2K Games decides, I am confident that there are many more exciting stories to be told in the world of BioShock, and I’m glad that there are such talented people behind the helm of one of the best original franchises to grace the video game medium in recent years.

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