So, as all truly brilliant and slightly mad people do, I was having a discussion with myself earlier today. After all, where else can we go to reliably find someone who is our intellectual equal? #ego
But it happened that I was comparing BioShock and Dishonored, which is understandable and frankly easy to do.
But a thought occurred to me then that the most iconic thing in BioShock isn’t a thing.
Lots of people would point out BioShock is filled with imagery now iconic to the franchise: the Little Sisters, Big Daddies, Eve Hypos, “Would You Kindly”, and Andrew Ryan’s speeches, among many other things. But the most iconic thing about BioShock, I posit, is Rapture itself.
Even when I tire of BioShock, I never tire of Rapture, and there is very good reason for that. Rapture is a marvel. It’s a beautiful art-deco nightmare of a place, with history and stories oozing off every steel plate and beam. You are a visitor to Rapture, and you never fully shake this feeling. The story you play, whether it be in the first game, second game, or Burial At Sea, is only one of countless many. Even the Bioshock 2 Multiplayer lends only one more story atop the pile. Rapture is a thing of mystery, but beyond that, it is a character as well. Rapture has a personality, and it is just as twisted and wild as the people who inhabit it. Rapture cannot be tamed, not by Andrew Ryan, not by Frank Fontaine, and even less by you the player. The city embodies a chaotic freedom, a “do as you will and the Devil take the losers” brand of liberty. In it lives a society ruled by chaos and anarchy, and the strange self-contradictory rules within that chaos.
Rapture, Atlantis Fallen, is a dangerous mystery, and whatever our goals and inclinations when we first come to this place, it reveals something in us, like Silent Hill on the surface world. Some players cede to their inner demons within Rapture—they murder and abuse the inhabitants as those same inhabitants attempt to murder and abuse you. Others find nobility, and try to save as many as they can. By the end, most of us are content simply to survive the challenge, the gauntlet thrown by the city itself.
Andrew Ryan built the city and sought to control it, and failed.
Frank Fontaine came to the city and sought to use it, and failed.
The city is like the Event Horizon (kudos to those of you who have seen that film). Like the Event Horizon, Rapture has a life of its own that exerts great influence on all within. The life of the city is not a life form as we would understand it, but something more nebulous, something like the Great Old Ones that we cannot truly see or even completely comprehend.
And this is where BioShock:Infinite failed with Columbia, in my opinion. Columbia feels like a city destroyed by and because of its inhabitants. All that extremism and nationalism eventually reached a critical mass and exploded magnificently, and Columbia was ruined.
But Rapture is something far more sinister.
Whereas Columbia feels like it was destroyed because of the people within, Rapture’s people were destroyed by their dwelling. Moving through the city, just hanging on to your wits through all the tension and atmosphere, and watching the inhabitants proves it. These are NOT people turned mad from desperation and poverty. Most of them aren’t even really people anymore. They are their own evils brought to the surface. The Splicers are the monsters of Silent Hill. Rapture gave them great things, ADAM and EVE, Plasmids, and a life beyond what they might have known otherwise, and destroyed them with the things they wanted and asked for. In the end, Rapture used their desires against them, and “spliced” them into the monsters each soul harbored. Only the strongest wills could hope to survive in any sort of intact state in such a place as that.
What happens when the evil within is no longer within, but without? Rapture is like a haunted house, or an undersea Silent Hill: it drags the worst of those within outside of themselves and forces them to take a good long look at the things we hid in our darkness, or go mad from the revelation.
I’m happy to visit in a videogame, but is there a soul among us who would say that we would like to visit in real life? The dangerous mystery can only be enjoyed at arm’s length, and were we to actually go there, it would consume us with our own demons.
In the end, BioShock isn’t about the Little Sisters, Big Daddies, Andrew Ryan, Frank Fontaine, Eve syringes, or distorted views of free market economies. BioShock is about Rapture—it always has been, and always will be, and without Rapture, BioShock is nothing.