The BioShock Infinite Story: What Rampant Jingoism Can Tell Us


Posted April 6, 2011 - By Guest Writer

By Jonathan Deesing

The Jingoism of BioShock Infinite

definition: Extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy.

To many, BioShock was simply smashing and shooting through a tomb of disease and decay. Flinging bees and flame at countless screaming idiots. But to me, BioShock was a cold slap in the face. I was the Grinch atop Mount Crumpit realizing that perhaps video games can mean a little bit more. BioShock was a philosophical mood wrapped around a game; a dystopia crumbling into the failure of an unrestricted laissez faire society. BioShock Infinite looks to bring the same formula, but with a different philosophy and appropriately different setting. Using BioShock as a model, we can deduce much of what we can expect story-wise from Irrational Games’ next installment. 

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the motivation for BioShock’s story and after learning this it only took me two weeks to read it and its spiritual predecessor, The Fountainhead. That’s right friends; a video game encouraged me to read 2,400 pages as fast as my eyes could move. It wasn’t the refreshingly unique steampunk vibe or even the astounding gameplay that made me fall in love with BioShock. It was the story.

The Jingoism of BioShock Infinite

BioShock took Rand’s epic Atlas Shrugged and loosely translated it into a video game. At the risk of spoiling the book for anyone (it’s been out for a half century, you whiners), it also involves the best and brightest stealing away in the middle of the night to form a secret city in which their efforts are bound by nothing. BioShock took the formula one step further by introducing a science that advanced too fast to be restrained, which led to the downfall of Rapture.

Irrational Games has revealed that Columbia, the floating city upon which BioShock Infinite takes place was the result of a common theme in the early 1900s: jingoism. It’s a theme we’re all too familiar with these days; the “America, f*ck yeah!” disregard for other countries in lieu of self-laudatory attitude wherein we not only acknowledge our superiority to other countries, but celebrate it. This feeling reigned supreme at the turn of the 20th century and continued for generations to come. 

Columbia was designed as a floating World’s Fair, but once it was revealed to be a battleship, the U.S. Government disowned it and it floated into oblivion. At this point, Columbia has become in essence a floating Rapture, isolated and victim to the ideologies of the most powerful members of the city. These ideologies have embroiled the city in a civil war over who should rule the crumbling utopia; the nationalists or the people.

The Jingoism of BioShock Infinite

This is where jingoism comes to replace Ayn Rand’s objectivism. In BioShock, it was Andrew Ryan, the self-made industrialist fighting the sniveling parasite in its myriad forms. In BioShock Infinite it will be the nationalists, the intolerant purists who don’t want to see any foreigners taint their spotless paradise versus a hardened and ideological group of freedom fighters. In fact, the civil war we can expect to see will bear an uncanny resemblance to the current struggle in Libya; a powerful army under a tyrannical leader battling a fervent local force.

Expect to see and hear a wealth of propaganda from both sides. Indoctrination was the order of the day in nearly every industrialized country on earth and America was no different. The American exceptionalism that built Columbia also jumpstarted America’s transition into the world’s main producer of manufactured goods. Countless political cartoons and political campaigns ensured Americans that all other countries were either holding them back or pitted against them. Expect to see this in spades in BioShock Infinite. Indeed, it was around this time that politicians began trying to win the “hearts and minds” of opposing forces instead of just defeating them outright.

The Jingoism of BioShock Infinite

On the nationalist side will be the borderline racism of the early 1900s. At the same time America was becoming a world power, she was also confronting the problem of European immigration. With seemingly endless potential, America quickly became a sought after destination for impoverished Europeans previously tied to an informal caste system. As immigrants began to pack Ellis Island, politicians tried to formulate a plan for dealing with them, which often resulted in racist and xenophobic policies. Americans didn’t want foreigners spoiling their country, and the nationalists of Columbia likely feel the same way. The best way to express this will be with posters and slogans extolling America’s greatness. The amount of American flags will smack of post-9/11 America and we’ll probably grow tired of hearing an endless loop of patriotic jingles. 

The freedom fighters’ propaganda may be strikingly similar to Andrew Ryan’s enemies in BioShock 1 and 2. Both Atlas and Sofia Lamb used posters and catchphrases to attract followers to their cause of fighting for the people. Turn-of-the century America saw much of this, but didn’t actually have any room for this type of nonsense as they were pursuing imperial goals. In fact, one such anarchist philosopher, Emma Goldman, was deported to Russia for her radical ideas. Many others were imprisoned or otherwise silenced. Scores of supposed atheists and anarchists were tried and locked away. So expect to see a group of highly disadvantaged and idealistic individuals fighting ruthlessly for their goals, using whatever tools (including propaganda) that they can. 

Speaking of tools, the weapons we can expect to see will probably reflect the two struggling sides. On the one hand we’ll have the high tech gadgets that came with the wondrous Columbia, used primarily by the nationalists. From the previews we’ve seen so far we know we can expect the traditional machine guns, shotguns and sniper rifles, but expect Irrational Games to throw a few retro-futuristic gadgets in the mix. 

The Jingoism of BioShock Infinite

Along this same line of thinking is the style of warfare we can expect. BioShock’s different traps that were expanded upon and improved in BioShock 2 offered countless (and often hilarious) strategies for eliminating enemies. The freedom fighters’ guerrilla warfare may rub off on our player-character and allow more opportunities for unique planning. This style of fighting coupled with the other main character, a young telekinetic girl, will add a curveball to the shock-and-wrench tactics of the first two installments.  

BioShock Infinite will fulfill the desire of many to see the civil war that tore Rapture in a different locale. The main character is thrust into the middle of the war instead of the shattered wake of the war, and as such will probably be given opportunities to see how things unfold from both sides. This means that we’ll be fighting more than a smattering of dying survivors. Instead we'll be facing relatively large mobs and armies. Being between these competing ideals will no doubt lead to fast-paced and intense story development, once again shrink-wrapped in an overriding philosophy. Hopefully we get to club a racist nationalist to death with a golf club this time around. Or, in an even more American turn, a baseball bat.

The BioShock Infinite Story: What Rampant Jingoism Can Tell Us


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