In 2007, history was made in the gaming world when Irrational Games released BioShock, a visionary biopunk, first-person shooter that pushed video games forward in the realm of whether or not they are to be considered works of art. However, the solid mechanics and graphics weren’t the main contributors to the game’s success, but rather its themes and resultant immersion factor.
What does this have to do with progressivism you may be asking? As progressives fighting conservative-thought in our society, we have the obligation of trying to see what school right-wingers derive their ideology from. Someone who couldn’t have pointed out the source of conservatism better was the philosopher Ayn Rand, who, between 1943 and 1957, published two epics (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), detailing a philosophy she came to call objectivism.
Rand reasoned that human thoughts, knowledge, and values were all objective (i.e. differed from person to person), and therefore came to conclude that society as a whole would benefit if everyone embarked on their own pursuit of happiness. Some of you may be subconsciously realizing that these were the same words Adam Smith used to describe his laissez-faire capitalist system, and indeed that’s incorporated into Rand’s objectivist world. However, there’s a social aspect at the heart of it all that very well goes against every liberals’ moral being, and that’s selfishness. You can’t interfere with anyone’s path, otherwise they’ll lose track of their own goals and become dependent on yours.
This is why you see Republicans so against social programs, because that would make everyone reliant on the government for “hand-outs” and “entitlements”. What objectivism fails to acknowledge is that not everyone starts out on the same level. The rich have a much greater chance at success than those in poverty. But this is only a small problem in Rand’s theory, and I’ll be using the game BioShock to demonstrate why, in the end, Rand failed to be nothing more than another screaming conservative.
BioShock was made by Ken Levine, who’d studied Rand’s works in college. Objectivism would prevent the state from interfering with the free market, which is played out through the game’s backstory wherein entrepreneur Andrew Ryan (named after Rand) builds the anarchic utopia known as Rapture. Because of the lack of regulation from the government’s part, Rapture’s economy gets flooded with a variety of weapons, ranging from guns and explosives to genetic alterations.
Let’s just look at that for a second because, despite the obvious sci-fi underscores within the game, this reflects a very real-world possibility when we don’t have a governing body. If you think about it, the black market only exists because of laws making sure the economy remains clean. This isn’t a dictatorship by any means as democracy ensures people remain happy through voting. We easily saw this with the antagonism towards the 18th amendment, and are observing it even today with the widespread use of marijuana.
Ultimately this lack of regulation culminates in a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) getting on the market. BioShock presents this through the discovery of ADAM, a genetically-mutating substance that allows humans to obtain superpowers.
Deciding the goods present in the economy is one thing, but BioShock also shows us a look at the lack of labor laws when businessmen come to use cloned children, dubbed Little Girls, as a way of producing more ADAM to meet the demand.
Any comic book reader may point out that everyone having superpowers sounds cool enough to outweigh any negative consequences given that good guys (superheroes) and bad guys (supervillains) would emerge to cancel each other, but that doesn’t work. See, plasmids are expensive, meaning only the rich could obtain them. Class warfare and illegal fencing ensue, and eventually what you get is this once great utopia is now a ruined dystopia.
Obviously BioShock presents a worst-case scenario with Rand’s objectivist system, but even so there’s so much truth present in its hypothetical presentation that you can’t help but admire the creators for their ingenuity.
Then again, any sane person will tell you that Ayn Rand and objectivism were both failures simply because human greed will ultimately turn on itself unless there’s something there to stop it. It’s in our nature, and while I definitely do encourage everyone to pursue happiness, we have an obligation to our moral compass to be logical to the world around us.