Kotaku Managing Editor Brian Crecente has written a lengthy and interesting article — “No Gods or Kings: Objectivism in BioShock” — on the intersections between the new BioShock game and its Ayn Rand-inspired themes.
Ayn Rand Institute President Yaron Brook is quoted several times in the article.
The article begins:
The sunken city of Rapture, a world of art deco aesthetics, neon sales pitches and looming architecture, is home to more than just murderous splicers and lumbering Big Daddys, it’s also a surprising breeding ground for introspection.
BioShock may have been conceived as a study in nuance, a place for gamers to discover and explore at their own pace, but its dip into the ethical morass of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophies has brought her beliefs back into the mainstream spotlight and even piqued the interest of the Ayn Rand Institute’s president, Yaron Brook.
Brook, a former member of the Israeli Army military intelligence and award-winning finance professor at Santa Clara University, first took notice of the game when he discovered his 18-year-old son playing it. It’s a fact that didn’t bother Brook despite his son’s objectivist beliefs and the game’s not so positive take on the philosophy.
“My son has to find his own way in life,” he said. “There are certain games I wouldn’t want him to play, like Grand Theft Auto, games that celebrate criminality. But a game that might lead him to think and have him challenge his ideas, I’m fine with.
“Luckily for me he doesn’t agree with the game, he still seems to believe in objectivism”
Objectivism as a central theme in BioShock was actually the result of a confluence of ideas and happenstance. The heart of the game started, as do most of Ken Levine’s games, as the answer to a problem.
“How do we make an environment that feels really complete?” Levine said. “That’s where we came up with a space ship for System Shock. In BioShock we said what can we do similarly and simulate fully as we could a space ship.”
The answer was an underwater city, but that simply formed the game’s outline, the walls that kept a player from remembering they were in a confined space.
Levine wondered what sorts of people might live in an underwater city, what would drive someone from the rest of the world.
“I started thinking about utopian civilizations,” he said. “You have these traditional utopian notions. I’ve always been a fan of utopian and dystopian literature.
“The more I started thinking about making a compelling place and compelling villain, someone who had a real concrete set of beliefs made sense.”
Enter Objectivism. Levine said he had been reading Ayn Rand’s books over the past few years and was fascinated with her “intensity and purity of belief.”
“The surety she has in her beliefs was fascinating,” he said. “She almost spoke like a super villain, like Dr Doom.”
And her characters, Levine believed, projected that same intensity.
“I started to wonder, what happens when you stop questioning yourself? It becomes a set of accepted truths, instead of something you’re constantly using in the lab of reality.”
Keep reading for much more, including Yaron Brook’s explanation of why the game’s characters are unnecessarily flawed.