MTI’s Masterpiece Literature Presents: A BioShock Doubleheader

My Little Objectivism: ADAM is Magic

by Charles Hernandez

Andrew Ryan had a lot of money, and a philosophy of objectivism. Objectivism is when man never puts man underneath him or above him for his own loss or gain, but to pursue their own interests their own way, with government/authority only being the middle man, assuring that this happens. Ryan constructed a city underwater that would be free of censorship and ethics against science/art/etc. This city was called “Rapture,” and many flocked to it, hoping to be free of these social restraints.

After this city was made and everything was going well, Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum happened to discover a sea slug, who healed a man’s paralyzed hand with just a bite from the sea slug. Dr. Tenenbaum needed a sponsor to research this sea slug, and most turned him down, except for the man Frank Fontaine. Frank Fontaine ran a smuggling operation, bringing things down from the surface, and he was rich enough to support the Doctor in his sea slug research, on a condition that after the research, Mr. Fontaine can fully profit off of the discoveries.

After research, Dr. Tenenbaum discovered that the sea slugs secreted stem cell like substances, which could be used to twist around DNA. This DNA change gave incredible power to humans, like fire at fingertips or even summoning swarms of bees to roam. This ADAM could create extra tissue that didn’t once exist in the body, allowing these powers, but it also is a form of reverse cancer, eating out your cells unless you have a steady supply of ADAM, so if you didn’t feed this addiction, you would slowly go insane, those that did go insane are referred to as “Splicers.” It was also found that if you put the slugs into a human host, they would produce 20-30 times the amount of ADAM that they would produce on their own, the only hosts to survive this though were little girls, later called “Little Sisters.”

“Big Daddy” were protectors created to protect these little sisters, as if anyone took them they would gain high amounts of ADAM. Ryan started accusing Fontaine of crimes, ranging from smuggling to murders, and Fontaine’s monopoly of ADAM could break the social structure that Ryan had set up. Fontaine knew that he was going to be killed off by Ryan, so he faked his death and retreated into hiding, practicing his future alter ego “Atlas.” Ryan assuming Fontaine dead, took over the ADAM monopoly as “Ryan Industries,” and due to the ADAM addictions of the city, he increased ADAM production by sending little sisters out with the Big Daddies to harvest ADAM from decaying corpses to reuse it.

This is where the main character of the game in which you play as, “Jack” comes into play, and your plane crashes, and you discover the entrance to Rapture. Throughout the game Atlas guides you through to Andrew Ryan to kill him, and you follow along, as you have no other choice at this point. In the middle of this adventure you meet Dr. Tenenbaum, who asks you to help him save the little sisters, as he just wishes to stop and destroy what he’s created, so he gives you a power to extract the sea slug from them, and save them. After a long adventure of saving little sisters and searching out Andrew Ryan, you confront him.

Andrew Ryan sets up a self-destruct for all of Rapture, as he didn’t want to see Atlas leading his own city. He also reveals that Jack is a modified human, who always responds to the phrase “Would you kindly.” After learning that, Ryan hands Jack a golf club and tells Jack to kill him. After the death of Ryan, Jack is told by Atlas to shut down the self-destruct, using the phrase “Would you kindly” to command it.

Atlas congratulates him on this task, and reveals himself as Frank Fontaine. Jack passes out and ends up in one of Tenenbaum’s safe houses, Tenenbaum explains that he removed the mental control of the phrase of “Would you kindly,” and he should explore the scientist’s house that gave him that affliction, Dr. Suchong. After Fontaine learns that Jack is free of the “Would you kindly” affliction, he states “Code Yellow,” which sends his heart into a slow, painful course of eventually quitting out. After Jack cures this with an antidote from Dr. Suchong’s living quarters, he goes off to confront Fontaine to kill him, Fontaine hypes himself up on ADAM to make him super human, and Jack fights this by using the tools the little sisters used to extract ADAM from dead bodies, on Fontaine in the fight against him. After this, Jack goes up to the surface and raises the little sisters he saved, now just being little girls, and eventually dies with the little sisters at his hospital bed.

In Hamlet, the main theme is revenge, specifically against his uncle for killing his father. In BioShock, it’s more of a deception and manipulation of the main character, Jack, in order for the main villain to accomplish their goals. The common points of Hamlet and Jack came along with their confidence and sense of justice. Hamlet had to have a reason to kill Claudius for sure, showing his sense of justice, he also never lost hope, even when kicked out of Denmark. Jack never gave up (nor could he, as he’s the character you play in the game) and when confronted with the choice of saving or killing the little sisters, he saves them.

Hamlet is less trusting of most, except to Horatio his friend, and rides more solo for his revenge plan. Jack is very trusting/gullible, not suspecting a thing of Atlas or his hate against Andrew Ryan. Hamlet is also more of a planner and thinker than a “do-er”, as he hesitates with his revenge until the very end against Claudius, and Jack just pushes on forward, with every twist that occurs in the story.

Andrew Ryan the creator of the city “Rapture” was someone who somewhat wanted that perfect uncensored society. Frank Fontaine was someone who leeched off of Dr. Tenenbaum’s ADAM research, and eventually wanted to take over Rapture for himself, going so far to set up his own death and take up an alter ego “Atlas” to do so. Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum created ADAM from the sea slugs originally, and when Jack comes to Rapture, asks to help him save the little sisters, as he wishes to stop and destroy everything he created.

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In Hamlet, every sentence normally had some side wordplay, or a highly described parable. The text never just states something simple like, but referencing comparisons to explain everything. Like Hamlet compared Denmark to a prison, instead of simply stating he had to carry out revenge there. In BioShock, the words and dialogue are not poetic, but more simple and easy to understand. This easy to understand dialogue in the game somewhat falsifies the player into trust with Atlas, playing the simple “good guy,” until the ending plot twist.

Hamlet was a story about revenge, which had examples of impulsive and non-impulsive revenge. That being said, sure revenge could be relatable to our modern day, but that’s the only thing from Hamlet that would fit universally. Although at the time, with England being at war with other places, and it being written for the queen of England, most cultural references are for that time alone, and it doesn’t transfer too well in modern times. In BioShock, it’s about Andrew wanting to have a society free to do as they wish with no censorship or ethics in science/art/etc., summarized as the philosophy, “Objectivism.” As seen this can turn out bad, and that lesson could carry on in our world.

Ideas from BioShock collectively can’t exist, such as ADAM from sea slugs and underwater cities that become overridden by crazies which make it limited, and if compared to real life scenarios, a literary fault in possibility. Objectivism could still be a universal theme to today, as some people have the power and money to do whatever they wish, just as Andrew Ryan did, but laws hold them back. Cultural references from BioShock include the book “Fountainhead,” which the philosophy “Objectivism” comes from in the first place. One reference to the book is when Andrew Jack attempts to blow up Rapture when Atlas attempts to take over, just as Howard Roark also tried to blow up the housing project when his designs were altered. Even the author of Fountainhead, “Ayn Rosenbaum,” was influence for Dr. Tenenbaum’s name in the game.

Hamlet should be remembered as the story that not only raised standards for English, but as the tragic tale of revenge, showing it’s not always a happy ending. BioShock is the literal viewing of a man who followed the philosophy of objectivism, and made a city based upon it, and failed—with capitalism not being much different.

In the second part of this BioShock doubleheader, Carly Borkoski presents the story of BioShock Infinite.

While honoring the cryptic yet entertaining traditions of Shakespeare, BioShock Infinite does more than transcend this role, reaching beyond the grasps of literature with its science-fiction multidimensional themes.  BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games, stands as one of the greatest stories of the 21st century.

BioShock Infinite delves into the world of Booker DeWitt, a shame-filled former veteran turned Pinkerton National Detective Agency agent. In the opening scenes, DeWitt finds himself set in 1912, amidst the process of being delivered to an islet lighthouse off the coast of Maine. At the bow of the makeshift canoe are mysterious twins Robert and Rosalind Lutece. As DeWitt is told to “bring us the girl (later known to be Elizabeth) and wipe away the debt,” Booker enters the lighthouse, which he discovers is a rocket repository meant to take him to a steampunk-esque city-state titled “Columbia” (named after the female embodiment of the United States).

Columbia is suspended in the air through a combination of giant blimps, balloons, reactors, propellers, and mainly “quantum levitation.” The city was founded (and is now maintained) by self-proclaimed prophet Zachary Comstock. The American government originally intended Columbia to serve as a “floating carnival,” purposed to internationally broadcast American exceptionalism. While once seen as a prideful trophy in the United States’ cabinet, Columbia quickly proved its power by violently dissolving a rebellion in Peking, an action done without the permission of the United States. This event revealed the floating city as a heavily armed aerial battleship, capable of unleashing devastation across the world. America demanded Columbia’s return to the states, and the whimsical city-state quickly seceded – disappearing into the clouds forever.

With Comstock in power, Columbia rapidly transformed into a militant pseudo-Christian utopian society, one that worshipped Comstock as a god-like prophet. White supremacy is shown to be commonplace in Columbia, as people of minority races are only allowed occupation as a source for cheap labor. Booker DeWitt, upon entering the Columbia for the first time, explores the city’s perverted nationalistic whimsy – only to be stopped by a policeman of Columbia, after the officer identifies the letters “AD,” of which are branded on Booker’s hand. This branding, unbeknownst to DeWitt, has been proclaimed to the public as the symbol for the “False Shepherd,” one that Comstock prophesied would corrupt the sole heir to his throne, Elizabeth (known as the “lamb” to Columbian citizens).  DeWitt, immediately recognizing his status as a wanted man, fights his way to Elizabeth’s tower.

On his journey to Monument Island, Booker learns of an ability, possessed by Elizabeth, to manipulate tears, rips in the space-time continuum that lead to parallel worlds. After freeing Elizabeth, her and DeWitt set off on a series of adventures, all diverging back into DeWitt’s true motive – to bring them (the Lutece twins) the girl (Elizabeth), and wipe away his debt. His intent is concealed from Elizabeth, as she believes that Booker is to escort her to Paris – her dream destination since childhood. While continuing their search for the escape from Columbia, the duo begin to unravel a conspiracy behind the founding of the city through Tears.

The Lutece twins are then exposed as not technically siblings, but rather two versions of the same quantum physicist from two different realities. “Rosalind”, the female Lutece, is originally of this reality – whereas “Robert,” the male, hails from another. Comstock had taken Elizabeth as his adoptive daughter from his alternative self in Robert’s universe after being rendered sterile from the “Tear” device, to groom her as the city’s leader after Comstock’s ultimate demise. Comstock had the Luteces construct a “Siphon” to subdue her powers before plotting their murder along with that of his wife to conceal the truth, and blamed their deaths on the Vox Populi (a rebel group in Columbia). However, Comstock inadvertently spread the Luteces throughout the multiverse in the attempt on their lives, giving them the same powers as Elizabeth.

After more events, Elizabeth takes Booker to this reality’s surface and lighthouse. They travel through the building’s door to a place outside space and time containing countless lighthouses and alternate versions of Booker and Elizabeth. Elizabeth explains that they are within one of an infinite number of possible realities both similar and drastically different due to choices that have been made. She shows Booker the truth, that on October 8, 1893, Robert Lutece approached Booker on behalf of Comstock, requesting that he “give us the girl and wipe away the debt,” referring to Booker’s infant daughter, Anna DeWitt –- Booker’s “AD” branding. Booker reluctantly agreed to sell Anna but soon changed his mind. He arrived too late to stop Comstock, instead escaping to Rosalind’s universe through a tear; the closing of which severed the child’s finger. Comstock subsequently raised Anna as Elizabeth, as his daughter.

Due to the severed finger, Elizabeth exists in two realities at once, her finger in Robert’s reality and the rest of her body in Rosalind’s. This is what gives Elizabeth the ability to open and create Tears at will. They (Booker and Elizabeth) soon realize that the only way to prevent Comstock’s reign is to prevent Comstock from ever being born. Elizabeth transports Booker to the place he went to be baptized and cleansed of his sins after his actions at the Battle of Wounded Knee. Booker avoided baptism at the last moment and later fathered his daughter Anna in Robert’s universe, while in Rosalind’s universe he took the baptism, found religion, became Comstock, and never had children. Booker and Elizabeth are then joined by alternate versions of Elizabeth from other universes. Booker allows them to drown him, preventing his baptismal choice from ever being made and thus stopping Comstock from ever existing. One by one, the Elizabeths begin to disappear, the screen cutting to black on the original. In a post-credits scene, a Booker awakens in his apartment on October 8, 1893. Hearing a baby in the next room, he calls out for Anna and opens the door to her room before the screen cuts to black.

Hamlet and BioShock Infinite both involve patriarchy and an older, more traditional version of society. They also both have an underlying theme of free will – or the lack thereof. In Hamlet, his father’s death haunts him, forcing him to behave in ways that were otherwise outside of his nature, or what we know that nature to be. In BioShock Infinite, the prophet Comstock controls not only Columbia, but also has a hand in the fates of every character in the story. Comstock is also ultimately controlled by Booker (an alternate reality version of Comstock), so the feeling of control in both tales is something that is completely imaginary.

In all circumstances, life is often not what we believe it to be. Every person, out of the over seven billion that occupy the earth now, has a differing perspective – yet none are truly correct. There is right, wrong, and correct. Who holds all of the answers? The response to the question itself is dependent on religion, spirituality, and personal belief – as well as an infinite amount of other variables. Shakespeare was known, in his time, to break the boundaries of literature.

Booker DeWitt and Hamlet are similar in that they are on a journey that they themselves would not have otherwise sought. Hamlet is seeking revenge for his father’s death, while DeWitt is attempting to right his debt. Both men are in turn attempting to justify themselves through actions that have been dictated for them.  The antagonists in each tale can be compared by their motive. In Hamlet, the power-hungry uncle takes center stage, as he attempts to undermine Hamlet by turning those he loves against him (i.e. Ophelia, and Gertrude). BioShock Infinite’s Comstock used similar tactics through his manipulation of Columbia’s people, and in the way he made Booker DeWitt out to be some sort of “false prophet” in which the population should criminalize.

The dialogue within each story is similar in that they both depict unconditional yet earthly love between a father and child, DeWitt/Comstock and Elizabeth, the King and Hamlet – respectively. The reason that this love is of earthly and limited variety is that it is filled with inconsistency and flaws. We as humans are far from perfect, as depicted in everything from our literature to our day to day lives. People, like all beings, were never created to be perfect. This fact, is universal. While each person has no doubt loved another at one point in their lives, the fact that we as beings love one another is a pure and universal concept in itself. Both of these themes are portrayed in Hamlet and BioShock Infinite, creating a link between the story and the reader/player subsequently.

Both pieces of literature should be celebrated by taking the respective lessons and applying them to our lives. Both tales provide great examples from which to grow, mentally and emotionally. One might say that that is the purpose of literature, to first read, comprehend, then to transcend. Each story has a tale that can be applied to our everyday lives in a positive manner, it is just the method of applying it.

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2 thoughts on “MTI’s Masterpiece Literature Presents: A BioShock Doubleheader

  1. I agree that Jack from BioShock is similar to Hamlet, They both do not like to give up and they both are trying to get revenge. In both Hamlet and BioShock Jack and Hamlet get a little bit further into their plans but almost always get a set back from something, but always over come those set backs no matter what it is. BioShock uses a lot more understandable English than Hamlet does so i agree that its more modern then Hamlet. Both Jack and Hamlet are fighting for the same thing they are both fighting for someone they care about.

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  2. I agree, Bioshock had an amazing, memorable story that went beyond the conventional FPS standard set by games such as Call of Duty. “A man chooses, a slave obeys,” truer words have never been said.

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