Rapture dies with Andrew Ryan
Bioshock is a game that succeeds on the shoulders of one character: Andrew Ryan. His charisma and speech are enthralling, even if you disagree with the beliefs he puts forward. Ryan founded Rapture, a city under the sea hidden from the rest of the world and the setting for Bioshock. While Ryan is not the only person to live in Rapture and engage with the player, his presence is felt throughout the city through audio diaries and propaganda. The city would not exist were it not for Ryan, and the city would be nothing were it not for those special few who occupied it.
Rapture is both a location that allows compromised characters to either redeem or damn themselves on the moral scales, and a condemnation of the ideology of an unregulated, free market, unrestricted by meddling governments whether it be democratic, communistic, or religious. Andrew Ryan declares he does not believe in any god, but rather as the founder of Rapture he occupies in his own mind the position of omnipotence. It is this stubborn denial that any could usurp his position that leads to his downfall at the hands of Fontaine, who desires Ryan’s power but knows it is not something that will be willingly shared. Ryan is recorded in an audio log dismissing Adam, the chemical that gives the character’s of Bioshock their abilities, and its powers as trite and not worth his time, until it begins to take hold and dominate the population’s time and money. It is then that he seeks to be rid of Fontaine via the police, despite the supposed freedom Rapture affords. Ryan desired a utopia free from regulation, but only if he was at the top. When confronted with the flaws of his system, Ryan retreats ever inward and seals himself in from the rest of Rapture. Having already founded a city under the ocean, separated from the rest of the world, Ryan chooses to further separate himself from the own world he built, delving even further into his own inability to change. An Audio Diary even captures the moment Ryan rejects introspection as he ponders whether he has made mistakes building Rapture. Instead he throws any reflection away as a distraction from destroying Atlas, Fontaine’s alias for a majority of the game.
Could I have made mistakes? One does not build cities if one is guided by doubt. But can one govern in absolute certainty? I know that my beliefs have elevated me, just as I know that the things I have rejected would have destroyed me. But the city... it is collapsing before my... have I become so convinced by my own beliefs that I have stopped seeing the truth? Perhaps. But Atlas is out there, and he aims to destroy me, and destroy my city. To question is to surrender. I will not question.
Another example of Ryan’s true intentions and the failings of Rapture is with the splicers, your common enemy throughout Bioshock. Killing splicers is never given a second thought throughout the game despite being regular citizens of Rapture. Due to the lack of regulation, plasmids were allowed to flood the market with little regard to inform citizens of its side effects. Plasmids required constant Adam injections and continued usage deteriorated their body and mind. Thus splicers were born, disfigured citizens whose desire for abilities such as telekinesis led to their dehumanization to the point that they become nothing more than hideous monsters for the player to shoot, beat, and kill in the variety of ways Bioshock affords.
Doctor Suchong, frankly, I'm shocked by your proposal. If we were to modify the structure of our commercial Plasmid line as you propose, to have them make the user vulnerable to mental suggestion through pheromones, would we not be able to effectively control the actions of the citizens of Rapture? Free will is the cornerstone of this city. The thought of sacrificing it is abhorrent. However… we are indeed in a time of war. If Atlas and his bandits have their way, will they not turn us into slaves? And what will become of free will then? Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Ryan and his ideology are responsible for the splicers and he continues to exploit the citizens of Rapture even further via pheromones. The same audio log that explains how Ryan can control splicers shows his true nature: one who is willing to compromise his ideology so long as it serves him. Ryan doesn’t actually care about allowing the people of Rapture to benefit from the freedom given when government and religion is removed, he just wants a place where he can benefit freely without having to give anything to help those below him. Ryan wants complete and total freedom, but if Atlas is going to turn the lower class against him, then Ryan is okay with taking away that freedom he used to lure people to Rapture in the first place.
Ryan’s adversary, Fontaine, is a con man who saw in Rapture the opportunity of a lifetime. Realizing that Ryan cared little for those who could not pull themselves up by their bootstraps and ascend the socio-economic ladder stacked against them, Fontaine gathered and empowered this collection of people to fight for him against Ryan. While Ryan surrounded himself with artists such as Sander Cohen and scientists like Yi Suchong and Brigid Tenenbaum, Fontaine created housing for the poor and orphaned. Fontaine did not do this out of the goodness of his heart in order to free these people from their oppressors. Instead he converted them into Adam addicts, turning them into the splicers who you, the player character, kill throughout your time in Rapture. Fontaine turned them over to death and tortured living by feeding them Adam, all so that he could kill Ryan and take full control of Rapture.
These sad saps. They come to Rapture thinking they're gonna be captains of industry, but they all forget that somebody's gotta scrub the toilets. What an angle they gave me... I hand these mugs a cot and a bowl of soup, and they give me their lives. Who needs an army when I got Fontaine's Home for the Poor?
While the poor had ample reason to turn against Ryan, even some in the upper class found themselves dissatisfied with Ryan’s utopia. Sander Cohen was an artist who was very sensitive to criticisms of his work and who grew to despise Ryan for damning him to a city full of doubters who couldn’t see the brilliance in his work. As Rapture fell, and Cohen descended into Adam fueled madness, he began to regard people as disposable as paint brushes and their bodies as merely canvases for him to use. Cohen isn’t actually a very good artist, as his masterpiece is simply a collection of photographs of dead bodies of former disciples. Most of his work is never seen or heard; the player merely comes across various corpses encased in plaster and placed in poses around Fort Frolic, whether that’s sitting at a dinner table or casting shadows in a spotlighted bathroom.
I know why you've come, little moth. You've your own canvas. One you'll paint with the blood of a man I once loved.
Despite being a hack artist, he does reveal some insight into the production behind Bioshock as a game: that the location of Rapture is the player’s canvas upon which the choices made during gameplay begin to create an image determined by your style. The lasting impression left by Bioshock is one the player created, as well as the one the developers presented in its characters. Bioshock is a stage play, yes, but one in which the player is able to arrange and execute their own scripts in between monologues.
The creator of Adam, the catalyst for Raptures downfall, was Brigid Tenenbaum. She survived the Nazi concentration camps of World War 2 due to her betrayal of her own kind by aiding the Nazi’s in their “science” experiments on prisoners. In Rapture she discovers the foundation for what would become Adam and despite knowing its addictive and deteriorating effects on humans continued to develop it for Fontaine in return for funding. She initially detested the Little Sisters but realized her hatred for them was really for herself. Although her Adam creation process was already standardized she began seeking a way to reverse what she had done.
One of the children came and sat in my lap. I push her off, I shout, "Get away from me!" I can see the ADAM oozing out of the corner of her mouth, thick and green. Her filthy hair hanging in her face, dirty clothes, and that dead glow in her eye... I feel... hatred, like I never felt before, in my chest. Bitter, burning fury. I can barely breathe. And suddenly, I know, it is not this child I hate.
Early on in Bioshock you are required to obtain a key from Dr. Steinman in order to progress. Steinman is a former surgeon who began to pursue creating the perfect body via Adam and his own sculpting which frequently led to “failure” and the death of the subject. He rejected the Hippocratic Oath, which Rapture’s ideology allowed for, and instead was more interested in serving his own interests than that of his patients. It is hinted at that this venture of his began prior to New Year’s Eve 1958, the fall of Rapture. You come across his many creations throughout the medical ward, usually bloodied bodies seemingly stapled to the walls. This pursuit for beauty consumed him just as much as the Adam consumed his mind and showed him visions of Aphrodite, the goddess he sought to please and gain advice from. As the first major character the player kills in Bioshock, he also serves as the template for the effects Adam had on the populace, and how it drove people deeper into their own obsessions.
I am beautiful, yes. Look at me, what could I do to make my features finer? With ADAM and my scalpel, I have been transformed. But is there not something better? What if now it is not my skill that fails me... but my imagination?
Rapture, as a place without regulation, is one where people are free to kill those who stand in their way, where people freely go missing, to experiment on people with your scalpel in the pursuit of beauty, where everything is privately owned and has a price. Ryan frequently denounced the “parasite” the altruistic leanings of liberals to utilize the power of the many to help the poor. Parasites are those who would seek to undermine free enterprise through the hacking of vending machines or by gaining something without putting in the work to earn it. Rapture is free from social programs and regulations that would bog the market down. And in return, Rapture destroyed itself through the lack of structured law and common goodwill.
Ryan’s philosophy is one of selfishness, of providing for you and only you and if someone was unable to provide it was their own fault. This Ayn Rand philosophy fails as the exploitation of those below the elites can only be tolerated for so long before rebellion. Even without Fontaine, the lower classes’ anger would have run over into violent revolution. Adam merely sped up this process by giving regular people the power to create fire literally at their fingertips.
Despite any abhorrence for this type of thinking, Ryan’s charisma and frequent postulating can momentarily keep you enthralled. I despised his unwillingness to help the poor, but I couldn’t help but wish that he had prevailed over Atlas prior to his unfortunate meeting with a golf club. Ryan is the greatest asset of Bioshock, and his death serves as the climax of the game, even if it continues on towards a stock revenge plot afterwards. Rapture dies with Ryan.
You can kill me, but you will never have my city. My strength is not in steel and fire, that is what the parasites will never understand.