I promise this will be my last post about Bioshock. At least, I promise it’ll be my last post for now.
What I want to talk about today isn’t sex, or gender, or even the reverberating scream of a plastic surgeon telling you you’re ugly (’cause that makes a first-person avatar feel so warm and fuzzy inside), it’s morals. Yes, perhaps a strange topic for Heroine Sheik, but all the same… Specifically, I want to talk about how morals–or the lack thereof–are built into Bioshock’s gameplay, how the game reflects on itself and its world by turning regular video game actions into immoral acts.
The obvious example of moral mechanics in Bioshock would be the much-discussed Little Sister dilemma. Kill them, or save them? Only you can decide! Thing is, that’s actually a bad example of what I’m trying to point out–since, as Zero Punctuation so enjoyable notes, the whole dynamic is a little like Mother Teresa vs. baby eating. What I’m talking about is this: Rapture is founded on the notion of abandoning “petty ethics.” Instead of morals, the capitalistic, “every man for himself” spirit has becomes the dystopian standard. This is true not only in the fiction of the game, in what it presents us–like its endless and oh-so-clever advertisements, reminding us that even as the world crumbles, at least we still have purchasing power–it’s also true of what we do in the game.
Potentially killing possessed little girls is hardly the only morally reprehensible thing players can do in Bioshock. We shake our fingers at the crazy surgeon turned pseudo-Nazi scientist, or at the power-hungry idealist. Meanwhile, we kill splicers (much more human than normal survival horror “zombies) with little to no explanation or justification–other than to prolong our own life. Unlike other FPSes, we follow as our hand, not our gun, leads us from challenge to challenge. Under this image–the manifestation of Andrew Ryan’s belief we that we deserve to reap the benefits of the work we’ve done with our own hands–we do things like steal supplies from the corpse of a woman in a wheelchair. Maybe we even knock her dead body onto the floor as we pass. What could be immoral?
Even the machines in Bioshock subscribe to the capitalist spirit. Hack them proper, or just buy them out. The result is the same. The fact of the matter is, everyone in Rapture, even the player, is in it for himself. But we might not expect is how the game reveals the selfishness of gameplay tactics we’ve come to accept as normal. Of course we shoot everything that moves. Of course we pick up supplies from the dead. Of course we do what we need to to up our stats and survive. It’s these choices we make in games without even thinking–these choices that aren’t even choices–that shine with real dystopian light in Bioshock.