Levine meets Objectivists

This is an odd one. I haven’t seen it linked in any of the other blogs – it’s possible I just haven’t been paying attention to the right places though – but I found it when researching something.

(That is, entering random Bioshock related phrases into google.)

Basically, Andrew Russel, an objectivist gentleman drops Mr Levine an e-mail. And Mr Levine replies, and talks candidly about his beliefs regarding objectivism and world politics and hints at his intentions with Bioshock. And then Andrew posts the replies to the objectivist forums he frequents. To briefly set the stage – and it’s worth doing so, as in the UK, Objectivism and Ayn Rand are a lot less known than they are in the States – Bioshock’s setting of the isolated city of genius founded by one Andrew Ryan is clearly a riff off Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and not necessarily a complimentary one. You may have seen Objectvists turn up in some Bioshock comments threads, voicing concerns (at best) and voicing anger (at worst).

As Andrew puts it…

What I am hoping is that BioShock treats the theory of individualism with proper respect. It would be very disheartening if BioShock were to equate individualism with an endless desire to prove oneself superior to others (this being a form of conformist parasitism Rand referred to as Second-Handing), free-market capitalism with making profit as an end-in-itself, or advocate the fallacious notion that laissez-faire is a zero-sum game. As you are obviously aware, Objectivism is often assumed to be wrong, evil, or an engine of societal collapse and disintegration, regardless of the historical evidence in favor of many Objectivist-approved principles.

Ken replies at length, but a couple of bits stick out. Firstly answering Andrew’s questions regarding Shock 2…

If I had to choose between SHODAN and the Many, I’d take SHODAN any day. I think the most appealing part of Rand to me is the celebration of the self and her daring challenge to altruism. Talk about swimming upstream in a Judeo-Christian society. But SHODAN (and perhaps Ryan, but I’m not gonna talk too much about BioShock story just yet) doesn’t honor or respect greatness in others. And she needs others to recognize her glory. These seem to be two pretty large sins in Rand land. SHODAN also believes in violence in cases where she is not threatened with violence. Rand would hand this a thumbs down too.

Also, equally relevantly to Bioshock…

It’s when she abandons logic for slavish and unquestioning adherence to ideology is when I remember why Galt was a fictional character and Ayn Rand was flesh and blood. But as I witness the rise of the state and in the last five years in my country, and the burgeoning of fundamentalism both here and abroad, I become more and more of an objectivist: invidual liberties, govt. staying out of business and religion, and non-interventionist. Which, quite perversely, has become much more of the position of the left. These changes have given me the impression that it’s not any philosophy that’s the danger. It’s the extremes. The Stalins, the Bin Ladens, the neocons, the theocons, the Leninites, the Maoists. What have they ever really offered anyone of value? Is there a Galt among there number? Is there even an Andrew Ryan?

When I first heard about Bioshock, I presumed it was going to be a particularly hard satire on Rand (Which would be fine with me, though would clearly annoy Objectivists). Without going too far into spoilers yet, it’s really not – and, in fact, the people who it targets are very much ones Rand would equally have contempt for.

It’s also worth stressing that Bioshock does have awesome shooting too.

UPDATE: Demagogue at TTLG informs me that Mr Levine’s comments come from this thread originally.


  1. Simon Westlake says:

    The wonderful thing about this post is that it shows you that some games can stir up (somewhat) meaningful debate.

    It gives me a bit of hope that are still people trying to push games in the right direction.

    I still remember the joy (and terror) of playing SS1 when I was fairly young and, the older I get, the less and less interested I am in most games. I thought for some time that this was just a part of getting old but I sometimes think it’s a sad fact that most games today pander to lowest common denominator and they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

    Although I can definitely see the dumbing down of Bioshock, I still think there’s enough in it to take me back to the days of yore. I hope, anyway..

  2. Grill says:

    I don’t have to point out that Andrew Ryan contains a anagram of Ayn Rand do I? Well, I’m going to anyway.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    No, we got that one Gril. I didn’t want to do any hand holding.

    Also, the irish bloke’s called Atlas. Atlas!


  4. Grill says:

    And of course Fontaine is “neat info” and Tenenbaum is “Enema Tub”, pointing to an entire tub girl in-game subtext… :P

  5. Ryan H says:

    Games can make serious and meaningful arguments. Which is more than one can say for Ayn Rand.

  6. John Hummel says:

    I think the comment on extremes is accurate. I don’t think we’d want to live in a “purely” Objectionist world (who would be the police, or the fire department? Some people might pay for Cop Squad A, others for B, and the guy with the most money would win when they “bought” the best police force).

    On the other side, clearly a true “liberal” world view would be just as bad (last time I checked, there aren’t enough Jesus personalities to make it work). This game seems to take the view of “OK, what happens when you go waaaaay to far one way” – which is cool to explore those ideas (much like System Shock 2 explored the Many).

    Something like Fallout seems to explore the middle – what happens when society has to rebuild from scratch, and all philosophies other than “survive” are thrown out the window.

    Anyway, I’ll probably pick up Bioshock once I’ve finished with System Shock.

  7. BioShock: The Big Daddies Are Coming : Nostalgia For Infinity says:

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