Objectivism, Narrative Agency, and the Politics of Choice in the Video Game BioShock

In this article, I investigate the video game BioShock for its political and cultural work and argue that it offers a popular plat­form to discuss the politically charged question of choice, both inside and outside the realm of video games. In a first section, I in­troduce the game’s basic plot and setting, propose a way to study how video games operate narratively, and briefly discuss the ‘politi­cal’ dimension of games in general. Afterwards, I look at how Bio­Shock is influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of individual choice and self-interest, and I trace this influence specifically in the game’s main antagonist, Andrew Ryan, and its setting, the under­water city of Rapture. With these elements as a basis, I analyze how BioShock engages with the politics of choice, focusing on a major twist scene in the game to demonstrate how BioShock deals with the question of choice on a metatextual level. Reading this scene in the context of the game’s overall narrative, specifically of moral choices in the game that lead to different endings, I argue that the game metatextually connects the political question of choice inher­ent in objectivism to the narrative and the playing of the game, pointing to the ambivalences inherent in questions of choice, agen­cy, and free will.

Schubert, Stefan. "Objectivism, Narrative Agency, and the Politics of Choice in the Video Game BioShock." Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture. Ed. Sebastian M. Herrmann et al. Heidelberg: Winter, 2015. 271-89. Print.