Educational games are, mostly, quite boring for gamers. They focus primarily on the knowledge factor, and usually the gaming one is seen in them as a necessity rather than a valuable asset. But Ken Levine and 2K Games seem to have found a perfect balance between putting real knowledge into BioShock 1 (available on Gamivo) and producing a successful FPS-RPG game. And this balance absolutely isn’t a 50-50, which is actually a good thing.
Ken Levine and System Shock 2
But before we dig into BioShock 1, let’s establish some information about its spiritual predecessor — System Shock 2. Ken Levine, designer of the game, always had a certain proclivity towards difficult topics and existential questions. The ones that he put into System Shock 2 concern such important issues as the role of AI and its morality in human lives, creativity of the robots and overall investigation of humankind’s position in the face of highly advanced, conscious technology.
That’s why System Shock 2 is not just a horror sci-fi with quite an interesting plot. It’s a work of passion and commitment, especially in its scenario and character development. Despite that, System Shock 2 did not sell well. Its intelligent and intricate plot was greatly appreciated, but did not spark many comments from the world’s cultural elites — probably because sci-fi is often treated as a platform primarily for easy entertainment and not serious philosophical considerations. If you haven’t played that game yet, it’s definitely worth trying and aged like a fine wine — the game keys for the whole System Shock franchise are easy to get on Gamivo.
What does the London Review of Books have in common with BioShock 1?
Two years after the release date of BioShock 1, London Review of Books (the biggest and most prominent literary journal in Europe) published a short article about the game titled “Is it Art?” by a British author John Lanchester. The article analyzed some aspects of the game and put a positive emphasis on its scenario — especially in the context of philosophy of objectivism. This was an important moment in the history of gaming, because a journalist and a writer, whose primary area of expertise is not gaming, was able to see much intellectual potential in Ken Levine’s work.
And there are many reasons for that. First of all, the game elaborates on Ayn Rand’s concept of objectivism and puts its theses into fictional motion (in the world of the game itself). It shows human nature in its most extreme incarnations, embodied in one of the BioShock’s villains — Andrew Ryan (anagram from Ayn Rand was absolutely intentional). It tries to depict an objectivist politician who came into real state power, and analyzes the consequence of his rule, which turns from quasi-libertarianism to state-imposed authoritarianism.
Secondly, Andrew Ryan’s motives are set in an absolutely believable historic context. This antihero is written as a person who is disgusted by all 20-century political systems — left-wing, right-wing or religious. The philosophical, intellectual disenchantment with the world was a very popular movement among post-war writers and thinkers. The player, analyzing this character, could partially come to the same conclusions as him.
And thirdly, fragments of Ayn Rand’s philosophy are presented in the game in such a way that begs for individual research and experience. It’s not only an entertaining shooter, but also a good start for philosophical explorations. And there are no special requirements for that — just a computer, BioShock game key and a bit of spare time.
The sequels. Did something go wrong?
Not necessarily, but it’s an undeniable fact that BioShock 2 and BioShock: Infinite did not carry such a great intellectual potential as the first part of the franchise. The second one was designed without Ken Levine onboard, so his proclivity for serious philosophical questions unfortunately was not present. Nevertheless, the game tries to answer some questions regarding blind group identity and fanatic attempts to create a real utopia on Earth. It’s largely a continuation of BioShock 1 atmosphere, but with a bit less intellectual depth to it — primarily because it has less real-world points of reference like Ayn Rand, her philosophy and books.
Unfortunately, even with Ken Levine onboard, BioShock: Infinite in the eyes of many did not stand up to the extremely high bar set by the first part of the franchise. The game does not revolve around any significant real-world idea and makes strong emphasis on speculations regarding quantum time and space. This theme is often harvested in various popular movies and books, and does not bear sighs of originality in pop culture anymore.
Conclusion. Is BioShock 1 the only game with such cultural qualities?
The answer is no. Check out such games as The Stanley Parable, I Have no Mouth, and I Must Scream or Victoria II (this one is more historical than philosophical). You can get all of them via cheap game keys and enjoy not only good entertainment, but also an opportunity to think and learn.