Bioshock is often mischaracterized as a harsh critique of capitalism, with a myriad of online blogs and individuals portraying it as such. However, this is a critically shallow interpretation of the title. As Bogost writes “While some political opinion is black and white, most issues occupy grey areas, heavily influenced by other public policy issues.” (Playing Politics: Videogames for Politics, Activism, and Advocacy). The criticisms brought forth by Rapture and Andrew Ryan stem far beyond anything as simple as an economic system, and to portray the game as merely an anti-capitalist narrative is to not only fail to understand the game’s theme and environmental narrative, but to also misrepresent the medium and tarnish its storytelling.
In the first 10 minutes of the game the player is treated to a slideshow and monologue from Rapture’s ruler and dictator, Andrew Ryan. He immediately criticizes three major philosophies; capitalism, communism, and organized religion. This is as blatant as it gets; each of these systems or governing ideologies is considered a failure by the despot. He proposes a truly “free” society, but in reality what he creates is textbook authoritarian regime with himself at the helm. The game is a criticism of authoritarianism. It characterizes the danger of removing freedom and ethics from a population, who will eventually revolt against the oppression of their spirit. To suggest that authoritarianism is synonymous with capitalism is to be woefully ignorant of the differences between an economic system and a methodology of governing a population.
Proponents of the anti-capitalist theory of Bioshock will often bring up the disparity in power shown between the general populace and Andrew Ryan himself. They will draw parallels to wealthy and influential individuals in Western society and will inaccurately equate them. Generally these individuals are real world proponents of socialist or communistic ideologies, yet are somehow ignorant to the history of these systems. A simple question shatters the narrative: How is Andrew Ryan different from Stalin or Mussolini? An all powerful man who utilizes his influence to maintain an iron grip on a suffering populace? This comparison is arguably more apparent in the storytelling of Bioshock, especially if the player is collecting the audio logs of the denizens of Rapture. It is a frustratingly naïve notion to ignore the obvious criticisms of other systems purely to attempt to support a narrative. Furthermore, it is slander against the brilliance of the game itself and how well it can show the collective failures of the majority of civilization and thus justify Andrew Ryan’s actions, or at least provide an argument for them.