A short critique on “issues”
In a way, it is very surprising to see how much attention Bioshock: Infinite has received. While it is a good game in all ways, no doubt, I believe most of its success can be attributed to the controversies that surrounded it. But like with this title, so too was Resident Evil 5 called out for its supposed racism by small-minded agitators and yet, once that wave of ignorance faded, so did the interest for that game, for the most part. Which, however, is not the case with the title at hand. Events like this have shown us time and time again that they can help boost sales, which is probably the only thing that type of slander is good for.
There are a multitude of blogs, vlogs and news posts that cover the various aspects of the plot and its implications, but sadly they tend to solely focus on the controversial “racism” and “ultra-violence” that, I will repeat, are completely blown out of proportion in the name of sensationalism. In reality, there are much more interesting aspects the game delves into, with some far-fetching liberties taken with the often-paradoxical narrative. Granted, on my very first playthrough, I cared little for the supposed social commentary and the sci-fi philosophy it dabbled in. All I saw were references taken from history and used as a backdrop. And I suppose for the most part, that’s all there is. As far as the racial issue is concerned at least. First things first, I want to talk a little about the original Bioshock, its influences and how it’s played out.
So, there’s no secret that the somewhat antagonistic character Andrew Ryan is the embodiment of Ayn Rand, the Jewish-Russian writer/philosopher from an upper-middle class family who emigrated to the US some years after the Reds had taken power in the Motherland. She was an extremely strong supporter of the self-interest centered individual and against any form of government-controlled economy, which is now known as Objectivism. In her book “Atlas Shrugged” she hypothesized a scenario where the industry tycoons disappear, leaving their companies to get by without their “enlightened genius” leaders and thus bringing about an economic disaster. By the end, it is revealed that this is a protest against an ever-watchful government that was increasing its control over the populous, mainly the industry big-shots, who then basically showed the guys in the White House that without them, the whole country as we know it, would collapse.In the original Bioshock, Ayn Rand’s proposed Utopia is envisioned in the form of Rapture (an ironic name considering religion was banned there), a free market based ultra-capitalist society where the governments interference is extremely minimal. The main creed of the city being that every man is entitled to the sweat of his brow, which means that absolutely everything has a value and price. The word ‘parasite’ is thrown around a lot, mainly by Mr. Ryan himself, referring to the people expecting to get something for nothing. This is somewhat covered in multiple recordings found throughout the game, which talk about the problems surrounding the city-dwellers who at some point become unemployed or who aren’t able to earn a living for whatever reason. This is an extremely interesting and yet critical of a question: “In a society where there are no social safety nets, what would happen to the people who for whatever reason couldn’t provide for themselves?” The game tries to answer this by showing us the aftermath in the underwater city: a society engulfed in civil war that was ignited by the growing inequality, coupled with the unregulated use of super-power granting narcotics that made everybody into violent jacked-up schizophrenic’s who on the one side are led by Ryan, the city’s founder and on the other side by Atlas, the revolutionary who fights for the poor… or at least that is what we are led to believe for majority of the plot. In Rapture, Atlas used the poor to try to conquer the city for himself while playing the altruistic savior of the disenfranchised. It might sound like a socialist takeover but there was never a pro-commie stance in the entire game. The entire war was centered more around resources, power-hungry greed and desperation, rather than equality and ideology. This leads us to Columbia.
Now Daisy Fitzroy from Infinite is basically Lenin, in that she actually believed in her cause, unlike Atlas who was in it for his own personal gain. This is an EXTREMELY critical point, one which often seems to be missed, either accidentally or misunderstood on purpose. Being acquainted with history from that the early 20th century is helpful in understanding why but simply by replaying the game and paying attention, one should be able to fathom what the developers were going for.
You see, Lenin, unlike Stalin actually believed in the communistic ideal. All conspiracy theories aside, he truly fought for the people and though that the October revolution would lead to a wonderful Utopian society full of happy workers. To achieve this, all they had to do was kill off all the bourgeois. This was considered a necessity, no integration was seen possible. In Infinite, the Vox Populi act similarly to that of the Reds or more precisely they have some fundamental similarities: both consist of the lower working class and the poor, also minorities(which appeared to a lesser extent in Russia); both started off protesting peacefully which led to a bloody revolution where the well-being of the former ruling class meant absolutely nothing.
Now in the game, at one point you witness Daisy, the leader of the Vox, murder one of the industrial tycoons of Columbia and proceeds to kill his son, only to be stopped by Elizabeth, the protagonists ally. Booker, the player character, tries to justify Liz’ actions by stating that just because the white upper-class put the lower class through hell, doesn’t justify their cruel actions of revenge and actually makes Daisy as bad as Comstock, the leader of Columbia. While Elizabeth feels bad for taking another life, she reluctantly agrees with him. In the last “Burial at Sea” DLC, it is revealed that Daisy was somewhat forced to provoke her own murder in order for Elizabeth to “mature” and this was basically meant to show the audience that the rebel leader wasn’t the heartless monster we perceived her to be. Most likely this was shoe-horned in after the racial criticism started rolling out but honestly, it was unnecessary. It is disappointing to see that the company resorted to such measures in order to quell the witless loud-mouths who are willing to accuse anyone and anything of racism.
In the end, Daisy didn’t feel like a monster to me, no more than Lenin. Both believed in their cause, and while the Vox never outright said that in order to be eradicated from the unfair treatment, they had to kill all the privileged whites, that’s kinda what they were trying to achieve once the revolution was in full-motion. This isn’t necessarily unexpected of people who have been stomped down their entire life and most likely they will try to justify similar actions on their former harassers with some sort of social philosophy, while in reality the vast majority will act out of pure rage and/or desperation. In the end, killing is bad whichever way you look at it but in some cases, such as these, not surprising.
As I stated in the beginning, I believe the Vox thing was mainly meant as an intriguing backdrop but on false pretenses people accused the game of “not getting it.” However, racial issues, even to this day, are extremely complex and to expect a 8-10 hour video game to thoroughly analyse such a topic, especially in a fictional context, is pretty ludicrous. Still, it is interesting to see that there are interactive experiences that are willing to dip their toes into such topics.