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BioShock Cultural References

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BioShock is a complex game and contains many references to gaming, philosophy, and real world history.


References to Ayn Rand Edit

Characters Edit

  • Andrew Ryan's philosophy, his name, and some of his history were based on Ayn Rand.[1] His name is a partial anagram of hers. Both Andrew Ryan and Ayn Rand were originally from the Soviet Union, but moved to America to avoid the increasing tensions of Communism. Both created their own city to explore their ideas: Rand created Atlantis in Galt's Gulch in her novel Atlas Shrugged,[2] while Ryan created Rapture.
  • In a radio message from Andrew Ryan in Arcadia, we learn that he set fire to his own land rather than let it fall into public hands. This seems to be a direct reference once again to Atlas Shrugged, in which the character Ellis Wyatt sets fire to his valuable oil fields for similar reasons.
  • During Rapture Central Control, Andrew Ryan starts a self-destruct sequence for Rapture, because he does not want to see Atlas take control of his city. In The Fountainhead[3] Howard Roark dynamites the Cortlandt housing project when his designs had been altered.
  • The name Atlas was inspired by the title of one of Ayn Rand's most famous books, Atlas Shrugged.
  • A minor character in the game, Anya Andersdotter, shares the same characteristic Bob cut as Ayn Rand. Her name is also an anagram of the author's with letters added: AYN RAND converts to ANYa ANDeRsdotter.
  • Ayn Rand's original last name was Rosenbaum, which is paralleled by the character Tenenbaum.
  • Posters can be found that say "Who is Atlas" are references to the regularly repeated expression "Who is John Galt" in Atlas Shrugged.

Other Edit

  • Ayn Rand's philosophy, called Objectivism,[4] greatly influences the story of BioShock. Objectivism is the idea that one should follow their own self-interest and profit from their own abilities and ambitions while being virtually uninhibited by others. This is the idea on which Andrew Ryan's city is based.
  • Each bottle of Arcadia Merlot is embossed with the name "Fountainhead Cabernet Sauvignon," which may be another direct reference to Rand's novel The Fountainhead.
  • On Jack's fake passport, his last name is shown to be Wynand. In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Gail Wynand is one of the main characters.
  • Posters for the Pharaoh's Fortune Casino state that the casino is located in the Cameron Suites, a possible reference to architect Henry Cameron, a character in The Fountainhead.
  • The name "H. Roark" appears on the advertisement for the Eve's Garden strip club. Howard Roark was the main character in The Fountainhead.
  • The posters that read "Who is Atlas?" could be a reference to the opening lines and catch phrase of Atlas Shrugged: "Who is John Galt?"
  • A patient in one of the pictures scattered throughout the Medical Pavilion bears a striking resemblance to Ayn Rand.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, during a party, the protagonist Dagny is told by a woman about the tale of John Galt. She says that while sailing in the sea during a storm, he saw the shining towers of Atlantis. This could be what inspired the idea of Rapture, an underwater utopia very much like Atlantis in many ways. Following this, there are many mentionings such as Poseidon Plaza or Neptune's Bounty, who both had influence on the city in myths.
  • The "Welcome to Rapture" posters found throughout the city use a similar font, color scheme, and background to the cover art of the Penguin paperback edition of Atlas Shrugged.

Biblical References Edit

  • ADAM and EVE are references to the Creation story in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. In Christian and Jewish belief, Adam and Eve end up ruining a utopia because of greed and ignorance.
  • The word "Rapture" is a Christian term referring to an event that removes the "chosen" people in the world from society and transports them to paradise.
  • To make the Lazarus Vector, Jack needs 7 Distilled Water, 7 Enzyme Samples, and 7 Chlorophyll Solution. The number seven is used very frequently in the Bible (over seven hundred times, in fact), and the name Lazarus itself comes from the biblical story of the man Lazarus raised from the dead by Jesus. In the game the Lazarus Vector raises Arcadia from "death".
  • In the introduction slideshow to Rapture, Andrew Ryan says "And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city, as well." The phrase "sweat of your brow" is taken from Genesis 3:19, in which God tells Adam that outside the Garden of Eden only by "the sweat of thy brow" would he be able to raise food and survive.
  • When Ryan contacts Jack early on in Rapture Central Control, he references the Bible saying, "Even in a book of lies, you can still find some truth." He then quotes the part he calls "truth" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). He also uses the early portions of Ecclesiastes 3 as a model to explain trying to destroy Rapture when he says, "A time to build, and a time to destroy!"

Historical References Edit

  • The level name "Arcadia" was inspired by the Latin phrase "Et in Arcadia ego", which translates to "Even in Arcadia I exist." spoken by Death personified.[7] The Utopian vision, Arcadia, is associated with bountiful natural splendor and harmony,[8] so the phrase is a reminder that even in paradise things die. Early in development for the level Andrew Ryan was intended to say this phrase just before releasing the poison into the level. The line was later cut, but the name of the level remained.[9]
  • The tombstones in Arcadia each state that two persons are interred there. One's epitaph reads "John Maynard Keynes, son of Adam and Ada Smith." This references two British economists, John Maynard Keynes[10] and Adam Smith.[11] Smith originated the ideas of Free Market Capitalism and limited government intervention in the economy, while Keynes took the position that government intervention was necessary to head off market failures.
  • The Rosie version of the Big Daddy is a reference to the cultural icon Rosie the Riveter,[12] who represented working women during World War II. Rosies in BioShock also carry a "rivet gun" as a weapon.
  • Several typewriter-like contraptions in Ryan's office have the brand name "Below Tree", which is a reference to the "Underwood" typewriter company.[13]
  • Diane McClintock may be a reference to Barbara McClintock,[14] a geneticist who did work with, among other things, genetic recombination in corn in the 1940s.
  • Sander Cohen may be a reference to the pre-WWI playwright, songwriter, dancer, and director George M. Cohan.[15]
  • Close to the end of the game, Frank Fontaine compares Brigid Tenenbaum to Florence Nightingale.[16] Nightingale was the founder of the modern techniques of nursing and was one of the nurses who helped the injured during the Crimean War.[17]
  • Dr. Steinman shows envy and admiration for the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in the audio diary "Surgery's Picasso", found in the Medical Pavilion. Picasso is mostly known for his work as a painter, sculptor and the co-founder of cubism.[18]

System Shock series Edit

Setting and Storyline Edit

  • BioShock is known as the spiritual successor to the System Shock[19] game series. Instead of the Cyberpunk[20] theme presented in System Shock, BioShock utilizes a "Biopunk" (alongside a "Dieselpunk"[21])[22] theme, hence the title.
  • Rapture, a state-of-the-art underwater city populated with the brightest minds in the world, is similar to the Von Braun in System Shock 2,[23] a state-of-the-art starship populated with bright scientific minds on its maiden voyage. The discovery of a strange new organism (Sea slugs/Annelids) leads to the downfall of both settings.
  • In the chapter "Welcome to Rapture", Atlas says to the player, "Now, would you kindly find a crowbar or something?" This is most likely at reference to BioShock's spiritual predecessor, System Shock 2 in which the player is asked to "find a wrench or something." This is precisely what the player does in both System Shock 2 and BioShock.
  • Atlas who guides the player through half the game, and the revelation that he is actually the antagonist Frank Fontaine, parallels the artificial intelligence with a God-like complex, SHODAN, in System Shock 2, who takes upon the identity of Dr. Janice Polito in order to earn the protagonist's trust in a similar fashion. She however abandons her false identity after the body of the real Dr. Polito is found halfway through the game and continue to guide the protagonist until the very end of the game, where she reveals the extend of her schemes.
  • As Atlas, Fontaine was also manipulating the player into disposing of Andrew Ryan, the mayor and founder of Rapture, just as SHODAN was manipulating the player to destroy the Von Braun's guardian A.I, Xerxes.
  • The music heard in the Medical Pavilion's connecting tunnel is the same used in the halls of the Hydroponics deck in System Shock 2.
  • As Brigid Tenenbaum's role as the research scientist who mainly helps the player in the later part of the game, System Shock 2 has a similar scientist character named Marie Delacroix who helps the player to defeat SHODAN via audio logs scattered in cyberspace after her death. Both made revolutionary discoveries in their fields (ADAM genetic properties for Tenenbaum and Faster Than Light drive for Delacroix), and both speak with European accents (respectively German and French). Delacroix also refers to the Annelid eggs and parasitic worms as "the children", much like Tenenbaum does with the Little Sisters.
  • Dr. Steinman's behavior is like that of Mark Miller from System Shock 2, who after being under the influence of the Annelids, an alien race artificially created by SHODAN with mind-control abilities, receives a "revelation" of work specifications to make the human body indestructible through a radical series of illegal cybernetic specifications, which caused him to butcher and alter 16 female staffers into the hostile Cyborg Midwives attending to the Annelids' eggs. The cyborgs' hairstyle is similar to that of the Baby Jane Splicer models.
  • The Happy Noodle Asian Food brand found in Rapture is present in System Shock 2 on trash laying on the ground and as an advert outside the buildings during the game's training level. The Cocktail Lounge glass design is also reused from System Shock 2.
  • Several elements of gameplay have been reused from System Shock 2:
  • Psionic Abilities are similar in nature to Plasmids and use. Psi can be recharged with Psi hypos just like Plasmids with EVE Hypos.
  • Security systems and vending machines can be hacked and requires for each try a disposable quantity of Nanites, which is also used for buying items from Replicators, repairing in general and modifying weapons. In early concepts, ADAM was to be used as a general currency in BioShock and would have been required for hacking as well.
  • Research does not require a camera, but it can grant damage bonus against an enemy type if done on a scavenged body part. Some also have healing properties once researched, similar to Spider Splicer Organs.
  • Most maps in System Shock 2 feature a single Quantum Bio-Reconstruction Machine, which acts like Vita-Chambers to the cost of a few Nanites. However, they need to be first activated (tuned to the player's genetic code, like Vita-Chambers) before use.

Gameplay Edit

  • The overall gameplay model of BioShock is identical to System Shock 2, where the player can hack vending machines and security systems, upgrade weapons and skills, gather background information from audio logs, and utilize different types of ammo and "magic spells" in the form of PSI/Plasmids. BioShock excludes some of the RPG elements from System Shock 2, including character statistics, inventory management, and weapon degradation.
  • Both games had two types of currencies. System Shock 2 had nanites and cyber modules, while BioShock had dollars and ADAM. The nanites and dollars could be used at vending machines, for hacking, and to use health recovery stations. The ADAM and cyber modules could be used to buy upgrades to the character's stats, as well as new Psionics/Plasmids.
  • Both games feature Hypos for replenishing powers, which look very similar to each other. System Shock 2 also had Med Hypos, which were mentioned but not used in BioShock.

Looking Glass Studios - 451Edit

  • The code, "0451" used to open the first locked door in BioShock (and the only one that can't be hacked) is a reference that has been used in several games made by previous employees of Looking Glass Studios[24] since the creation of the System Shock[25] game series, considered as the spiritual predecessor of BioShock. The number itself is a reference to the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, in which it represents "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns."
    • In System Shock (released in 1994) the first locked door could be opened with the code 451.
    • In its sequel System Shock 2 (released in 1999 and on which Ken Levine participated), one of them could be opened with the code 451000.
    • In Deus Ex[26] (released in 2000 and made by Ion Storm,[27] a company with several previous employees of Looking Glass Studios such as Warren Spector), 0451 was a code to open a locked armory and could only be obtained with a specific choice.[28] The code is featured twice afterward, to unlock a van and a door later in the game.
    • In its sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War (released in 2003), though the number does not appear as a code it is used as the room number of the first unlockable door of the game.
  • The reference has then be perpetuated through the further games of the Deus Ex and BioShock series, but also through other games whose developers worked on both of them:
    • In BioShock 2 (released in 2010), the code 1540 (0451 reversed) opens the first locked door of the game.
    • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution (released in 2011), the code 0451 was the first to appear in the game and was needed to access an elevator. It is used again as the first code of the game's add-on The Missing Link. Also, a direct reference to Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury is made through an announcer, asking for "detective Bradbury in office 451."
    • In Dishonored (released in 2012 by Arkane Studios), the first safe combination in the game is 451. It is worth-noting that its co-creative director, Harvey Smith, also worked on System Shock and the first two Deus Ex games.
    • In BioShock Infinite (released in March 2013), the first and only code required in the game to open a locked door is 0451.
    • In Gone Home, (released in August 2013 by The Fullbright Company, a video game studio founded by Steve Gaynor and other former members of 2K Marin), the first code to be found is 0451, which unlocks the top drawer of a file cabinet.
    • In The Novelist (released in December 2013 by Kent Hudson, who worked at Ion Storm on Deus Ex: The Conspiracy and Deus Ex: Invisible War, as well as at 2K Marin on BioShock 2), the location of the house is 451 Torrington Road.

Other Video Game References Edit

  • An obvious reference to the game Pacman[29] can be found on the floor of the Worley Winery in the Farmer's Market. A round of cheese with a wedge taken from it forms the shape of Pacman, placed before six round bullet holes, representing the dots eaten by Pacman for points.
  • If you take a look at the gun Turrets, specifically the boxes the guns are mounted on, you can see that the name on the side of the boxes is "Irrational Vegetables And Fruits", referring to the company Irrational GamesBioShock's developers.
  • During the opening sequence in the plane Jack is seen glancing at his wallet. Upon closer inspection, one can see an Irrational Games business card in one of the pockets. The person standing between the older man and woman in the family photo at the top of the wallet is the Lead Designer at Irrational Games, Bill Gardner.[30][31][32]
  • In Sander Cohen's projection booth in Fort Frolic, a reel of movie tape spins in the projector, showing the Irrational Games logo.
  • On the wall to the left of the "Would You Kindly" board in Rapture Central Control is a calendar from 1959 open to the month of January. The top part contains a picture of sailboats labeled "The Calm Before the Storm, 1940 Mauricio Tejerina." Mauricio Tejerina was a member of the BioShock development team.
  • Before acquiring the wrench as your melee weapon, Atlas asks Jack to "find a crowbar or something". Crowbars are an iconic weapon in the Half-Life series, and are also the first weapons to be obtained.[33]

Other References Edit

  • One of the books found throughout Rapture is titled Applied Headology. This may be a reference to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, wherein headology is a form of psychology that relies on the principle that a person's beliefs can change their personal reality.[34]
  • Although the names are not mentioned in-game, the names of the sound files used by the Splicers seem to be meaningful, and several of them appear to be references:
    • Baby Jane may be a reference to the eponymous character from the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?[36]
    • Lady Smith is possibly a reference to the Smith & Wesson Ladysmith, a revolver designed for women.[37]
    • Rosebud may be a reference to Citizen Kane,[38] wherein the titular character's last word is "Rosebud," a reference to lost innocence.

See alsoEdit

External links Edit

  1. Ayn Rand, on Wikipedia
  2. Atlas Shrugged, on Wikipedia
  3. The Fountainhead, on Wikipedia
  4. Objectivism, on Wikipedia
  5. Roman Mythology, on Wikipedia
  6. Aphrodite on Wikipedia
  7. "Et in Arcadia ego" on Wikipedia
  8. Arcadia on Wikipedia
  9. "Arcadia Demade", designer commentary by BioShock developer Jean-Paul LeBreton on his blog,
  10. John Maynard Keynes, on Wikipedia
  11. Adam Smith, on Wikipedia
  12. Rosie the Riveter, on Wikipedia
  13. Underwood Typewriter Company, on Wikipedia
  14. Barbara McClintock, on Wikipedia
  15. George M. Cohan, on Wikipedia
  16. Radio Message in Olympus Heights
  17. Florence Nightingale, on Wikipedia
  18. Pablo Picasso on Wikipedia
  19. System Shock, on Wikipedia
  20. Cyberpunk, on Wikipedia
  21. Dieselpunk, on Wikipedia
  22. Biopunk, on Wikipedia
  23. System Shock 2
  24. Looking Glass Studios, on Wikipedia
  25. System Shock, on Wikipedia
  26. Deus Ex, on Wikipedia
  27. Ion Storm, on Wikipedia
  28. Information about the in-game codes from "0451" blog entry, July 18, 2008 on Hit Self-Destruct
  29. Pacman, on Wikipedia
  30. BioShock 2 Intro clip on Youtube, at 0:35
  31. Image of Jack's wallet at The Rapture Archives
  32. Post by Joe Faulstick on the "A small picture showing you Irrational actually never "died" :)" thread in the Irrational Games Forums
  34. Headology on the Discworld & Terry Pratchett Wiki
  35. The Iceman Cometh play, on Wikipedia
  36. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? film on Wikipedia
  37. Smith & Wesson Ladysmith handguns on Wikipedia
  38. Citizen Kane on Wikipedia

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