BioShock: The Rise and Fall of an Underwater Utopia

BioShock is a video game that tells the story of the underwater, super-human city of Rapture that undergoes the transformation from an envisioned united utopia to an anarchistic dystopia.
The game explores the decimated city of Rapture through the eyes of the game’s main character, Jack, who survives a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean.
Constructed during the 1940s by objectivist and business mastodon Andrew Ryan, the city of Rapture displays a fictional utopia wherein society’s elite can live secluded from the government and the rest of the world. As a result of the scientific discovery of a genetic plasmid material “ADAM”, which grants super-human powers like telekineses and pyrokinesis, the city of Rapture exhibits a super-human and arguably a posthuman society, all of which is uncovered throughout Jack’s journey.

BioShock can thusly be considered a story that establishes a vision of an underwater, biotechnology-enhanced society that in its attempt to become a utopia of super-humans succumb to class dispute and oppression through the use of the enhancing bio-technology, ADAM, which demonstrate the potential dangers for biological inequality, class division, dehumanisation, and abuse of power through enhancing technologies.

To be human is to desire,” Badmington claims, “but to desire is to trouble the sacred distinction between the human and the inhuman” (Herbrechter, 2008)


Stefan Herbrechter & Ivan Callus: What Is a Posthumanist Reading? Journal Article in Angelaki, Vol. 13, Issue 1, Pages 95 – 111, 2008:

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4 Comments on "BioShock: The Rise and Fall of an Underwater Utopia"

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Johannes Poulsen
Johannes Poulsen
Thank you for bringing this up. Bioshock is certainly one of the most canonized video games out there, especially in terms of the posthuman. Could you elaborate on how Rapture was originally conceived as a united utopia? As I recall Ryan’s opening speech, the idea behind Rapture was to free it’s inhabitants from the shackles of any commitment to community and the unity that comes with it: A utopia for the individual who is free to pursue his or her own goals without regard for anyone else. Also: Have you seen the latest season of the anthology series Black Mirror?… Read more »
Eva Krarup
Eva Krarup
Hi, I’m not that familiar with BioShock but I find it really interesting that it touches upon an important discussion that Johannes also referred to in his lecture, namely whether the posthuman condition will lead to changes that will only benefit a few (society’s elite, for instance) and leave the rest behind. That would, I guess, unite the elite in a paradoxical way because everyone with the necessary capital would be able to pursue their individual desires/goals while improving their overall standing in society, a society in which the strongest (most enhanced?) would isolate themselves more and more in privileged… Read more »
Simone Boye Mouritsen

Hi Frederik, what a great example of a piece which elegantly addresses the issues presented in Johannes’ lecture. With your background in digital design, how does the video game format support – or perhaps even undermine – Bioshock’s posthuman themes?