*Written circa 2010 when I was running a blog about politics and economics.
*There be spoilers here!
After finishing Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, I decided to pick up Bioshock by 2K Games. The second one in the series was being released and I wanted to play through the first one before delving into its sequel.
The first Bioshock was a highly regarded video game and there is hardly anyone I know of who wasn’t impressed with it. The main reason why I wanted to check it out however, is because a friend of mine said that it was an argument against Objectivism and the philosophy Rand expressed in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. I had also read this and heard this from many other sources. So, as I am becoming receptive to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I felt that I had to jump into Bioshock to see if this was true.
For those who have read Atlas Shrugged and played Bioshock, there is no doubt whatsoever that there is a deep connection between them. Looking at two of the main characters in the game, one can immediately conclude, by their names alone, that the game was at least heavily inspired by Rand’s epic novel.
One of the characters is named Atlas; heck, that’s the first half of the book title. Another character is named Andrew Ryan, which is a play on words of Ayn Rand’s name. Ayn can be found in Ryan while Rand can be found in Andrew: not to mention that the initials are the same.
There are many other connections as well. For instance, both stories are about a great industrialist who escapes the oppressive constraints of political, economic and religious authority because those powers were sucking the great minds and artists of the world dry like parched vampires. This industrialist left normal society and went into hiding where he created his own society for the greatest minds and artists of the world to work together. Thus, leaving the real world to its fate without its greatest problem solvers, intellectuals, inventors, industrialists, engineers and artists.
Where the stories differ is in the fact that Atlas Shrugged shows that restricting and looting the world’s greatest minds is catastrophic to the rest of the world and that the selfishness of the elite, should be left unchecked for the benefit of all. Bioshock shows what happens when the great minds go insane and become mesmerized by their obsessive lust for power. Both versions show the same philosophy, although evolved into two opposite extremes.
So is the negative extreme of this philosophy displayed in Bioshock a true counterargument to Objectivism? I don’t think so. While Bioshock is sort of the worst-case scenario of what could happen in Rand’s utopian society, it really just critiques Atlas Shrugged and not Objectivism, as a whole. Also, the people in Bioshock were pretty much experimenting on themselves carelessly, which is something that the great minds in Atlas Shrugged would’ve most likely never done.
In Bioshock, the great minds became moochers and looters of their own legacy and self-destructed. Their carelessness was really just a footnote to the story and those behind it were barely analyzed. I do not see John Galt, the real hero of Atlas Shrugged, falling so easily and so idiotically. The elite of Atlas Shrugged would not throw it all away on stupidity and the negative aspects of the human ego after sacrificing all in which they did to create their perfect world. The characters in Bioshock almost came across as people who were inspired by Atlas Shrugged but seemingly missed the point.
Bioshock really doesn’t delve too far into laissez-faire capitalism apart from the very short welcoming monologue by Andrew Ryan and a few subtle hints here or there where Ryan and Atlas are giving skeletal critiques of the outside world’s looting nature. There isn’t much to base a real counterargument off of, contrary to popular belief. Also, Atlas Shrugged, as massive as it is, barely scratches the surface of the full meaning and philosophy of Objectivism.
Atlas Shrugged is a fictional tale that is so grandiose and epic that the magnitude of its essence is translated into its almost godlike characters and extreme situations. Although these over the top characters and situations have a very human and believable element to them, the context is still fictional and worked into a story. Atlas Shrugged is not a complete representation of Objectivism and Bioshock is not a complete counterargument to Atlas Shrugged. Therefore, it is not a true critique against Objectivism.
I don’t find Bioshock to be anti-Objectivist, as many people try to assume that it is. I think a lot of people who are anti-Rand just try to make Bioshock into a viable counterargument against her philosophy. I don’t see it this way at all. If anything, I feel that the game makers were heavily inspired by her work and in the vain of making a horror themed first-person shooter, they had to make a very scary translation of Rand’s material. Bioshock also pulls a lot of its world from Orwell, not just Rand. With that being said, one should expect Bioshock to be dark and horrifying in nature. Bioshock is not a viable counterargument against Atlas Shrugged or Objectivism for that matter. If anything, it is a minimalist counterpart to it and a great game that stands on its own.
People can enjoy both, as they compliment each other quite nicely and are not truly philosophical enemies. If anything, the dark nature of Bioshock adds credit to Rand’s work and is a warning to those who succumb to a mooching and looting nature.