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Bioshock Infinite Vs. American Exceptionalism

Big Hollywood previewed the new game in February, expressing concern that it will foster distorted views of American history and vilify patriotic movements like the Tea Party. Noah Dulis writes:

Infinite is a spiritual sequel to Irrational Games’ 2007 hit BioShock. In the original, studio head Ken Levine and his team examined Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy in a fictional underwater meritocracy gone mad called Rapture. This time, the developers are ostensibly tackling the concept of American exceptionalism through the isolated denizens of Columbia.

“The American Exceptionalism, theocracy-based power structure has been around the edges of American culture for a long time,” Levine says. “BioShock Infinite gives it its full day in court.”

The problem is that the representatives of this philosophy, the Founders, are straw men. Racist, xenophobic, religious fanatics, they are progressive caricatures of conservatives writ large, stripped of any subtlety; nothing but ugly monsters full of naked aggression and violent bigotry. Levine claims, “We don't try to go into these things with a particular axe to grind,” but it’s hard to accept his assertion based on what has been shown of the game to this point.

Indeed, a review of the narrative content in the original Bioshock proves Dulis’ concern well founded. If Irrational Games’ treatment of American Exceptionalism is anything like its treatment of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, the court Levine holds will house a kangaroo.

Bioshock’s underwater city of Rapture sprang from the vision of antagonist Andrew Ryan. As the player descends into watery depths during the game’s opening moments, Ryan explains the philosophy which drove him to abandon life above the waves and build a brave new world on the bed of the Atlantic. Readers of Atlas Shrugged will immediately recognize the tone and tenor of author Ayn Rand, whose name is a partial anagram of Ryan’s.

Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

“No,” says the man in Washington, it belongs to the poor.”

“No,” says the man in the Vatican, “it belongs to God.”

“No,” says the man in Moscow, “it belongs to everyone.”

I rejected those answers.

Rapture serves as a practical laboratory where Levine and his team at Irrational Games imagine how Ayn Rand’s theory of individual rights might play out in the real world. They portray an unmitigated disaster where Ryan’s refusal to govern enables rampant crime, tragic abuse, and a hellish carnival of social Darwinism.