On the Ball

On the Ball: Teabagging in Rapture

Jordan Deam | 17 Feb 2010 21:00
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Take your apartment staging ground, for instance. After you enter your first match, you never need to return to your swank underwater pad again - you can easily customize your appearance and equipment loadouts from a menu between matches. But if you do decide to head home to relax, you're rewarded with little details that contribute to your understanding not just of the Rapture Civil War, but the game world as a whole. First, there's the messages from the Civil War's "corporate sponsor," Sinclair Solutions, who, like any good anarcho-capitalist, saw in the conflict between Fontaine's revolutionaries and Ryan's loyalists an opportunity for profit. They're dripping with inoffensive 1950s adspeak, referring to its line of machine guns and grenade launchers as "home defense" products rather than the instruments of chaos they are.

Even more enlightening, however, are the audio diaries that become available as you reach higher ranks in Sinclair Solution's "rewards program." Killing enemies and winning matches nets you ADAM, and the more ADAM you earn, the more weapons and plasmids Sinclair Solutions sends your way. But by listening to the unlockable audio diaries in your apartment, you get a sense of the hidden cost of that advancement. Each character starts out as a well-meaning individualist that gradually descends into madness the more spliced up he or she becomes. It's a fascinating way to portray the gradual decay that the thirst for ADAM inflicted upon the city of Rapture.

But as much as I appreciated these embellishments, I was most struck by how well the story of Rapture's civil war fit within the framework of an online shooter. In BioShock 2's multiplayer - as with Modern Warfare 2's - the goal isn't so much to win as it is to become more powerful by accumulating XP (or, in this case, ADAM). Winning nets you a solid bonus, but it's all too easy for your team's ultimate objective (capture and hold a Little Sister, control a map's zoned-off territories, etc.) to be obscured by your own lust for more ADAM. It's a problem as old as multiplayer shooters themselves, but BioShock 2 has finally offered a convenient explanation. Teamwork falls apart for the same reason Rapture itself does: Online FPS players, like the caricatures of Objectivist philosophy that populate this world, are a bunch of selfish dicks.

That's something to remember the next time you go for the easy kill when you could be helping to rescue a Little Sister from the opposing team, or rush for a vial of ADAM laying in the corner while one of your teammates gets gunned down: You're just playing the part of the greedy, insane, spliced-out denizen of Rapture. Thankfully, it's a pretty easy role for online gamers to fill.

Jordan Deam appreciates that there's finally an online shooter that realizes cooperation is for spineless commie parasites.

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