I’ve been watching the missus playing Bioshock: Infinite, the indirect but sort of direct sequel to Bioshock and Bioshock 2. As you may or may not know I made an RPG resource for Bioshock which can be found HERE.
Without getting too spoilerific, Infinite lives up to its name and potentially opens up the role-playing possibilities and opportunities in a whole variety of worlds, not just the ones that are presented or hinted at in the Bioshock series so far.
Bioshock, as a game, has great hooks and gets its hooks into you, but it does follow a sort of a formula. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. A formula or structure can help channel creativity and doesn’t (obviously!) indicate any paucity of imagination.
The Bioshock Formula
Each Bioshock game taps into a form of ideology and dials it up to eleven. While the setting and expression of that ideology may be extreme and twisted it is something we do find or have had in history.
The first Bioshock presents a ‘Galt’s Gulch’, a Libertarian extreme. Bioshock Infinite presents a nightmarish extreme of American exceptionalism, theocratic tyranny and constitutional worship of the founding fathers that can still be seem in aspects of modern American politics.
A strong ideological culture tends to create a strong counterculture and Bioshock tries – not always especially convincingly – to present the flipside as being as bad in its own way as the dominant culture. The counterculture may exist in multiple forms. Some more extreme, some a genuine counterpoint, some wanting to take over and claim power for themselves.
Each Bioshock world is centred around a cult of personality, a singular force of will that creates and/or guides the society. The counterculture also, often, has a particular voice as a counterpoint to this leader. A reaction as forceful in its own way.
The more obvious technological aspect in Bioshock is in the form of the special powers that characters can access, giving them superhuman abilities (though at what cost). There are other technologies of course – some retaining their mystery – but consistently each Bioshock society is technologically ahead of the outside world around it by a significant degree.
How these developments came about isn’t necessarily clear but in Bioshock it is likely that many of the great leaps came at intense human cost through experimentation not unlike that carried out by the Nazis in death camps during WW2.
The Bioshock societies are isolated – through choice – from the rest of the world in some way. In the existing Bioshocks this is a physical separation – in the air or beneath the waves – but there are plenty of other options for ways to separate one society from another. Rapture is self-sufficient it seems, while Columbia must engage in trade but despite this both maintain separation from the world at large.
The Bioshock games take place at the culmination of events, where the society comes to a crux point of change and goes into a crisis – seemingly, essentially a violent one. Things shift, the society changes and is either destroyed or changed forever. The crisis point gives you your hook for any adventurers to dig in.
Bioshock: City of Love
Ideology: After the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 San Francisco was shattered and turned into an archipelago of ruined islands which were left to rot for decades until they were eventually settled by revolutionary, counterculture hippies moving into the sixties. The islands have since become a ‘free state’ under control of ‘The Guru’ and his acolytes dedicated to peace, love, drugs and freedom.
Counterculture: The dominant culture is pacifistic and insular, setting themselves aside from the ‘squares’. They believe that their way of life will naturally take over the world. The counterculture thinks that the Age of Aquarius needs a little impetus and wants to take on the world outside directly and violently as it believes is necessary. The revolution needs to begin at home by sweeping away the existing order though. The outside world is paranoid in the extreme about the islands and the strange stories coming from them and constantly tries to get their own agents to the islands.
Genius: Dr Jim is ‘The Guru’, the leader of the City of Love. A powerful, psychedelic ‘magician’ he is the visionary who opened the doors of perception and synthesized the drug derivatives, ‘tabs’, which give the denizens of Love so many of their advantages and powers. Monroe opposes him, his opposite. An intensely political individual who wants to ‘deploy’ Love’s power to end the Vietnam war and bring on the Age of Aquarius by force. Both have their problems, The Guru’s pacifist internalism leaves the world to rot and is self indulgent while Monroe seeks to impose his utopia.
Technology: ‘Tabs’ unlock metaphysical powers which can then be powered by neurotransmitters and chemicals released in the mind by sleep and drug use. Some have greater reaction to Tabs, giving them flashes of inspiration that have allowed them to create new tech that protects the islands. Weather machines, orgone collectors, new materials, imagination-shaped substances and alternative energy sources all on an artisinal scale and an economy that doesn’t work on money.
Isolation: The islands are protected by reefs and rocks, fog and the powers and technological wonders that the islanders have created. Its still in sight though and a constant ‘threat’ to mainland America.
Crisis Point: Monroe and his followers are read to take independent action to end the Vietnam War. They’ve been inventing and using more war-like tabs and technology and intend to interpose themselves between the two sides and beat them into submission. This will provoke the US into action and they have been conducting their own drug experiments on a unit of battle-hardened Marines, intending to assassinate the key leaders and open the islands up to reconquest.
What are your ideas?