February 11, 2010

WELL, THAT GOES ON THE WISH LIST:

A new era for video games (Jesse Singal, February 10, 2010 , Boston Globe)

As it turns out, [Andrew Ryan is] the villain of the video game BioShock. You first hear his voice as you descend in a submarine toward the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, where Ryan has built Rapture, a staggering Art Deco city. He envisioned it, he says, as a place “where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small!’’

Ryan’s statement of principle comes with an offer: “And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.’’ But even before you exit the submarine , it becomes clear that Ryan’s libertarian utopia lies in ruins, overrun by its crazed denizens.

BioShock garnered universal acclaim when it was released in 2007, and for good reason: it is a terrifying first-person shooter set in an astounding environment, and it demands a fair amount of tactical prowess.

But, if you have some level of familiarity with the source material, the game also serves as a critique of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy (Andrew Ryan, Ayn Rand - get it?), a brand of libertarianism in which altruism is weakness and the story of modern society is told as a conflict between productive, hard-working industrialists and the countless nattering parasites (the government, organized religion, advocates for the poor) seeking to leech off of their brilliance and initiative. [...]

At their core, they’re still games. You can blast your way through BioShock II or Mass Effect II if you wish, ignoring the political and aesthetic accouterments that set them apart from their predecessors. It would be like watching “The Sopranos’’ as merely an entertaining mafioso epic. But the players who race through these games, like the folks who burn through “Sopranos’’ DVDs without fully taking note of, say, the line of genetic misfortune that connects Tony to his father and to his son, are missing out.

There’s depth here if you want it: Mass Effect 2, like the original, is a soaring space opera that marries Hollywood-level production values (Martin Sheen and other actors lend their voices to the sequel) with questions about politics, galactic-level “foreign policy,’’ and technology. In BioShock 2, the villain is a collectivist who has seized control of Rapture, proving that the game’s designers are equal-opportunity critics of utopian political philosophies. In all these games, the player makes moral choices that affect the story down the road.


Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2010 6:40 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« WHAT DOES MODERN MEDICINE HAVE TO DO WITH HEALTH?: | Main | HAS THERE EVER BEEN A COUNTRY...: »