Friday, 3 April 2020

Philosophy in Bioshock

On the surface, Bioshock seems like a pretty straight forward series of bizarre science fiction games. The series as a whole can be described as a mix of several different genres, combining a retro science fiction aesthetic with a hybrid of first-person shooter, puzzle-solving, and RPG mechanics. Bioshock has proven extremely influential. One can trace influences from earlier games, perhaps most obviously Half-Life 2, but its influence on later games is irrefutable. Later franchises such as Dishonored draw heavily on Bioshock's blending of genres and its distinct gameplay.

The series currently consists of three main games, plus two additional storylines released as downloadable content- Minerva's Den for Bioshock 2 and Burial at Sea for Bioshock: Infinite, with a fourth game currently in development. Additionally, novels expanding on the game's lore have also been published, and there was even a cancelled movie. The majority of the series concerns Rapture, a failed underwater utopia that exchanges hands through several different people over the course of the series. The third game in the series, Bioshock: Infinite, changes the setting to Columbia, a city in the sky (though Rapture makes a cameo, and its story is further developed in the Burial at Sea campaign).

The City of Rapture, as seen in the original Bioshock

For our purposes, this discussion will be focused primarily on the material related to Rapture, namely Bioshock (2007), Bioshock 2 (2010), and Burial at Sea (2013). All together this creates four distinct storylines (Burial at Sea was released in two parts, both with a different focus), with the player controlling a different character in each.

As is revealed over the course of the series, Rapture was created by a businessman named Andrew Ryan, who was fed up with government regulations infringing on his success. He is generally opposed to things like charity, that he feels interfere with a person's ability to earn through hard work. To him, this is the work of "parasites" who take what is not rightfully theirs. Ryan's concept of Rapture was a world in which everyone earned their own fortune, starting at the same place and climbing the ranks. Unfortunately for him, this did not go entirely to plan.

One of the big commodities in Rapture is a substance known as "ADAM"- a drug harvested from a rare sea slug that can be used to rewrite DNA. When administered, ADAM can be used to gain superpowers, such as the ability to shoot lightning or fire, to freeze objects or people, even telekinesis. It also can be used to obtain various "tonics" that can give the body various advantages.

Unfortunately, it is also extremely addicting as it causes instability in a person's genes that can only be resolved by continued doses. Prolonged use of ADAM results in gradual mental and physical deterioration, until the user starts to lose track of everything that makes them an individual, loses their capacity for rational thought, and turns into a mutated mess only capable of pursuing their next fix, known in the games as "splicers."

Because of its limited availability, ADAM is recycled through mutated children known as "Little Sisters." These are young girls who have been mentally conditioned to collect ADAM from corpses around Rapture. Because this makes them a target for splicers, they also have a bodyguard in the form of a "Big Daddy"- perhaps the most iconic part of the game. Big Daddies are re-purposed construction workers created by mutating humans and permanently sealing them inside a diving suit, while also having their vocal chords surgically altered.

There are important philosophical themes which are routinely explored in each game. Each of the main games essentially revolves around a different philosophy (objectivism in Bioshock, utillitarianism and collectivism in Bioshock 2, and American exceptionalism in Infinite). Additionally the series also wrestles with other complicated issues including human nature, guilt and redemption, the ethics of genetic manipulation, the existence of free will, the roles of government and business in society, the tendency of revolutions to replace tyrants with even worse tyrants, and ultimately the futility of trying to create a perfect society- a task inherently doomed to failure simply because humans are imperfect. But one particular philosophy has a tendency to re-appear again and again- objectivism, which also happens to be the very foundation on which Rapture was built.

Objectivism is a philosophical popularized by author and philosopher Ayn Rand (whose writing was a significant influence on Bioshock). In its simplest form, objectivism is a theory about the self- that one should focus first and foremost on maximizing their own well-being (we can contrast this with the theories of utilitarianism and collectivism, which focus on rejecting the self in favor of helping others). Rand's writing famously suggested that if everyone could adopt a lifestyle built on reason, self-interest, and capitalism, the world would be a much better place.

Objectivism is the foundation of Rapture's society, to the point where its founder is even named Andrew Ryan in reference to Ayn Rand. Fittingly, his primary rival adopts the moniker "Atlas," referencing Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged). His real name, Frank Fontaine, also references another of Rand's works, The Fountainhead.

This ideology is present from the earliest moments of the original Bioshock. The player character, a man referred to as "Jack", narrowly survives a plane crash into the Atlantic Ocean and stumbles onto a small island containing only a lighthouse. Inside the lighthouse Jack gets his first glimpse of the bizarre and disturbing world which he is about to enter.

Upon entering the Bathysphere and submerging, a screen appears, and a short video plays in which Ryan introduces Jack (and the player) to his philosophy. He asks the question "is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow" and cites three examples of societies that say no. Ryan then claims to have "rejected those answers" in favor of constructing his own world, which became the city of Rapture. The slideshow illustrates what Rapture is supposed to be, and on paper it seems to create a very appealing world.

To hear Andrew Ryan tell it, Rapture is designed as the perfect society to accommodate the American dream. It is a place where everyone starts independently at the same level, and through nothing more than hard work can rise to greatness and receive a hard-earned reward. Ryan describes it as being free from the "parasites" of society (which in his mind, means anyone who would take what is rightfully yours). But already we start to see small hints of the problems with this idea. While in theory a place like Rapture can sound very appealing, in practice it is extremely flawed.

Ryan's speech includes his statement that the artist is free to construct as they wish, and the scientists can experiment without the hindrance of ethics. What Ryan is unable to understand is that the rules are in place for a reason, and why the complete freedom he is allowing is a recipe for disaster. We see this reflected in three different characters encountered over the course of the game, two of whom are encountered by the player, while a third appears among the game's many audio recordings that help piece together Rapture's backstory.

The first one encountered by Jack is Dr. Steinman, a once-brilliant plastic surgeon who has developed an obsession with perfecting the human form, to the point where he considers himself an artist on part with Pablo Picasso, and performs operations well beyond treating patients in a desperate attempt to mold them into his standard of beauty. We also see the cruelty of objectivist science demonstrated in Dr. Yi Suchong, a scientist who sells his skills to the highest bidder and finds the concept of empathy to be completely alien.

Suchong is revealed to have conducted a variety of less-than-ethical experiments on unwilling test subjects. This includes his contribution to making the "Big Daddies" but also his secret role in creating Jack. One audio log found in the game indicates that he was figures in not only making Jack, but also conditioning him to respond to certain phrases. In the audio log, he gives Jack a dog, lets him grow attached, then uses the trigger phrase "would you kindly" to make Jack snap the dog's neck.

His cruelty and self-serving worldview ultimately prove to be his undoing. As found in the audio logs in Bioshock and his brief appearance in Burial at Sea- Episode 2, Suchong's arrogance, selfishness, and lack of ethics actually impeded his progress. He is depicted as obsessively trying to find a secret formula that would force a bond to develop between the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. To this end he goes as far as to study the bond between Elizabeth and Songbird in another universe, even forcing Elizabeth on a pointless quest to gain a sample of her own hair.

The ironic detail is the bond is formed not through any chemical formula, but through a simple act of kindness (two little sisters helping an injured Big Daddy), a concept Suchong cannot comprehend. It is then this bond, the very thing Suchong has been determined to create, is what ultimately kills him. Even more ironically, he dies by his own selfish ego and lack of compassion. We first learn of the grisly scene in an audio log in Bioshock, and actually get to see it in Burial at Sea- Episode 2.

In both cases, the scene begins with Suchong recording an audio log ranting about his constant failures to create a bond between the little sisters and big daddies. His “report” is interrupted when two little sisters enter and try to get his attention. Suchong responds angrily and slaps one of them, which provokes the Big Daddy into attacking him.

Not only is Suchong killed by his own ego, but he dies completely oblivious to the fact that the very thing he has been trying so hard to achieve was accomplished, despite it literally staring him in the face. The two little sisters were obviously trying to get his attention to introduce him to their new “friend,” and if he’d shown the slightest bit of compassion he would have seen the successful bond. His reaction (“What are you doing? Get back... get back!!!“) indicates that he perceived the attack as being entirely random and unprovoked. As far as he was concerned a big daddy just came out of nowhere and attacked him for no reason.

Dr. Suchong, an objectivist scientist killed by his own selfishness.

We also encounter Sander Cohen, a snobbish "artist" who looks down on others, tortures his performers when they fail to meet impossible expectations, and has a tendency to produce some very questionable "art" when left to his own devices. The man holds impossible standards. One of the first things he is seen doing is torturing a “disciple,” Kyle Fitzpatrick, by plastering his legs to a piano bench and forcing him to play a musical piece on a piano rugged with dynamite. In  Burial at Sea- Episode 1, he is shown electrocuting a pair of dancers for not meeting his standards.

Cohen’s freedom to create has the detrimental effect of boosting his ego, to the point where he is unable to take criticism and even accuses Jack of being a “doubter.” Audio logs also reveal the story of a singer named Anna Culpepper, whom Sander Cohen wanted dead for criticizing his work. 

His “masterpiece” leaves one to wonder if censorship isn’t such a bad idea. This piece, which Cohen refers to as the “Quadtych,” is the one Jack is forced to help him assemble near the end of Bioshock. It consists of a group of plastered corpses displaying picture frames that end up containing photographs of the corpses of Cohen’s murdered “disciples.” 

Cohen's "masterpiece"

But of course, we cannot discuss objectivism in Bioshock without talking about the man at the center of everything: Andrew Ryan. "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow," Ryan asks in the slideshow which first introduces us to Rapture. But it is less about working for a reward and more about keeping what you own. Ryan's backstory involves him growing up on the wrong side of the Russian Revolution, and watching as his family's property was seized by the revolutionary forces. Presumably being too young to understand the politics of the revolution, all he saw was his family's rightful property being taken by "parasites" creating the basis for his objectivist vision.

"Parasite" seems to be the term Andrew Ryan uses for anyone who disagrees with his objectivist vision, but he has one particular image in mind. To Ryan, a parasite is anyone who takes something which is not rightfully theirs. "Is a man entitled to the sweat of his brow?" indeed. According to Ryan, the "sweat" (or rather, the results of said man's work) is taken by someone else, rather than allowing the man to keep it. To hear his vision of Rapture, it is a world where everyone keeps what they earn.

This is likely rooted in the above-mentioned backstory, where Ryan saw what he understood to be his family's rightful property being stolen by others who did not deserve it. This fuels Ryan's behaviour and his social darwinist mindset. He has come possessive. To him, it doesn't matter if something is valuable or not, what is important is ownership. If its his property, then as far as he is concerned nobody else has  a right to touch it unless he allows it.

This belief is so deeply rooted that Ryan is even willing to destroy his own property to keep it from being taken. One audio log has Ryan relate an anecdote about a forest he once purchased. Others asked him to share it, but this is what Ryan considers to be a "parasite" in social terms. It was a simple matter of the fact that he owned it and therefore others had no right to ask him for anything. According to his anecdote, after failing to keep other parties away, Ryan chose to burn the forest to keep it out of anyone else's hands.

Ryan continues to display the extremes of his philosophy over the course of the game, most notably in the Arcadia level and later during his confrontation with Jack. In both instances, Ryan asserts his ownership of Rapture to the point where he is ready to commit mass murder when it is threatened by his rival Atas.

In Arcadia, Ryan begins destroying the forests which provide oxygen for the city, effectively planning to suffocate the entire city and all its inhabitants, simply to keep Rapture from being taken. This forces Jack to work with Julie Langford, a botanist with an experimental formula for reviving dead trees. When Jack finally reaches Langford's office, he arrives just in time to witness Ryan demonstrate how much he values ownership.

Ryan contacts Julie on an intercom, and emphasizes a contract between them which specifically states that Ryan owns the forest and can do whatever he wants. Since Julie was challenging this theory by trying to undo his damage, Ryan floods her lab with a toxic gas. Once again, it was all about the fact that Ryan owned the forest. He was destroying it, and in his mind Julie had no right to stop him. This is very much the same principle as the forest he described purchasing and then destroying in his audio log.

We see it come up once gain during the confrontation between Jack and Andrew Ryan. Ryan, now realizing he is defeated, opts to end his own life and allow Rapture to self-destruct. He might not have won, but he is ready to do everything he can to deny his rival the satisfaction of victory. In Ryan's mind, nobody else has any right to own Rapture, so if he can't keep it, the next best thing is to ensure nobody else can take it. Just like Arcadia and his previous forest, it's all about being entitled to what he owns.

Ryan's possessive nature becomes even more clear when one looks at how he rules Rapture. His belief in objectivism is almost fanatical, to the point where he more or less preaches it despite asserting that Rapture should be a secular society. He has messages broadcast throughout Rapture reminding people of its values and watch out for "parasites." The word "parasite" is used to build distrust in others. He goes the extra step of cutting off Rapture from the surface, and very meticulously controls who is permitted in and out (if anyone), censors dissidents and, despite claiming to create freedom for the artist, censors work he disapproves of.

Does this behavior sound familiar? It should, because these are the methods of a dictator. Ryan even has blatant propaganda designed for the sole purpose of indoctrinating children. The "Ryan Amusements" theme park in Bioshock 2 was specifically designed to reflect Rapture's values (much to the frustration of its creator), romanticizing the city's history and offering a "Journey to the Surface" ride designed to convince children that the surface is a horrible place full of parasites and that they should have no reason to want to go there.

Similarly, in Burial at Sea- Episode 2 Elizabeth encounters a daycare center which proudly features the characters of "Ryan the Lion and Peter the Parasite." The concept is a twisted version of the classic Aesop story The Lion and the Mouse, where instead of proving that the most seemingly insignificant details can end up being essential, the small mouse is seen as trying to steal what rightfully belongs to the lion. This image is plastered all over the daycare center, along with propaganda films that valorize "Ryan the Lion" (a child-friendly representation of Andrew Ryan) and condemn "Peter the Parasite" while displaying a simplified version of Ryan's philosophy. They even go as far as to valorize some kids as "makers" and publicly shame others as "takers."

From Burial at Sea- Episode 2; "Ryan the Lion" and "Peter the Parasite" are used as contrasting roles to indoctrinate children with objectivist values

Ryan's behaviour resembles a dictator in so many ways, but why should we expect anything else? After all who are some of the best real-world examples of objectivists  other than dictators? A dictator acts in their own interest, asserting their authority. An an authoritarian society the dictator owns everything, including the people. But the problem is that a dictator works at the expense of others. A dictator gains while taking from the people. The dictator is a parasite. This is the ultimate flaw in Rapture. Ryan didn't create a utopia free of the parasites he so desperately tried to escape- he created the perfect environment for those same parasites to thrive.

In fact, if anything Ryan was almost too successful in creating an objectivist society. Most of the city's inhabitants either embrace it, or are themselves victims of Ryan's philosophy, or both. Ryan may have claimed to escape from the parasites of the surface, but in Rapture he becomes one to the working class. He exploits them, kicks them when they're down, and eventually drags the citizens of Rapture into the mass marketing of plasmids, a drug that can rewrite a person's DNA.

The result is the splicers encountered throughout the series- once normal human beings who, thanks to Ryan's greed, began overdosing on plasmids that slowly destroyed them. After a slow period of mental and physical deterioration, these unfortunate people began to lose all capacity for reason and empathy. Their deteriorating minds combined with the memories contained in the ADAM reduce them to feral instincts, until all they can think about is a combination of their own survival and obtaining more ADAM at any cost. The splicers may be victims of Ryan, but they have also been themselves turned into disgusting caricatures of objectivist thought.

It is fittingly ironic that an objectivist should be the one to finally take down Ryan. Enter Frank Fontaine, a con artist who works his way into Rapture and begins challenging Ryan's position of power. Fontaine, despite his disliking of Ryan, actually embraces Rapture's values, he just proves to be better at playing by those rules. Like Ryan, Fontaine is an ambitious individual who works his way to the top for his own gain, but in many ways he is even worse. As Fontaine he is a liar and a power hungry cheat ready to do anything to maximize his wealth and power. But even worse is his alter-ego.

When is finally cornered by Ryan, Fontaine escapes by becoming the worst kind of parasite- the kind that pretends to be your friend. Ryan may have been a crook, and ultimately a parasite himself to the people of Rapture, but at least that was clear. Fontaine's strategy is to fake his own death and assume the identity of "Atlas." This is a persona deliberately crafted to manipulate others, with Jack only the last of potentially thousands of people fooled by this charade.

Fontaine's goal was to create a character that the underclass of Rapture could relate to, a working class hero from humble beginnings that can inspire the people to revolt. This is an especially cruel form of objectivism, as Atlas disguises himself as a utilitarian when in fact Fontaine is only exploiting others for his own selfish (and very objectivist) ends of wealth and power. He uses this persona to create dedicated followers who are ready to fight and die for him thinking they are part of a noble cause, and when he gets what he wants he has no problem turning on the people who helped him. He bludgeoned Elizabeth to death with a pipe wrench after she found his "ace in the hole", indirectly arranged the murder of Dr. Steinman (who performed cosmetic surgery to make Fontaine's "Atlas" character more convincing), and tried to exploit his control over Jack to make him "get stepped on by a Big Daddy."

From Burial at Sea- Episode 2, Fontaine adopts the persona of "Atlas" to manipulate the more vulnerable citizens of Rapture into serving him.

But we cannot forget the most tragic victims of Rapture- the iconic Little Sisters and their Big Daddies. Like splicers, both originated from normal humans who were subjected to mutation experiments against their will. The process results in the suppression of their identities and turns them into slaves for Rapture's economy. Under Ryan's protection, thousands of little girls were abducted from their families and genetically altered to become little sisters, children with no memory of who they used to be. Their function is simply to gather ADAM from corpses so that it can be reused, a process that is used for the sole reason that reusing ADAM is cheaper than obtaining it new.

The Big Daddies are implied to be subjected to an even more excruciating process. They were once normal people transformed against their will and brainwashed into serving Rapture, originally to perform menial labor before being turned into bodyguards for the Little Sisters. Though the process is never fully explained, it involves heavily mutating the subject, performing surgery on their vocal chords, and then permanently sealing them in a diving suit. The few we do get to know all ended up in their position simply because they got on the bad side of Ryan, or someone close to him. Several "parasites" were involved in this process, including not only Ryan himself but also Suchong, Gilbert Alexander, and Augustus Sinclair.

From Bioshock 2, Subject Delta was a deep sea diver who stumbled across Rapture by accident before being captured and turned into a Big Daddy.

This makes it fitting that the Little Sisters should be the basis for the key moral distinction that is made throughout Bioshock and Bioshock 2. In both games, the player needs to get ADAM to gain useful abilities (which are sometimes needed to clear obstacles). The primary way to get ADAM is from the Little Sisters, and there are two ways to do it. The player can "harvest" the Little Sister, killing her but providing a huge load of ADAM. They can also "rescue" the Little Sister, which not only avoids killing her, but also turns her human again and grants the player rewards later on (but at the cost of receiving less ADAM from the process).

This can obviously be read in terms of good and evil, but there are also other ways to look at it. The decision is something like a much darker version of the marshmallow test- a psychological experiment in the decision between short-term and long-term gain. In this case, the player can choose to immediately satisfy their needs by harvesting the Little Sister, maximizing the amount of ADAM they gain from her and being able to use it to gain more power more quickly. Alternatively, the player can accept a smaller short-term reward in exchange for a later payoff. The rewards come in the form of extra ADAM, supplies, and even unique plasmids, that can often be extremely valuable or even life-saving. A player who harvests the Little Sisters can gain more power right away, but may use up valuable resources that will be needed later.

In Bioshock and Bioshock 2, the player is routinely given the choice to rescue or harvest Little Sisters. If the player chooses to harvest the Little Sister, she is killed but the player gets more ADAM. If she is rescued, the player gets less ADAM but makes things better for the Little Sister, and can be rewarded later, 

It is not only a choice of good and evil, but a choice of whether to embrace or reject the philosophy of Rapture. Jack can choose to accept Ryan's objectivist thinking by harvesting the Little Sisters and focusing first and foremost on maximizing his own gain, or he can reject it by saving them and putting the needs of others above himself. As Ryan himself says "A man chooses, a slave obeys"- Jack is making that choice throughout the game, even before he realizes he is being controlled. This also reflected in the game's two possible endings that show opposing outcomes. 

Both endings ultimately see things working out for Jack, but in very different ways depending on whether he ultimately embraces or rejects Ryan's philosophy. If Jack chooses to embrace objectivist thinking, he goes on to seize control of the city, betrays the Little Sisters, and even manages to hijack a submarine with nuclear missiles, implying plans for further conquest. If Jack rejects objectivism, he instead abandons Rapture, bringing the Little Sisters to the surface and raising them as his own, putting them above himself. Jack can emerge as something better, or he can become a new parasite for Rapture.

It is fitting therefore that Jack should be given two allies who represent both sides: Atlas and Tenenbaum. Atlas, the false ally, spends most of the game pretending to be Jack's friend, but ultimately he turns out to be an objectivist out for himself. But even before the big reveal of his true identity, we see hints towards his selfish nature.

For his supposed friendliness and compassion towards Jack, Atlas displays a very dismissive attitude toward the Little Sisters. When he first shows Jack how to get ADAM, Atlas insists that the Little Sisters aren't even human, and encourages Jack to harvest them (contrast this with Sinclair in Bioshock 2, who outlines the pros and cons of both options but decides its the player's call). It is only through the intervention of Tenenbaum that Jack even learns that there is another option. As a man who only looks after himself, it is hardly any surprise that Frank Fontaine would insist on taking the selfish option.

Tenenbaum on the other hand, provides a contrast to many of Rapture's citizens, including both Ryan and Fontaine. She is the one person to question the morality of Rapture's scientists, including her part in creating the Little Sisters. By the time of the first Bioshock, she has been focusing on trying to undo the mutations on the Little Sisters with hopes to eventually bring them to the surface. Her introductory scene involves her saving a Little Sister from a splicer, and desperately trying to persuade Jack to take the "rescue" option (while Atlas insists he should harvest her).

Later on she helps Jack by surgically removing the “would you kindly” trigger from his brain, guides him to the serum needed to remove the rest of Fontaine’s conditioning, and finally helps him stop Fontaine for good. Fittingly, she narrates the ending of the game, her tone shifting depending on the player's choices. She expresses admiration for Jack if he rejects objectivism, but disappointment or anger if he embraces it.

Tenenbaum briefly reappears in Bioshock 2 and shows up again in its side-story Minerva’s Den. At the beginning of Bioshock 2, Subject Delta is contacted by Tenenbaum and guided to her hideout. She has already returned to Rapture to continue helping the Little Sisters, giving them a sanctuary in a train station where she seems to have done her best to make them comfortable. She also tries to help Delta, only leaving him when her hand is forced by the entrance of Sofia Lamb’s minions (though not without leaving Sinclair to continue helping him).

During the events of Minerva’s Den, Tenenbaum continues trying to rescue the victims of Rapture by helping Subject Sigma, another Big Daddy she recruits to help find an advanced computer known as “The Thinker.” Her involvement in finding the computer is ultimately to use it for further research in the hopes of eventually curing what she has come to know as the “ADAM sickness”- trying to find a cure for the effects of ADAM. The game's ending implies that after leaving Rapture, Tenembaum works tirelessly to find her cure and eventually manages to turn Subject Sigma human again- a process everyone else in Rapture was sure was impossible.

There is a counter-philosophy to objectivism, known as utilitarianism. In its simplest form, this is the belief that one should put the needs of others above themselves. Tenenbaum embraces this ideology, showing almost no concern for herself and only on helping the victims of Rapture. This makes her a fitting contrast to Atlas, and what better way to defy Ryan than by embracing the exact opposite of everything he values. It also makes her a contrast to Atlas, who only pretends to be a utilitarian. She ends up being one of the few people in Rapture who is not a parasite. Tenenbaum and Atlas therefore serve as contrasting guides for the player. The player can opt to embrace objectivism, and become a new Fontaine, or they can reject it, and become another Tenembaum. 

But utilitarianism itself is not a perfect system either. While it may have proven the better option in Bioshock, Bioshock 2 reveals that a utilitarian society is no better than an objectivist one, possibly even worse. In the sequel, we return to Rapture almost ten years after the events of the first game, to find that it has been taken over by a brilliant but manipulative psychologist named Sofia Lamb. Like Andrew Ryan, Lamb is fanatically devoted to her ideas- in this case she is a utilitarian.

Lamb's ultimate vision is exactly the opposite of Ryan's. Where Ryan promoted individualism, Lamb endorses collectivism. She has turned the citizens of Rapture into a cult she refers to as the "Rapture Family" and seeks to ultimately create a "true Utopian." Where Andrew Ryan thought this would be a person who climbs the ranks through simple hard work, Sofia Lamb believes it is a person who works for the greater good of the group. She ultimately believes that in order to achieve a utopia she needs to change people so that they are incapable of thinking for themselves, and only acting for others.

The problem with this theory, ironically, is that Lamb herself ends up displaying objectivist behaviour. For a person who speaks so much about helping others, she ends up proving to be extremely selfish. The audio logs encountered during the game reveal that Lamb exploited her position as Rapture's psychologist to manipulate others into joining her cause, and even after being sent to prison and wiped from most of the city's records she only took it as an opportunity to further solidify her hold on her cult. She kidnaps children from the surface to be turned into Little Sisters, treats her own daughter as a tool, abandons Gil Alexander as soon as he is no longer useful, and eventually tries to leave the entire Rapture Family to die in order to save herself.

Her own treatment of others also ties into her twisted view of utillitarianism. Lamb claims to "love" everyone the same, meaning she does not care about any of them at all. She shows a total willingness to sacrifice others if it furthers her goal of creating a "True Utopian." Gilbert Alexander contributed heavily to Lamb's early work, as well as the development of Big Daddies, before being made into a test subject himself, as part of Lamb's project. When the project fails, she outright abandons him, showing no gratitude for any of his previous contributions.

Gilbert Alexander in Bioshock 2, mutated into an unrecognizable form for Sofia's "true utopian" project, then abandoned when it failed.

Even Sofia's own daughter is not safe from her wrath. Eleanor Lamb has clearly rejected her mother's ideology, going as far as to resurrect her "father," Subject Delta, as part of a plan to escape. Sofia's ultimate plan is to turn Eleanor into the "first true utopian," through genetic manipulaiotn, a goal that sounds a lot like what she tried to do with Gil Alexander, only now with more confidence in its success. But even then her treatment of Eleanor is questionable at best. Sofia is keeping her own daughter imprisoned and sedated, then smothers her with a pillow in an effort to kill Subject Delta. This is only what she does to her own, to say nothing of the numerous children who she has had kidnapped to be turned into Little Sisters. It shows that a utillitarian can be every bit as much of a parasite as an objectivist.

The ultimate irony is that, despite her efforts, Sofia Lamb is unable to realize that people like she envisions already exist. Like Jack in the first game, Subject Delta has a choice of whether to embrace utilitarianism, or return to Rapture's objectivist roots. In the most optimistic ending, Delta chooses to put the needs of others above his own. He rescues the Little Sisters and spares as many people as he can, at he cost of his own life. Bioshock 2 has several different ending variations, but more optimistic endings tend to occur with utillitarian actions.

Unlike Jack, however, Delta's actions become an inspiration for Eleanor Lamb, who looks up to him as a role model. A more brutal player will slowly turn Eleanor into a cold-hearted killer, but a utilitarian player will start to turn Eleanor into a utilitarian herself. Eleanor will take leadership for the Little Sisters, bring them to the surface, become a personal guide, and (in the most optimistic outcomes) is able to be the bigger person by giving Sofia a breathing device after her room on the submarine is flooded.

In this version of events, Eleanor actually becomes the "true utopian" that her mother envisioned. What Sofia Lamb could not understand was that it was not something that could be forced onto a person. Remember Andrew Ryan's statement: "A man chooses, a slave obeys!" Delta and Eleanor CHOOSE to be utilitarian, and Delta reveals the ACTUAL way to share that view with others- leading by example and inspiring others to do the same.

In the more optimistic ending of Bioshock 2, Eleanor Lamb is inspired to become a utilitarian

This is even more ironic if we look back at Jack in Bioshock. He is referenced several times in Bioshock 2, and Sofia Lamb cites his mental conditioning as an inspiration for her goals. What she fails to consider is that, while Jack was programmed to follow instructions, he eventually broke free of that conditioning and became his own person. Just like Delta, Jack makes a choice to either embrace or reject Ryan's message. In fact, if Jack chooses to rescue the Little Sisters he actually defies the person giving him the instructions (remember that Atlas encouraged him to harvest them).

We also cannot forget about Elizabeth in Burial at Sea: Episode 2, who gives up her cosmic powers and immortality to help save the Little Sisters and (indirectly) bringing down Fontaine and Ryan. This is even with the knowledge that her chances of getting out in one piece are almost non-existant, and that Atlas will inevitably betray her as soon as she stops being useful to him. She ends up being quite selfless, her only comfort being an imaginary projection of Booker to whom she can express her feelings. It gets to the point where threats to the self do not even affect her.

We can see this near the end of the episode, when Elizabeth wakes up to find herself imprisoned by Atlas, who begins demanding he location of his "Ace in the Hole." To do this, he has her held down while describing a process known as a "trans-orbital lobotomy"- an actual procedure once common in psychiatric facilities that involved inserting a pick through the eye socket and tapping it with a hammer to penetrate a thin layer of bone protecting the prefrontal lobe. He proceeds to "demonstrate" by placing the pick under Elizabeth's eye (made more intense by the first-person perspective) and taps the pick multiple times, citing different things that would get removed if he were to reach the prefrontal lobe, and how it would essentially destroy a person's identity.

It is not hard to see why Atlas considers this an effective means of torture, but what proves Elizabeth's selfless nature is her refusal to give in. While the process is clearly painful, she refrains from offering anything more than a grunt, and taunts Atlas during the process, until he states that he is getting close to penetrating the bone. Elizabeth outright taunts him, even dares him to keep going, pointing out that doing so would actually be preventing her from giving him the information he wants. It is only when Fontaine instead brings out Sally, the Little Sister Elizabeth has been trying to help, and threatens to do the same procedure on her, that Elizabeth changes her tone. She seems to have very little concern for how she herself is affected- she only gives in when doing so can help someone else.

From Burial at Sea- Episode 2, Atlas tries to get information from Elizabeth by threatening her with a trans-orbital lobotomy

These examples prove the flaw in Sofia Lamb's reasoning. Lamb tries to force a collectivist ideology onto others, but Jack, Dela, and Elizabeth already are the types of people she imagines. What changes is that they are utilitarian by choice, and that is the only way to create the "true utopian" she imagines. It once again calls to mind Andrew Ryan's famous words: "A man chooses, a slave obeys." There are other characters over the course of the series that display similar tendencies. Sinclair in Bioshock 2 ultimately leans in the direction of utilitarianism- even before the game his business (Sinclair Solutions) was founded specifically to help solve other people's problems (albeit in not always ethical or legal ways), and he spends the whole game aiding Subject Delta, even after being transformed into a Big Daddy. Even Booker Dewitte in Bioshock: Infinite ultimately allows himself to die to end the cruelty of his alternate self.

The ultimate message to be obtained from the Bioshock series, if one exists, is the inability to create a perfect society. Both Ryan's objectivist and Lamb's utilitarian systems ultimately prove to be their undoing. In the end, the effort to create a utopia of any kind is inherently doomed to failure, simply due to human imperfection. 

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