A Man Chooses; Bioshock Parallels.

“A man chooses, a slave obeys.” From Rapture to Columbia, an exceptionalism ideal has been placed on display for all gamers to digest. Parellels in Columbia to America are stark. As a culture, Americans have been know to be exceptional at seeing themselves as exceptions. Bioshock 1 perpetuated this idea with Rapture, a city underwater, and again with Bioshock Infinite and Columbia, a city in the sky. (There was a Bioshock 2, but it is a dark shadowy place that should never be visited.) The parallels between Bioshock Infinite and the time period it is set in (1912 America) may be overlooked.

Bioshock Infinite is set in 1912 in a floating city called Columbia, a city which separated from America. Unlike Rapture, which was Andrew Ryan’s underwater brain-child used to escape the governing world above the water, Columbia is full of living and talking people. These people see themselves as the true American’s; the exceptions to the rule. From interacting, it is not hard to see the parallels of Columbia to America in 1912.

Firstly, the political “system” is much like that of America at the time. There is the right-winged “Founders” and the left-winged revolution-minded “Vox Populi” who are in bitter battles with each other. Columbia itself is a picturesque ideal America, with white picket fences, flying flags, and machine-gun-wielding statues of George Washington.

bioshock 1

The struggles of the Vox Populi resemble those of most Americans who are oppressed by the elitist leaders. The upper-class members of Columbia, who are encountered first in Columbia, claim the members of the Vox Populi are nuisances and anarchists. As the game progresses, an unrest is discovered before all-out-war explodes. The “voice of the people” are led by Daisy Fitzroy, an African-American woman brought to Columbia for cheap labor.


Second, Columbia has a serious racist undertone. In one area of the game, players hear a white mother talking to her son, scolding him for kissing a girl with an Irish last name because it is bad enough that his father employs “those potato eaters.” The city is set in 1912, long before Dr. King. most of the city is Caucasian, aside from the Vox Populi. A carnival in the beginning of the game showcases two people tied up on stage, on display for being an interracial couple, and has players throw baseballs at the charged. The words “Protect Our Race” are plastered everywhere. The contrast between the pure-white fences in Columbia and the cardboard box shelters in the slums where the Vox Populi live is a stark representation of past America with segregation and extreme nationalism.

Ken Levine, the games creator, talks about the racial themes as follows:

“I think to take sides you have to be more idealistic than I am. The conflict between the Vox Populi and the Founders doesn’t really get resolved. I think to have it all get wrapped up would not be reflective of the existing left/right conflict. “Political positions are often secondary to our nature; the idealistic natures of political movements are sullied by our weakness as human beings. We’re not as strong as our ideals…I think the American Utopian ideals that Jefferson and Franklin and Adams set out to make were designed specifically with a kind of cynical viewpoint. You can’t just make a set of ideals and expect those to change people.”


Third, the religion in Columbia is a central theme throughout. In 1912 America, religion was booming along with a sense of nationalism. Columbia is run by Comstock, a religious prophet who believes this city is the way. The city has floating parades highlighting Comstock’s victory and prophesying. Citizens of Columbia seem almost brainwashed by Comstock as they float on this “second ark” in the sky. And for the citizens of Columbia, nationalism and religion go hand in hand. People worship “Father Washington.” These are very much like America in that time period, where citizens almost worshiped the ground the President walked on, brought their kids to church every Sunday, and flew an American flag on every street corner. Ken Levine, the game’s creator,

Finally, the actual trailer for the game is a fair representation of similarities from Columbia to America simply in the song choice. (I have embedded it for your viewing pleasure; make sure to listen to the lyrics!)



The parallels between Columbia and America are much more easily seen than those of Rapture and America. Columbia came from America, essentially. It was a city in America before it was a city in the sky and that is the difference between Rapture and Columbia in that aspect. Unlike Rapture, Columbia is very much alive and able to convey the ideals Levine weaves into the gameplay that reflects views of past American society. So, next time your history professor says you need to take a lesson and brush up on your American history, simply binge-play Bioshock Infinite.


  5 comments for “A Man Chooses; Bioshock Parallels.

  1. Meghan Cardwell
    January 29, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Great job! I think it was wise to include some of the dialogue in the game that some of us might have overlooked during our first playthrough. When I played the game, I was well-aware of the racist undertones, but more focused on the gameplay itself than the deep underlying meaning behind everything. Now I feel like I need to play it again to see everything I missed! I also think you could make a comparison between Columbia and Rapture. Rapture also has two warring parties, led by Andrew Ryan and Fontaine, with Ryan’s party attempting to achieve a “utopian” society and Fontaine’s criminal empire trying to abolish Ryan’s hold on the city. The entire Bioshock collection is a fantastic analysis on dystopian/utopian societies and whether or not they’re actually achievable. Nice job 😀

  2. blissfulmomo
    January 30, 2015 at 12:31 am

    I agree that the entire game’s society parallels to America. This was very detailed and I enjoyed this very much. I would have also to see more about Booker and how he is basically in between the two ideals of the Founders and the Vox Populi. I also would have liked to see how Vox Populi also has downsides like when Elizabeth and Booker go into an opened tear where Fitzroy makes a martyr of Booker. This sparks a war between the two sides. Also in that reality Booker prevents Fitzroy from killing a Founder boy. Booker is an important piece seeing as if he can’t save Elizabeth then it triggers her being tortured and brainwashed until she takes over and wages war on the war. Booker and Elizabeth’s neutrality are important points of how outcomes coming to pass can give power to a side to start a war.

  3. January 30, 2015 at 4:30 am

    These American parallels could go back to Columbia and Rapture’s ideals. Andrew Ryan always said “No Gods or Kings, Only Man” and as such there was no religion in Rapture. Columbia was very religious almost to the point of a cult. These two sides of America both flourished, both had their golden ages. But they both had their downfalls. They both had something that too them down. It was the people who brought them down. In Rapture Adam and EVE were sought after so vigorously that people died in conflict. In Columbia, a group of people rose up against the “cult” to do what they wanted. So, there was greed in Rapture and righteousness in Columbia. Both led to the same thing, the fall of the city. What does that say about both paths? It doesn’t say someone should be religious or someone not. It only shows something that may happen. No one can ever account for the actions of humanity. And as such, regardless of path, humans were their own downfall.

  4. sfrancis
    January 30, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Good job. There were parallels I hadn’t seen before. !912 was an especially funny time in America, sitting right in the Gilded Age, where everything looked all shiny and perfect from the rich heterosexual White male, but for everyone else it could still use some work, and because of Columbia’s separation from society, they can’t even see the reasons they should change. Nice, thoughtful blog.

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