A BioShock Infinite Primer

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A BioShock Infinite Primer

The real-life events you need to know before diving into Infinite.

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This is a great article. I'm always amazed when people talk about terrorism as a modern invention because they have no knowledge of the anarchist movement.

Robert Rath:
British, Norwegian and Scottish settlers were welcome, while the Chinese and Russians were not

Small point, the Scotts are British. I think you meant English rather than British in that context.

Huh. This was actually really interesting.

So thanks.

As a non-American, I was passingly familiar with some of these things, but only vaguely aware of others.

Like you could expect anything better from the 7th Cavalry after Little Bighorn. I always wondered how accurate the depiction of Wounded Knee was in Hidalgo. Can't say I was in much of a rush to look it up.

Welcome to the US of A...

Many people look at their country and say "I've never seen our government in such bad shape." Germany and the US do not have this problem.

The 1900's were such a formative decade for the country. The first progressive policies, the beginning of imperialism. A new nation forged by the tumult of the 1890's, full of optimism and creativity, developing the modern, technological culture we still live in today. That decade isn't just underserved, it should be getting disproportionate attention.

NameIsRobertPaulson:
Welcome to the US of A...

Many people look at their country and say "I've never seen our government in such bad shape." Germany and the US do not have this problem.

Actually, Germany's doing quite well right now. Economically speaking you could say that it's in the best shape of all the Western nations.

NameIsRobertPaulson:
Welcome to the US of A...

Many people look at their country and say "I've never seen our government in such bad shape." Germany and the US do not have this problem.

Every country on earth has evil in its past. You show great ignorance by only pointing to the U.S. (likely your own country) and Germany (lol nazis right?)

I bet Brits arent proud of the millions of Indians slaughtered in the 1850's. Belgium at least isn't chopping the hands off millions of slaves in the Congo. And so on until you find some disgusting government or another has occupied every foot of land on the planet. No reason to look down on anybody alive today.

albino boo:

Robert Rath:
British, Norwegian and Scottish settlers were welcome, while the Chinese and Russians were not

Small point, the Scotts are British. I think you meant English rather than British in that context.

Damn it!!! That's a big pet peeve of mine as well. I burn my British History degree in shame.

Thanks for pointing it out. After checking my sources it turns out this was an error in my source text that I carried over because I was tired and rushing to get the piece out before PAX East.

Dude, this is super interesting. Your columns are becoming my favourite thing on the escapist, mister Rath. They always shine a light on something that I didn't have the historical context to see. Thanks for that, it gives many games and other things a lot more depth.

NameIsRobertPaulson:
Welcome to the US of A...

Many people look at their country and say "I've never seen our government in such bad shape." Germany and the US do not have this problem.

Yeah, countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, or Japan have nothing to look back and be ashamed of.

I'd like to publicly add myself to the camp of people who really enjoyed your column today

I knew & understood the historical background of the Bioshock series, but I hadn't really considered what the games are like to non-americans who might lack that context (or even just other americans that know less about history)

@Zhukov mentioned something to this affect

Zhukov:
Huh. This was actually really interesting.

So thanks.

As a non-American, I was passingly familiar with some of these things, but only vaguely aware of others.

Any thoughts on this, gamers from other countries?
Does this information change your opinion on Bioshock or the context of the stories?

Great article! There's plenty more to cover though; do a part two!

As always Mr. Rath, an absolute delight to read you give historical context to all things gaming.

Zombie_Moogle:
I'd like to publicly add myself to the camp of people who really enjoyed your column today

I knew & understood the historical background of the Bioshock series, but I hadn't really considered what the games are like to non-americans who might lack that context (or even just other americans that know less about history)

@Zhukov mentioned something to this affect

Zhukov:
Huh. This was actually really interesting.

So thanks.

As a non-American, I was passingly familiar with some of these things, but only vaguely aware of others.

Any thoughts on this, gamers from other countries?
Does this information change your opinion on Bioshock or the context of the stories?

As a non-American (Norwegian, to be precise,) this was an exceptionally interesting read, as most of this was things I had barely heard of in passing (the anarchists were known, but only from a continental European perspective as Norwegians have had a history of rebelling by having some guys write a document.) The closest we get to American history of the late 19th and early 20th century is learning of the mass migration of Norwegians to the US; I did not know they were especially wanted as immigrants.
This creates a context for the world of Bioshock Infinite that could bring a greater depth to the experience. Anyone could create a flying city - creating a flying city that has a historical and ideological reasoning and which fits into the zeitgeist of an era? Brilliant.

Ahhh the Pinkerton agents have always fascinated me as a part of our history and believe it or not that agency is still around today! I really hope the agency shows up in Infinite in some way, besides Booker's history of course, cause I doubt will see it in any other game.

Every nation that has existed has committed atrocities, adopted bad policies and made huge glaring hindsight errors in its past (and future probably). We are human, we fuck up.

I tried to read this, I really did, but my god this is boring shit. That's not meant as a criticism of you or your writing, Robert. It's the subject matter! Maybe it's because I'm European and we don't get those mandatory indoctrination classes that you guys over the pond have, I dunno. In any case I hope the themes in the game (assuming it has any) don't require an interest in (or knowledge of) American history to be understood. There's no reason they should - humans are the same all over the world.

Well that's a great summary of left wing historical re-inventionism, devoid of a lot of context and comparison to what other nations were doing and how relatively "enlightned" they were on a lot of these policies in practice.

To put things into perspective for example. The Native Americans and American settlers were on relatively good terms for a long time, however being people, the Natives on the east coast decided to ally with foreign European powers, namely the French, who they felt offered them a better deal. Of course this didn't result in ALL natives going over to the other side, and some tribes like The Mohegans decided to side with the settlers. When the French and Indian war concluded, native "allies" threatened the settlers and demanded far more in the way of territory, and money in the form of tribute sensing that their white "allies" were weak. This lead to more warfare and fighting, and a rather justified point of view that the natives could not be trusted, and were functionally acting as a domestic resource that foreign powers could exploit in encroaching into The New World. This lead to a lot of natives being driven out, and forced largely westward, where they came into conflict with other tribes and fought against them for living space, hunting grounds, and the like as one tribe basically migrated into the territory of another. This lead to gradual organized backlash against the "white devil" as differant tribes unified and tried to put an end to the "problem".

The point being here is that Native Americans are not innocent victims who happened to be exploited, they kind of brought it upon themselves by simply choosing the wrong side, and starting wars and battles they just couldn't win which continued to cause more and more hatred and got to the point where the simple policy became one of exterminating them like vermin. Trust me, if you've ever been to the East Coast (and note, I've worked for TWO differant tribes of Native Americans, talked to/hung out with a lot of them, seen their museums, and met tribal members coming down here for meetings from all over the country and even up into Canada and down into Mexico) you'd get a FAR differant impression
as to these kinds of issues. There were plaques and such as places like Fort Shantok commemerating allied battles where Natives saved settlers, and vice versa. Guys like Chief Uncas still exist as local legends and have all kinds of things named after them like "Uncas' leap" where he rode his horse over the falls (and survived).

The thing to understand is when you strip away all of the BS liberalism from it, the bottom line is that Native Americans as they actually existed fully understood the idea of property ownership. They build permanant and semi-permanant dwellings, farmed the land, and knew damn well what they were doing when it came to such things. They even built entire replicas of villages made of longhouses and such by way of making the point (at the Mashantucket Museum for example).

The point is that when you start getting into American attitudes about natives, and bringing up "Wounded Knee" and such you have to consider those policies didn't come out of a vaccum, and relations were friendly for a good amount of time. Things like that were easy to do when you had tribes selling you out to foreign powers, or attacking towns and villages despite being your "friends" when your militia was weak from other battles. One might wonder how Chief Uncas went from being a big hero, to someone whose people were brutalized... with him personally STILL being viewed as a local legend. The answer is simply that it's BS that tribes had simple organization and everything stopped with the chief, there were politicians there within these tribes, and they were scumbags just like anyone else. How much blame Uncas himself gets is a matter of debate.

You cannot talk about what transpired later without understanding how it all started.

It should also be noted that things like "Manifest Destiny" were in direct response to European incursions into the US, the basic problem being that European powers wanted to colonize the new world, and figured that they could simply establish footholds starting from areas away from US territory (initially) and fence it in. Manifest Destiny was pretty much a fancy way of saying "if you set up on our border and curtail our expansion, we're going to treat you like an enemy".

When it comes to the treatment of immigrants and such, it's nice to pull out the "OMG, the US was so horrible to these people" card, but understand that we were bloody saints compared to most of the rest of the world where the navy might have put a cannonball through the hull of your ship out of hand rather than letting refugees into the country (perhaps not officially, but it would still happen). As "crappy" as we might have been by modern, liberal, standards, we pretty much became *the* destination for centuries because we treated people better than anyone else.

This is to say nothing of America's generally isolationist policies, it's nice to sit down and try and retroactively say the US was "Imperialist" with it's ideas, but honestly our big thing was that we pretty much didn't give a crap about what was going on elsewhere. This continued right up until the World Wars, heck even with Hitler rampaging through Europe and gobbling up our "allies" we pretty much didn't want to get involved in foreign wars or problems. Things like the Pearl Harbour attack did a lot to change that sentiment, however in reality things were never quite as... enthusiastic, as we sometimes like to make them out to be. Of course this was when the US still knew what it was doing and we actually started using real wartime propaganda (and it worked) so we were able to psyche people up and create an intellecual construct about the war that maintains a grip until this day.

Now post World War II, it can be argued that the US became substantially more aggressive in promoting it's ideas and idealogy. However we're not dealing with the "Cold War" here and that entire can of worms.

Don't get me wrong, Bioshock Infinite seems like a good game, and likely it will be good even if it uses the point of view from this article, devoid of context, but I hope people don't come away with the wrong impressions as a result.

I'm not going to argue these points (so don't bother to try) I'm just clarifying things to make a sort of counter statement so it's represented.

The bit about Native Americans is especially touchy because as I said, I've worked for two tribes. To be honest it seems like there is more of an attempt by non-natives to make an issue here than there is by the natives, who for the most part seem to concede that the whole situation was messed up with a lot of people doing screwed up things on all sides. A lot of it basically comes down to how the tribes down here on the East Coast have gotten into a bit of cultural revivalism and educating people on how things actually used to be. In showing that truth though your seeing a people who are a bit more advanced than the stereotype (though nowhere near as advanced as the colonists), and who learned rapidly. With that understanding it also becomes pretty obvious that they were hardly ignorant and came with their own ambitions. For example the old stereotype about "trading shiny glass beads for farmland" does have some truth to it, but when you consider that there was no way to manufacture those glass beads, and tribals could trade them to other tribals for a huge profit it became a worthwhile deal from their perspective and they understood that. For example if some tribal sells you his land, the beads you give him might be enough for him and his family to retire, trading for food and
other things (living high on the hog) without having to work. Sure the beads might have been nearly worthless by european standards but they weren't worthless to the natives. At the end of the day in most transactions everyone
wound up feeling they got a good deal, and peace reigned for decent amount of time. We didn't go from Thanksgiving "hey, Squanto saved us all!", to "Wounded Knee" overnight and for no real reason, a lot of crap happened on both sides along the way, and while the white settlers won and are easy to point fingers at retroactively, the natives overall were not always innocent victims, on the side of angels.

I really can't believe how much of this I just didn't know. My introduction to anarchists was my step-sister who was into punk music (I was 7, she was 11.) Can't believe that the rebelliousness of teenage youth informed my understanding of the anarchist movement so heavily.

Thanks, Mr. Rath, for setting me straight. This was a great column. (As always)

A very interesting read; it will certainly help to inform my historical understanding of Bioshock Infinites setting, if I can remember most of it that is.

I remember when a lot of people first saw the Vox Populi torching buildings, defiling statues, entering houses and murdering people, and about to execute a postman because... they could, they all went "hur dur its their take on occupy wall street".

I think the Vox and Fitzroy are going to be every bit as bloodthirsty and bad as the founders. I can't wait for the shit to hit the fan in this game.

Great article Robert.

Therumancer:
Some stuff

Not going to argue with anything you said there (I'm not American and haven't studied the turn of the century in American history), but I am a tad confused about the point you're trying to make. It doesn't sound like you're disagreeing with anything Rath said, merely adding that the turn of the century was an all-around crappy time in terms of the behaviour of governments. Frequent clashes between natives and settlers doesn't excuse the massacre of unarmed men, women, and children, racist policies in other countries doesn't excuse racist policies in any other country, and I don't think Rath was arguing that America was in some way worse than any other state in the world. Rather, it seemed like an article highlighting the interesting juxtaposition of rising optimism, technology, and modern values in some areas compared to the appalling standards still in use in regards to race and immigrants and the like.

What you've said is all interesting information, but I can understand Rath not including it due to space concerns. His article provides context to a setting that many don't have too much information about, and if he wanted to do as you just did and provide context for his context he'd have to write a substantially larger document.

On topic though, a very interesting article. I'm really looking forward to this game, and I'll be interested to see how these themes play out in it.

Azahul:

Therumancer:
Some stuff

Not going to argue with anything you said there (I'm not American and haven't studied the turn of the century in American history), but I am a tad confused about the point you're trying to make. It doesn't sound like you're disagreeing with anything Rath said, merely adding that the turn of the century was an all-around crappy time in terms of the behaviour of governments. Frequent clashes between natives and settlers doesn't excuse the massacre of unarmed men, women, and children, racist policies in other countries doesn't excuse racist policies in any other country, and I don't think Rath was arguing that America was in some way worse than any other state in the world. Rather, it seemed like an article highlighting the interesting juxtaposition of rising optimism, technology, and modern values in some areas compared to the appalling standards still in use in regards to race and immigrants and the like.

What you've said is all interesting information, but I can understand Rath not including it due to space concerns. His article provides context to a setting that many don't have too much information about, and if he wanted to do as you just did and provide context for his context he'd have to write a substantially larger document.

On topic though, a very interesting article. I'm really looking forward to this game, and I'll be interested to see how these themes play out in it.

Well, my point being that the way he conveyed his information seemed to have a very anti-American bent based on what information he decided to include and what information he didn't choose to include. If your going to give a balanced run down on the time, you need to explain things in context.

When it comes to racist policies and such, the point is that on a lot of levels the behavior of the rest of the world DOES justify them. You can't use modern morality to judge practices from a time when modern morality did not exist. Going on about racism, the treatment of immigrants, etc... devoid of context basically makes the US look like a bunch of bad guys, a real evil empire, until you consider that our practices were downright progressive compared to what the rest of the world did, and our relative even handedness and mercy grew into the modern morality we know today.

To put things into a certain context you talk about the massacre of unarmed women, children, etc... as if it's a bad thing, and I supposed to a modern eye it is, but understand that even a few centuries ago that was just how things were during war. The exceptional thing about the US is not that we massacred the natives at various places, but that in the long run we wound up showing an unheard of amount of mercy. In most such cases like this the dominant invader would have totally enslaved or outright eradicated those on the receiving end. The Native Americans are perhaps the best treated conquered people in all of history, and continue to survive because at the end of the day the white settlers didn't do to them what most people did. This also paved the way for a lot of those "nosey" policies so many people hate the US for where we prevent ethnic cleaning, genocide, and tend to coordinate sanctions and such against nations that don't treat former indiginous peoples well, indeed that's a big part of why tribes in the US host international meetings of conquered indiginous peoples, because the US provides a platform for them to do this, and provides a degree of support.

It's sort of like bringing up the "Trail Of Tears", it's a wonderful piece of "screw the US" propaganda liberals love to bring up, until you consider that for all of the hardships to the tribals, we went through a lot of time, effort, and expense, to relocate them, kicking and screaming, when anyone else would have just figured F@ck it, and exterminated them all to the smallest baby. Not a nice point, but an important one.

The point I'm getting at is that the purpose of this article is to pretty much reinforce Bioshock Infinite's view of the US at the time, and claim it's to an extent grounded in reality, to the point where you could see splinter groups from such a "deranged" time literally worshipping the founding fathers as gods or whatever. It's an amusing idea, but really even more liberties are taken with American mentality than were taken with objectivism for "Bioshock" and they pretty much went insane with that one (yet convinced some people that this was a fair representation and criticism of it's philsophies before you got to that inconveienent twist...).

See, it's easy to sit here and make "Manifest Destiny" sound like some kind of battlecry for Nationalistic Imperialism, when reality it was more of a defensive rallying cry, geared more towards not allowing ourselves to be penned in and trivialized by foreign colonies from then larger empires, more than some kind of ambition towards conquest and global domination. Indeed the biggest problem with the US for a long time was that we were actually highly isolationist, we believed in our "exceptionalism" in such a way that we felt other countries couldn't judge us by their standards or force us into their political squabbles, but we for the most part wanted nothing to do with anyone as long as we were left alone, taken to it's logical extreme where we pretty much waited until the 11th hour to stop Germany (twice) from pretty much taking over the world since we really had no desire to be involved in foreign wars or politics. While amusing, trying to say that any kind of American mentality could justify the idea of a "flying city intended to show the glory of America to the world" from that time period is absurd. We weren't even a world power until pretty bloody recently, and right now a big part of internal US politics on a lot of levels amounts to whether we should continue doing what we're doing for an ungrateful world, or just basically go back to borderline isolationism (pre- World War II type policies) and let the rest of the world do whatever the hell it wants, and "prove" it can get along without us. Our big problem is that whenever someone screams "help" or an issue happens we at least feel an obligation to try nowadays, instead of saying "we're done, go call France, maybe they'll do something". I suppose in the modern world there are some people who feel a flying US Propaganda City would make a symbolic point, but back during this time period? The US could basically give a crap. That's why it was such a big deal when we got involved during "World War I" we were so bloody isolationist the Germans and their allies never anticipated dealing with us and the manpower we could crank out since by all accounts there was no reason to expect America would get involved in anyone else's wars for any reason.

Therumancer:
Well, my point being that the way he conveyed his information seemed to have a very anti-American bent based on what information he decided to include and what information he didn't choose to include. If your going to give a balanced run down on the time, you need to explain things in context.

Well, I didn't really get an anti-American bent from all that. Part of that could be that being Australian, I'm not exactly unaware that America was hardly the only nation in the world behaving in some truly disgusting ways (by modern standards, of course). In fact, what I thought he was doing from reading the article was providing context for what was going to be in Bioshock Infinite. In essence, the article is rather on your side, but simply didn't have the space to be as all-inclusive and extensive as you would have liked it to be. Which is fair enough, but Rath probably doesn't have an unlimited number of words to hash out all the nuances of every event.

Well to be honest, despite being a non-American I feel adequately primed for Bioshock Infinite, simply from having read Against the Day, Sometimes a Great Notion, and Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. It helps having being raised by a teacher and a FoMoCo employee (I still won't cross a picket), having a passing interest in the Wobblies, Joe Hill, and other Unionist figures from my Folky/Woody Guthrie/Beat days, and of course from studying the causes of WW1 at school. Which by the way if you are going to mention the actions of Anarchists you can't leave out Franz Ferdinand.

I imagine there are plenty who are not aware of these matters and would only benefit from some background for the story. I hope they are spurred to further study through the game.

albino boo:

Robert Rath:
British, Norwegian and Scottish settlers were welcome, while the Chinese and Russians were not

Small point, the Scotts are British. I think you meant English rather than British in that context.

Not many Scots I know would agree with that statement *wink*.

Therumancer:

It's sort of like bringing up the "Trail Of Tears", it's a wonderful piece of "screw the US" propaganda liberals love to bring up, until you consider that for all of the hardships to the tribals, we went through a lot of time, effort, and expense, to relocate them, kicking and screaming, when anyone else would have just figured F@ck it, and exterminated them all to the smallest baby. Not a nice point, but an important one.

The power of rebranding.

Is history a bit unpleasant or embarrassing? Call it propaganda instead!

I wouldn't have taken issue if your actual purpose in posting was to add information relevant to the topic, but it seems the intent was to jab at an author who might have voted for a guy that wears a different color tie than the one you voted for.

American history is what it is. Every country has committed an atrocity or two over the centuries. Doesn't make it ok, and it's ignorant to get mad because someone said 'Merica wasn't perfect.
Love my country, but The Homestead Strike, Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, Smallpox blankets, slavery, etc. all happened. We did it & it was a dick move; don't act like it wasn't, just don't do it again!

I'm really not even sure where you got the "liberal" angle from. The article was a pretty straightforward historical account. Not being blatantly Pro-America does not equal Anti-America

To read all this, I would say Levine has chosen an interesting time to go with the undertones in Bioshock Infinite, as it casts an interesting lens on what American Dream has always been: an opportunity to reach ludicrous potential for those who end up on the top of the heap, an avenue for being exploited for those on the bottom.

It's the story conservative interests generally bury under every fear they can invent, from drugs to terrorism to gun control, because they figure if you're stupid enough to fall for that you probably belong on the bottom of the heap, out of the way of the people who know how to make money.

And here we are at the cusp of a time in which liberal and conservative interests are at loggerheads in the U.S. Government, a president who has largely been ineffectual if only because he's been attempting to compromise with a party that generally refuses to compromise. A president who ended up re-elected because enough people knew who to blame. What auspicious timing! Could it be that Bioshock Infinite is a game that will educate people on the ugliness of the conservative mindset, just as Bioshock 1 targeted Randian ideals and Bioshock 2 targeted Marxist?

So yes, very timely article on some relevant historical facts we're better off to know before going into Bioshock Infinte. Kudos to the Escapist staff for that.

Now where's that gameplay footage? ;)

Very interesting article, the Critical Intel series is great. I feel like reading up about that period some more, can anyone recommend some good books?

Farther than stars:

NameIsRobertPaulson:
Welcome to the US of A...

Many people look at their country and say "I've never seen our government in such bad shape." Germany and the US do not have this problem.

Actually, Germany's doing quite well right now. Economically speaking you could say that it's in the best shape of all the Western nations.

As an Australian I can tell you that our government and economists often claim that we have the strongest economy post-GFC. This probably just indicates that nobody really came out on top... :/

J Tyran:
Very interesting article, the Critical Intel series is great. I feel like reading up about that period some more, can anyone recommend some good books?

One that comes to mind is The President and the Assassin. I actually just finished it last week, it's pretty good. It touches on a lot of the same stuff that's in the article, like American imperialism, anarchism, unions and strikes, all framed through the story of President McKinley assassination. It goes into more detail on some of the events Rath mentions, namely the Spanish-American War, the Homestead Strike, Henry Clay Frick's attempted assassination, and the string of anarchist plots around the turn of the century.

Thanks for this, I didn't know most of this coming from the UK, in our History at GCSE the only thing we actually studied about America was between 1940 and 1960, and almost all of that was to do with the civil rights movement.

Shocksplicer:

Farther than stars:

NameIsRobertPaulson:
Welcome to the US of A...

Many people look at their country and say "I've never seen our government in such bad shape." Germany and the US do not have this problem.

Actually, Germany's doing quite well right now. Economically speaking you could say that it's in the best shape of all the Western nations.

As an Australian I can tell you that our government and economists often claim that we have the strongest economy post-GFC. This probably just indicates that nobody really came out on top... :/

Ah, you're absolutely right. It looks like I fell for the common mistake of forgetting Australia as being part of the West, since it doesn't border the Atlantic. But I definitely agree that there's a case to be made for Australia's economy. Natural resources certainly top Germany, but then your buying power is a lot less, which is a major factor in determining economic flexibility. However, I would agree that, in broad strokes, having a debt of 30% relative to GDP is better than a debt of 87%. So I would amend my earlier statement to say that Germany has the second-strongest economy of Western nations. ;)

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