A Slave Obeys: Persuasion in Bioshock.

Warning: Spoilers

 

Would You Kindly?
Would You Kindly?

Society has a funny way of making people do things they otherwise may not have done, like beating a man to death with a golf club. We have all heard of persuasion. We have all persuaded others to do things they may not have wanted to do otherwise. However, I think it is fair to assume no one reading this has killed a man simply because someone told them to. How does the art of persuasion work? Jack, the unnaturally willing slave in Bioshock one, provides a glimpse on how powerful persuasion can be.

The term persuasion means to induce someone to believe something by appealing to reason or circumstance. According to Perfloff (2003), persuasion is “a symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors regarding an issue through the transmission of a message in an atmosphere of free choice.” Simply put, persuasion is convincing someone to do something they may not otherwise do. This may be done non-verbally through television, advertisements, music, etc., or verbally through a variety of ways such as hypnosis and by providing opinions. Hypnosis, as seen in Bioshock with the phrase “would you kindly” is a form of verbal persuasion through unconscious action.

In the original Bioshock (2007), the phrase “would you kindly” is used by a man named Atlas to control the player (Jack) to do seemingly meaningless things such as picking up items or moving from one area of a level to another. These “commands” came across as a request and were therefore effortless and went unquestioned. It is later revealed that the reason Jack follows these request is he has been programmed to obey any command when given the prompt “would you kindly.” This post-hypnotic phrase was created by Dr. Suchong to eventually kill Andrew Ryan for Frank Fontaine (who poses as Atlas).

Atlas: The voice of the people
Atlas: The voice of the people

This command was not used to actually do harm (except to Ryan later in the game). Atlas never commanded Jack to harvest little sisters. He definitely implied his opinions (“Listen to me boy-o, you won’t survive without the ADAM those ’things’ are carrying. Are you prepared to trade your life, the lives of my wife and child, for Tenenbaum’s little frankensteins?”). His opinions aside however, he never explicitly says “would you kindly harvest a little sister.”

This idea of free will is a critical point in looking at the game mechanics of Bioshock. A Player goes through the game thinking these “choices” are their own, especially with the little sisters and the option to save them in addition to harvesting them. What would Jack have done if not for Atlas’ influence? (That is to say if he has been in Rapture willingly without Fontaine’s ulterior motive) Would he still save/harvest a little sister? Would he still kill Andrew Ryan? He actually may still do all of those things considering the state Rapture is in. A seemingly post-apocalyptic underwater city, Rapture is in shambles. Ryan has lost control of his utopia and the remaining citizens are ADAM crazed and splice-happy. Taking the surroundings into account, Jack would still either harvest or save the little sisters, would still fight splicers and big daddies, and would still advance through the world. However, I doubt Jack would still kill Ryan if not for Fontaine’s persuasion and motive. Jack is merely a pawn. He has no idea what Ryan is about or what Ryan has done; he only knows what Atlas has told him.

The fact is Jack is in Rapture per Fontaine’s design. With or without the command, Jack is persuaded by the audios Atlas sends him. Atlas barely uses the command, 12 times in total throughout the average 10 hours of game play. The rest of Atlas’ audios are continuations of his made up family, the sob story of losing everything to Ryan, playing on human emotions and morals to help the cause. Jack has free will, to the extent he picks what will further him in Atlas’ plan. In the end, persuasion wins out and, spoiler alert, Jack kills Ryan with Ryan outing Fontaine for his mind-control and persuasion tactics. Jack fulfills his duty, to kill Ryan, proving how powerful persuasion can truly be. “We all make choices, but in the end the choices make us.” –Andrew Ryan

“A man chooses; a slave obeys. You think you have memories: a farm, a family, an airplane, a crash, and then this place. Was there really a family? Did that airplane crash, or was it hijacked? Forced down by something less than a man, something bred to sleepwalk through life until activated by a simple phrase from their kindly master? Was a man sent to kill, or a slave?”
“A man chooses; a slave obeys. You think you have memories: a farm, a family, an airplane, a crash, and then this place. Was there really a family? Did that airplane crash, or was it hijacked? Forced down by something less than a man, something bred to sleepwalk through life until activated by a simple phrase from their kindly master? Was a man sent to kill, or a slave?”

  2 comments for “A Slave Obeys: Persuasion in Bioshock.

  1. noend
    March 21, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I myself love the Bioshock trilogy and have invest a great deal of time into them. Despite the excellent story, gameplay, and art directive I had never really searched deeper despite my many playthroughs. The Idea of synthetic free will is very interesting if not relatable. Do we have free will? or are we jack moving through a grand narrative that has been dictated before our creation, doomed to live our lives without even realizing we aren’t in control.

  2. March 22, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    There is a fine line between persuasion and control and Jack was influenced heavily by Atlas. There were many a time that Atlas controlled Jack but also many where he simply gave his own opinion. Regardless, Jack did certain actions under the influence of Atlas. In saying that, could this relate to the real world? Could Atlas be society’s norms and influenced and Jack us, the common man? Perhaps their relationship is saying that we don’t choose things ourselves. Somewhere down the line someone must have said something pertaining to the action we would perform. It could be as subtle as an offhanded comment or a declaration. We could have simply brushed this off and forgot about it but things accumulate. One day we would have remembered that remark and one day that remark would shape our actions. What are we but the influence of others?

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