Monday, March 11, 2013

Somewhere Beyond the Sea

        The world of Bioshock, an idealist, a deceptive business man and a puppet turned wildcard. All

three sunk beneath the waves, lost in a decaying utopia known as Rapture. Much like Jack, I had spent a

few years away and felt obligated by the upcoming release of Bioshock Infinite to return. I know beyond

a doubt, Bioshock is an absolute champion of atmosphere. It contains the greatest and most complex

grouping of concept, characters, universe, and story that has ever existed in the world of video games.

            Andrew Ryan wasn’t a king, a dictator or president. He was a man, who fervently believed every

man is entitled to full expression and zero limits. It was for this reason alone, he built Rapture. “A city

where the artist would not fear the censor; where the scientist would not be bound by petty 

morality; where the great would not be constrained by the small!” A place where free thinkers were

able to pursue taboo subjects or experiment with the limits of humanity was the only kind of place boundaries

were really tested. When given absolute freedom, those bound by self-reliance will find anything given

from someone else as a favor. Understanding the importance of such favors, the first thing the people of

Rapture did was attempt to control one another. Unaware of the dependence they had forged.

            Perhaps the absolute antithesis to Andrew Ryan’s core belief came in the form of a phrase,

“Would you kindly?” It’s a simple phrase; it isn’t read from an ancient tome or spoke in some forgotten

language. It’s a gamble, each time a stranger asks another for a favor, he’s rolling the dice. Hoping you

might be so inclined to help him. Andrew Ryan did not believe in favors or manipulation of his fellow

man, however, Frank Fontaine did.

            Fontaine was a business man; he didn’t come to Rapture interested in the flowering of

expression but rather, the ditch of exploitation. A city full of weak-armed artists and scientists spaced

out from their limitless thoughts were still like those “capitalist pigs” of America; consumers. When

the denizens of Rapture scoffed at Ryan Industries’ power, Fontaine, like any good businessman,

saw a vacuum and filled it by creating Atlas, the sigil, the rallying cry of the “oppressed”. Atlas was

whatever the market needed him to be and Fontaine knew better than any other inhabitant, the power

conformity carried in any sales pitch. Both Ryan and Fontaine were creators. Ryan had a concept and

Fontaine had a con.

            That we play as a sick creation of both men should come as no surprise. Sensing the inevitable

civil war, Fontaine saw you, Jack as a possible back up plan. Upon learning of Ryan’s illegitimate

fathering of Jack, he enlisted the help of Doctors Without Boundaries: Suchong and Tenebaum with the

ultimate plan of creating a sleeper agent. The irony here being that Ryan’s death was brought on by an

environment he chose to create. Only in Rapture would it not be morally objectionable to genetically

alter and brainwash a child. We may have had Ryan’s genes but we served at the hands of our master

Fontaine. With the words, “Would you kindly?” we were rendered a slave. Jack was sent to surface

in 1958 and returned only two years later to find bathyspheres previous locked, now open with only

Andrew Ryan’s will to stop him.

            When Jack arrived he found a once expressive city mired in silence, its halls vacant, its shops

closed and its remaining citizens irreparably changed. Caught in a tug of war between two symbols of

men, one offered explanation; Atlas and the other promised death; Ryan. Naturally Jack sided with

Atlas. Ryan and Fontaine were not enemies and I believe that Ryan did not see Fontaine as ideologically

wrong. Fontaine’s actions were merely a product of Rapture’s environment.

            Rapture had failed, Andrew Ryan knew this well. However, it was his opinion that failing through

freedom was barely a failure at all. If the by-product of individuality was nothing more than a pool of

blood then so be it. At least no one had told them or enforced Rapture become this way. It was a pure

evolution of what Ryan’s utopia allowed.

            A little over halfway through Bioshock, we come face to face with the man, the myth and the

legend, Andrew Ryan. He tells his son, “A man acts, a slave obeys.” This man may have had answers

but more importantly he had questions, something unfamiliar to Jack, who mainly did as he was told.

Powerless to stop himself, Jack killed Andrew Ryan. Each time Jack raised his cudgel; Ryan came back

and said it once more. Unlike Jack, Andrew Ryan chose, unwilling to become a slave to any other’s

will. With this, Rapture was dead. Ryan was its life force and despite the cities’ fall to decay, his presence

allowed the idea to remain alive. It’s somewhat disheartening to know the moment Jack finally had

questions, the man who had them lay dead by his hand.

            Imagine the disappointment Andrew Ryan must have endured escaping Russia, arriving in

America, a place he believed a man would be granted real freedom, then discovering how democracy

only appeared free. Its citizens brainwashed into believing what their nation offered was the same

as liberty. As if a man falling from a high perch, feeling the wind against his face was akin to another

merely sticking his head out a window. Despite this he urged onward, believing if you want something

done right, you must do it yourself and he did. Thus Rapture was born. His exposure to the colossal

failure of the civilized government birthed in him the idea of a city beyond the sea. Far from the clutches

of those who believe they have the right to constrict the lawful pursuits of man. He had succeeded

and for twenty years, he lived without restriction. The tail end of such a time produced the largest

disappointment of Andrew Ryan’s life, you. After all, what could be more discouraging to a man like

Ryan than realizing your killer was just another mindless drone. “I came to this place to build the

impossible; you came to rob what you could never build. A Hun, gaping at the gates of Rome.

            Rapture was designed as a paradise for those seeking to escape the parasites. In a way, every video

game is similarly created to serve as a safe haven from the harshness of reality, a break from the monotonous

routines of our everyday life. The problem that often occurs with any escape from reality is logic, the walls

start to crack. Water begins springing from each gaping hole, eventually forming a crushing wave of sense

that tends to break any experience down. It’s hard not to notice by the eighth time we’re sent to activate

some switch, we’re already drowning. How many games shove poorly structured characters or plot front

and center solely to serve as a more inspiring facilitation of a list of objectives? Is it a coincidence that

Atlas himself is a construct, something designed to convince us we're playing a hero’s tale. The same

tale he had the citizens of Rapture believing. Ryan was the promise of all games and Fontaine was the

designer of one. It took being fed a fake narrative to expose us to how blind we've been. Eyes long shut,

now opened to the world around us. Helping Atlas was a metaphor for the stale and undeserving stories

we're told in video games, while Andrew Ryan and his belief, his way of life was the true heart and soul

of Rapture and therefore Bioshock. Ryan, a man who believed the world shouldn't be made for everyone’s

use but for those who know what to do with it. “On the surface, I once bought a forest. The parasites

claimed it belonged to God, and demanded I establish a public park there. Why? So the rabble 

could stand slack-jawed under the canopy and pretend that it was paradise earned. When 

Congress moved  to nationalize my forest, I burnt it to the ground. God did not plant the seeds of 

this Arcadia; I did.

             All of this culminating in something beyond a game, Bioshock is a work of art and like any

piece of art, further meditation will expose the most subtle of details. The kind of details that have us

suspending our disbelief for just a little bit longer. The developers of Bioshock, much like many of the

free thinkers who came to Rapture, found an outlet for their expression.

             Rapture was a drowning city, too stubborn to resuscitate, she sunk deep and took the illusion

of freedom with her. Ryan just like the captain of any worthy vessel chose to go down with her. That’s

the cost of liberty, true liberty that is, it requires an unwillingness to relinquish, an utterly insane

commitment to a cause, something that you must believe so whole heartily that even the threat of death

wouldn't shake you.

             My experience with Rapture has got me thinking, I’d like to get away for a while, a place among

the clouds sure sounds nice.

Edited by Jacob Houston

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