BioShock Story – Taking a Second Look – SPOILERS

NOTEThis post is intended for anyone that ignored BioShock or played it (like me) and then gave up half way through and stopped playing because you just didn’t care about the characters or what was happening.

SPOILERS: This article does contain spoilers down in the last few sections, it is clearly marked. If you don’t want to ruin the story for yourself, suffice it to say that the story behind BioShock is as complex as Lost minus the time-travel… it’s really impressive.

As hinted at in the above NOTE, I skipped the fan-fare around the BioShock initial release — there was something about the art style that I didn’t love and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It looked awesome, it was gory and it had an incredible amount of character to it — these are all important items on my game-must-have-check-list and I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t clicking… eventually I figured out it was the weapons I didn’t like the feel of, not the game itself.

But that not important…

… about 4 months ago I finally decided to get BioShock for $15 on Xbox 360. I popped it in the Xbox and played it — all the way up until Smugglers Den actually which is about 8hrs in I think.

I just could not get into the game — I felt myself grinding through it. Trying to finish it as fast as I could. When I realized I was doing that, I stopped, popped the disk out and traded it in.

It wasn’t until the buzz started to pick up around the upcoming BioShock 2 release that I thought to myself “I wonder if I missed something about BioShock” — I’ve been known to “try” a game too fast in the past and miss some gem. I did this with Knights of the Old Republic (turned out to be one of my favorite games of all time) and World of Warcraft — which I ended up becoming addicted to for about 6 months until I realized my marriage was hanging in the balance and I erased my character.

A Little Bit About Me…

Before I get into BioShock I have to explain what kind of gamer I am. I have these following traits:

  • I like gore in games that call for it. War games or horror games that are rated T piss me off because I feel like they aren’t “realistic enough”.
  • I LOVE good stories — Undying, Indigo Prophecy, KOTOR, Dream Fall, The Longest Journey, Grim Fandango, Mass Effect… these are all games that have intense and detailed worlds, characters and inter-relationships. I will kill for a good story any day of the week.
  • I love mature stories — things like Rachet and Clank are lost on me. I have a limited amount of time and want to be consumed by the story. Mindless fun like Mario games, the Wii in general and Arcade titles feel like a waste of my time.

Now that you know what I like, let me get back to BioShock… (you see where this is going)

… ok back to BioShock

So I decided that since I had given up on BioShock, but the title continued to get rave reviews and praise — that I would look into it again and see what I had missed. I decided to google “BioShock storyline” to find the Cliff Notes version of the story — what I found was a complex twisting and turning story on-par with Lost.

I was finally getting it… I was finally seeing why this game garnered so much praise.


If you haven’t played the game, please be for-warned that spoilers are coming…

What YOU SAY?!

My search brought me to the BioShock Wiki where I started in on learning the story first. Before I even made it out of the first page of text, I had already drilled down into:

I knew from my first play through certain things about these folks — Ryan was the creator of Rapture, Tenenbaum headed up ADAM research and Fontaine was Ryan’s biggest nemesis and smuggler king down in the underwater city.

What I didn’t know, that I learned just from drilling down on their names were things like:

  • UPDATED: The story of BioShock is influenced by what I believe is a fascinating proposition from Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. As reader ‘Dave’ correctly points out in the comments, the BioShock story is in no way a reproduction of the story of Atlas Shrugged — but there is this common theme of an attempt at creating a utopia by combining the world’s best minds in different walks of life together. From what I understand of the Atlas Shrugged novel, the story doesn’t analyze what happens to the mountain-top eden after 20+ years of existence. BioShock takes the story further, after 20 years of existence and shows that things began to fall apart as the realities of every-day life took it’s toll on a ‘genius’ population — someone has to clean the toilets after all. I find this social-study fascinating because it seems to suggest that regardless of the ingredients you make a society with, you have to end up with the upper/middle and lower class — whether you comprise that society of geniuses or hobos.
  • The city of Rapture is a secret – the surface world was not aware of it or where it was. Sort of awesome to think of such an epic place being built secretly.
  • Did you know that you, the main player, is a bio-engineered, artificially aged offspring of Ryan (you are actually only a few years old) that was harvested and grown by Fontaine as a backup plan of attack against Ryan if he ever got the upper hand on Fontaine.
  • Your dad is Andrew Ryan and your mom is Jasmine Jolene, a woman that Ryan kills with a pipe that you see the ghost-image of early in the game. You can find her body too.
  • The reason the plane crashes RIGHT at the entrace to Rapture at the beginning of the game is because you are programmed to hijack and crash it.
  • Fontaine has called you back into action and uses the phrase “Would you kindly…” to trigger the mind-control he has embedded in you to get you to do things constantly?
  • Did you know Atlas is Fontaine? He created the new persona as a “person of the people” after faking his death in the first war with Ryan’s forces.
  • That “splicers” are called that because of the genetic splicing required to use ADAM, and the ensuing addiction and constant use that they would give into? I never knew why they were called this…
  • That sea slugs from around Rapture provide ADAM, but not in enough quantity for commercialization. Tenenbaum created the ADAM research and application but realized that more ADAM could be generated by embedding the sea slugs inside of little girls — Fontaine wanted money and started a fake “Little Sisters” orphanage to get enough of a population to turn into mindless ADAM production facilities. Tenenbaum hated this and grew a maternal urge to protect the Little Sisters — which is why in the game you are given the choice to harvest or save them. She creates a sanctuary where the saved sisters live under the city.
  • Little Sisters were also employed to collect the ADAM, and during the civil war when ADAM sale was up so high, Ryan had to resort to stealing little girls to enslave them to keep the Little Sister population up.
  • Tenenbaum becomes the only true ally to Jack in the entire game.
  • ADAM is like heroine, but you deteriorate unless you keep taking it.
  • AWESOME: Big Daddies are engineered humans who have their bodies and organs bound to the inside of the specially crafted diving suites and their minds controlled for the purpose of protecting Little Sisters. They have their voice boxes modified to communicate like dolphins and were created by Dr. Yi Suchong under the direction of Fontaine to protect their interest in producing ADAM.
  • Sofia Lamb was the psychologist brought to Rapture to help ease the psychological pressure of living in confined spaces (by the population). She had polar opposite views to Ryan who eventually retaliated against her by turning her own daughter into a Little Sister and binding her to Subject Delta (the first Big Daddy).
  • Sofia used mind control to have Subject Delta kill itself – in BioShock 2 you play Subject Delta.

There are a lot more relationships and details I didn’t nail down here, but I was blown away with how complex the character and world created under the water had been written for this game.

Suffice it to say I’m going to go ahead and reply BioShock (on PC this time) and looking very forward to BioShock 2.

I hope this post may give some folks that ignored BioShock incentive to give it a try — I find that I tend not to enjoy games when I don’t know what I’m getting. When I do know — even sometimes the stories and endings themselves — I still enjoy the hell out of playing them and existing in those worlds temporarily.

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8 Responses to BioShock Story – Taking a Second Look – SPOILERS

  1. Dave January 25, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    RE: “The entire BioShock game is a game realization of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged novel.”

    WTF?! Obviously you haven’t read “Atlas Shrugged”. You should as you might actually learn something useful, but you’ll have to waste less time playing video games to do so. “Atlas Shrugged” is a truly great work that explains the philosophical basis for Objectivism (look it up). Please don’t compare the plot to this time-wasting video game. Based on the “storyline” link you posted, there’s nothing in common. Someone is goofing on you boy. Wise up and check your sources.


    • Dave January 26, 2010 at 7:46 am #

      Wow, I really should have put a 😉 on that last post. Just re-read it and it came off a little harsher than I intended. I was forced to read “Atlas Shrugged” a few years ago in college as part of an “american lit.” elective and it turned out to change the way I thought about life. Not many books do that, so I guess I was a bit overly defensive about seeing it compared to BioShock. Anyway, no more beers before posting; I promise.

      Also wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoy this site. The technology write-ups are always great and even though I’m not much of a gamer, I still enjoy reading the reviews just for the writing style — always a laugh. Please keep it up as you’ve created a great resource for tech in general.


    • Riyad Kalla January 26, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

      Dave, you’re correct in that I should have stated it was “influenced by” Ayn Rand’s work — I’m not the only one discussing this. I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged yet, but the game’s storyline and underlying theme of an attempt at a utopia by combining the worlds best interested me enough to want to pick it up.

      Maybe video games aren’t totally evil? :)

      About your comment “changed the way I thought about life” — that’s pretty huge, in what ways did it change you? (BTW I’ll edit the original post to not dilute Rand’s work… didn’t want to come across as sound like it’s a 1:1 reproduction)

      • Dave February 4, 2010 at 8:31 am #


        Thanks for updating the review to note BioShock is “influenced by” Atlas Shrugged. It is certainly more accurate and might even get a few more people to read this incredible book.

        >Maybe video games aren’t totally evil?

        Well, I wouldn’t be reading game reviews if I didn’t play them as well, now would I . 😉 Like all enjoyable poisons (booze, cigarettes, drugs, etc) they’re simply best in moderation.

        >About your comment “changed the way I thought about life” — that’s pretty huge, in what ways did it change you?

        In college I was in a liberal arts program and was generally exposed to only one opinion from my professors — big governments are good and they take care of you. Everyone was “entitled” to everything. “Atlas Shrugged” is a philosophical discourse (written as a compelling period novel) of why this school of thought is fundamentally flawed and has eventually failed everywhere it’s been tried. See: USSR. So basically this book made me want to find out what governments are really for, anyway. So I started reading the writings of John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founders of this country. The result was that I changed my major to political science so I could actually work on changing our government back toward what was originally intended, although, with not much success thus far.

        • Riyad Kalla February 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

          Thanks for taking the time to reply — that is a big change initiated by the book. That also deserves praise that you focused on working on the solution, instead of bitching about it like most people tend to do (god knows I do). You mentioned “with no much success thus far” — it always seems to me that big money is the cause of the most stagnation to our processes and environment. They are established and profit from structures and “ways of doing business” that they shore up and solidify. Do you think there are ways to slowly change the world we live in, say just the US for now, towards the good?

          It’s always interesting to watch political discussions between democrats/republicans/liberals about programs — take united health care for example. When a democrat argues about it’s virtues, they are picturing in their head a single mom working 3 jobs to try and get her girls through school. When a republican thinks about it, more times than not they are thinking of the deadbeats standing on the corner stop-light selling newspapers to get just enough money to drink themselves to sleep that night — wanting nothing more out of life.

          Then you have the reality of the situation, the corporations will always push legislation to profit either way… and it’s those perverse profits (I’m not against profits, but unnecessarily large profits frustrate me) that gets in everyone’s cap… really makes us feel like were getting shafted in some way. Damned if do (help folks) and damned if we don’t (private healthcare).

          I heard and interesting discussion around public programs recently from two fairly liberal friends who support those types of programs — I asked them “why? don’t you think it just enables and in some cases encourages lethargy and underperformance by citizens?” and their response was “There is a large group of the population that will NEVER work and NEVER strive, no matter what environment you put them in. If you push them out of “middle” or “low class” down into abject poverty, you run the risk of creating a rebellious portion of society that has nothing to loose by fighting back — either passively, like 1000s of people not paying taxes, or actively — vandalism and the like.

          That’s a horrible thing to think… it’s so negative and distrusting, but I’ve certainly met and seen people that fall into this category and I have no social references to look at to either prove or disprove this… maybe developing 3rd word countries may illustrate the point… I don’t know.

          You have any thoughts on this?


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