After all of the hype and excitement around Bioshock: Infinite died down a bit I did a bit of a quick revisit of the past couple of games in the Bioshock series. I feel that, with PAX happening in Melbourne, Australia right now, it is appropriate to talk about video games this week and why they are really great.
Video games are often seen as the domain of the frivolous and uneducated, even now that we’re in the middle of 2013. Critics and artists all the world over hesitate to see video games as an art form, a social comment or any kind of educational tool. Those who do think seriously about a video game aren’t to be taken seriously because, ‘really? Critically analysing a game? Why are you being so dumb?’
Trust me, it’s not dumb.
There is a wealth of video games on the market that provide relevant analysis and emulation of our social and political atmosphere. Many people are surprised to find that the number of gamers who are, in fact, educated and intelligent enough to delve into hard analysis and evaluation of their hobby is higher than they care to imagine. It must feel like the end of civilized society: people are looking hard and looking seriously at expensive software designed solely to entertain those who can afford it. Nobody wants to face the alarming fact that video games have now reached a level of complexity that allow them to educate, stimulate and critique their audience.
One of my favourite examples is a game series known as BioShock, developed by 2K. It’s now turning into a franchise with the release of BioShock: Infinite but the two games that have previously been released are a real feast for thought.
Examining them in chronological order, BioShock takes the player through the dilapidated gulch known as the underwater city of Rapture. The city was once ruled and then ruined by its founder and leader Andrew Ryan. An individualist, objectivist and a capitalist, Ryan built his city on the principles of free market unrestrained by law or ethics. Anything can be bought and sold while those who cannot afford such a life are the “parasites” to be exterminated. This extreme rampant capitalism culminated into a civil war and the implosion of civilized society in Rapture.
Then, BioShock 2 sees the player return to the ruin of Rapture, which has come under the control of Sophia Lamb – a psychologist who believes single-mindedly in absolute egalitarianism and achieving communist utopia. Everyone must be equal; no one must be better or worse. However, rather than this end being successfully achieved, the city is drawn into an obsessive quasi-religious hierarchical system and society fails to improve.
The themes of both games are a lot closer to reality than it seems, highlighting the substantial flaws that come with adhering to one of the two opposing Cold War ideologies: communism and capitalism.
When we play BioShock we come to understand that capitalism is a juggernaut that cannot be controlled. The fuel of the capitalist society is self-satisfaction and the individual man’s own sense of achievement or entitlement. It relies heavily on the exploitation of not only those who are lower in the social hierarchy but also the system itself.
ADAM is the drug that exacerbates this exploitation. Actually, ADAM is a type of foreign stem cell harvested from a rare sea slug but through scientific research and refinement the population of Rapture are able to freely use it like a steroid to drastically alter their genes. Unfortunately the effect is temporary and repeated use will not only strain the body physically but mentally too. So, to be frank, ADAM is the staple of Rapture’s economy. The population depends on it. Through the use of ADAM every vice of capitalism can be seen with the naked eye:
Greed: ADAM is rare and valuable, afforded only to those who have the money to pay for it. Those who don’t must steal it.
Power and Control: Not just through gene enhancement but also through the economy, one man – known cryptically as ‘Atlas’ – controls the entire lucrative ADAM industry and consequently the entire population of Rapture.
Self-interest: whether for genetic enhancement or the acquisition of wealth, ADAM is never used for the benefit of anyone but oneself.
With this capitalist idealism also comes elitism. Andrew Ryan designed his gulch to be an ethic-free haven for the free market and also wished to generate a community of the “best and brightest” in the world. The bulk of Rapture’s population are top scientists, artists and businesspeople. This creates a top-heavy society, which is (ironically) reliant on the short supply of middle and working class citizens. This unbalanced demographic was doomed from the start and it should not come to any surprise to a thinking player that this society could not be sustained.
Ryan’s capitalist Rapture is unsustainable because it is fuelled by self-satisfaction and greed. There are no safety nets for people in need and anybody lower than the upper-middle class is exceedingly undervalued. Those who had power fought for more power and those without had no tools with which to even fight for their next meal.
Ten years later, during the events of BioShock 2, Sofia Lamb has appointed herself as the leader and is supported by desperate civilians who are disappointed by the failure of the capitalist system. Lamb is dedicated to the creation of an egalitarian utopia that will benefit every citizen equally. However, the main flaw of this ideology is quickly apparent: it cannot function unless there is an autocrat to manage the people into an egalitarian community and ensure the community’s survival. This is the role of the “Utopian”.
The Utopian, in Lamb’s mind, is one person who can put the needs of the people as a whole before their own in all aspects of their life and work for the “greater good” of the society. Lamb also believes that this person does not exist and must be created by means of ADAM-induced mental conditioning. Some problems become apparent. First of all, a human being has to be sacrificed to scientific experiments and operations which may not work or may not be sustainable due to the temporary nature of ADAM. Secondly, the Utopian that is created has to be stripped of their personality in order to avoid bias or prejudice, which raises some serious human rights questions.
The main difficulties observed in Lamb’s pro-communist system are based in the structure of the society she is trying to create:
Autocracy: in order for Lamb’s society to rise it has to be ruled by someone who understands how and why it should work. This leader is non-negotiable and has the ultimate authoritative power.
Collectivism: the people of Rapture only have the right to what every other citizen has, no more and no less. The concerns of the collective always take precedence over the concerns of an individual.
Resources: Lamb’s goal is ambitious and requires vast amounts of resources and education. Unfortunately, due to the decimation caused by the civil war there is very little left to work with and so the only thing that she can share around is scarcity.
Sofia’s Rapture is unachievable. She does not have the resources – in terms of commodities, services and labour – to build her ideal society from the ground up. She also does not have a population that is entirely ready to meet the requirements of a utopian society of selflessness. That is to say: if one person is able to find a chance to be happy, they will not settle for being equally as miserable as everyone else until the rest of the group is able to take that chance as well.
The point that BioShock is making is that the two major ideologies presented – capitalism and communism – are unfeasible. They represent two social extremities: one that is far too broad to be manageable and one that is far too narrow to accommodate an entire society. The ultimate conclusion is that if modern society is to function at all, then people in powerful positions must cast off any notion of ideological positioning. Modern politics (and decision-making in general) isn’t best achieved by formulating a limited framework that will determine how and why decisions are made. Decisions should be made and positions should be taken based on reason. It’s no longer enough to say that actions should be taken based on a set of values; there needs to be significant thought put into what is reasonable and how values can be achieved, upheld or enriched via reasonable processes. BioShock does not show any immediate sign of addressing that question but it does a surprisingly good job of illuminating the issue, proving that video games of now and of the future are not here simply for boring rainy days but also to challenge and educate us about our world.
The moral of this article is: you should play more video games because that is obviously totally not a waste of time.
In my recent article ‘To Love a Villain’, I wrote about fans and our weird attractions to villainous characters. But where does the wider Australian population stand on dastardly villains and dashing heroes?
To coincide with the release of new game Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios (creators of the Mortal Kombat franchise) conducted a study of a little over 1,000 young Australians to garner their opinion on some of DC’s most popular characters. The results are as follows:
Most Fashionable Superhero: for the women, we have Catwoman, closely followed by Wonder Woman. Most fashionable male superhero is (unsurprisingly) Batman.
Sexiest Superhero: Catwoman and Wonder Woman tied for the top place, with Batman again number one for men.
Classiest Superhero: This category had no clear winner, with Batman, Catwoman, Superman and Wonder Woman all very closely tied.
Most Evil Villain: The Joker won out the top spot, closely followed by Lex Luthor, Bane, Deathstroke and Harley Quinn.
Ugliest Villain: The Joker again had the dubious honour of taking top spot in this category, with Bane, Cyborg, Lex Luthor and Solomon Grundy as hot contenders.
Some of the results are also looking at how the individual states view certain characters. Apparently Victorians are the most likely to have a crush on a superhero – or super villain. Western Australians are into Catwoman in a big way, rating her highest in all categories, while people from South Australia are more afraid of Bane than any other state.
These results are interesting both for the general Batman character preferences and for the categories themselves – it says a great deal about the company and the gaming industry as a whole that categories like ‘Classiest’ and ‘Ugliest’ are considered important. It also says a lot about the Australian public and how we prioritise certain qualities and concepts of attractiveness.
Although I might take issue with some of the questions, Injustice still looks like a pretty great game. The character renders are dynamic and interesting, and the female characters are sexy while still looking powerful and generally not ridiculous.
Who’s your favourite hero/ villain? Let us know in the comments!
- Starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, NBA All-star Chris Bosh, Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, Drew Houston, Gabe Newell, Ruchi Sanghvi, Elena Silenok, Vanessa Hurst, and Hadi Partovi. Directed by Lesley Chilcott.
I would argue they’re today’s rockstars, for the mainstream population. Sure, most of us geeks know that coding isn’t half as hard as the average Joe thinks it is, but to the average Joe, like this video says, it’s like a coder is a wizard. I’ve always said I would definitely date someone who considered themselves a wizard. A coder who called himself a wizard? Yeah, I’m there.
I remember I took an Information Systems class in my final year of University – and I only took it because I knew I was going into Computational Physics in the next semester and had absolutely no clue as to how to code. It was eye-opening to be shown how a computer thinks – the logical steps it goes through when you give it commands. It’s in English words, but the syntax is completely different. Being a writer at heart, and studying creative writing at the same time, meant that it was the most intriguing thing in the world.
When I got on to Computational Physics, I got fully lost inside the coding world. I started ending Facebook statuses with semi-colons. I started taking longer to say things to people because I had to consciously rearrange the words. Towards the end though, I started to pull back out (I kinda had to…had other subjects for which I had to write essays!) and it started to settle into being a new language that I could turn on and off. Learning code is like learning a new language – they’re even called coding languages. But languages can be hard to maintain if you’re not speaking them all the time right? And who speaks these languages? Everything these days: your iPhone, your computer, your bedside speakers, your high-tech oven, your elevator. Everything is programmed and everything needed someone to write that program. It’s quite literally universal language.
And like most languages, they’re easier to learn when you’re younger. So if you are in school, then make a point of asking about coding classes. If they don’t have any in your school, maybe show your IT teachers this video, and they might just be spurred into starting something up.
But no matter what your age, no matter who you want to be, where you want to work, or how you want to go about your life – coding is a skill that will always come in useful. Even in the most basic things – like programming a macro in Microsoft Word or Excel to get it to automatically do a task you do everyday in the office. I did this for my boss once and she was floored.
It makes a difference. Go learn. It’s worth it.
Did you know something as simple as a block on a search term can have huge impacts on a community’s visibility and access to support?
Google only put a ban on ‘bisexual’ in its searches as recently as 2009, due to something complicated to do with de-prioritising and algorithms. Within the last week, however, the ban has been lifted. This means it’s going to much easier to look for bisexual-related content, including information about support groups and the like.
As much as Google’s status as supreme overlord terrifies me (I have been watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and now I’m pretty sure that Vik’s promotion of Google+ means that he is a cyborg), they do have a history of supporting queer rights, and that means I can support them.
Thank you, Google, for helping to minimise the extent of bi-invisibility.