Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #2: Bookish Influences on Bioshock


Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to discuss the bookish influences on the Bioshock series of video games.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you may have recently seen me talking about a game called Bioshock, and how I was terrifying myself by playing it with headphones and in the dark. Although it had me screaming, swearing and shrieking, it also got me thinking. There is an obvious bookish influence on the game – the imagery within, as well as some of the character names, instantly made me think of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. So of course I had to do a little research into it, and yes – it’s a big influence, along with many other books.

Bioshock Logo

If you’re not familiar with the games, here is a brief synopsis of the first one:

Set in 1960, Bioshock follows a man named Jack, who ends up in the ocean after his plane crashes. After heading towards a nearby lighthouse, he finds a bathysphere, which takes him to the underwater city of Rapture. Intended to be a utopia by its founder Andrew Ryan, Rapture unfortunately took a turn in the opposite direction with the discovery of ADAM – a plasmid that gives the user superhuman powers. The city is now filled with addicts and horribly transformed people, including the terrifying Big Daddies. Jack has no choice but to fight his way through the city, with the help of a man named Atlas, using plasmids, weapons and the very environment of Rapture itself.

One of the most obvious bookish influences here is the idea of utopia and dystopia. So many times in fiction, we’ve seen a seemingly perfect society peel back its shiny exterior to reveal something cold and very, very horrifying at the centre. And Bioshock is exactly like that. The environments are beautiful, Rapture’s art deco and 1950’s style is pretty breathtaking. Combine that with an underwater setting, where you can play around with water, light and reflections and it really does look like a utopia. I mean, just look at some of the concept art!

Bioshock Concept Art
(image source)

At first glance, Rapture looks beautiful. Neon signs, specially crafted underwater gardens, the city neatly divided into sections, entertainment districts – but soon you start to notice the graffiti. You see the blood on the walls, the smashed and ruined windows and belongings. Then the bodies begin to appear, and soon you hear the noises. A high pitched, maniacal laugh. Something running along the ceiling. A long, low groan. Stomping of heavy boots. A young girl whispering to herself (or someone?), whispering things that a young girl shouldn’t even know about. And that’s when you realise – this is DEFINITELY no utopia.

The influence of Ayn Rand on Bioshock

One of the first things that really demonstrated the influence of Rand’s work on the game, was a statue of Atlas, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. I can’t find a screenshot of it from Bioshock, but I am currently playing Bioshock 2 and managed to spot it there:

Bioshock 2

It immediately made think of this:

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

As well as this statue, there is also the mysterious character of Atlas, an Irishman who guides Jack through the halls of Rapture, and the character Frank Fontaine – the name perhaps inspired by Rand’s The Fountainhead? Perhaps a simpler comparison is that Andrew Ryan is an anagram (albeit with a few extra letters) of Ayn Rand, and that many events throughout the story of Bioshock echo that of Atlas Shrugged.

Like Atlas Shrugged, the city of Rapture is founded on the philosophy of objectivism: the idea that one person should follow their self-interest, and not let the opinions or morals of others get in the way of ambition and ability. A slogan to this effect is often spotted around Rapture:

No Gods or Kings, Only Man

Biblical influences on Bioshock

It’s not just Ayn Rand’s work that influenced Bioshock. The Garden of Eden was the original utopia, ruined by the actions of Adam and Eve. Similarly, the actions of man (and woman) have ruined the utopia of Rapture. Although ADAM can grant the superhuman powers, a drug called EVE is needed to keep the plasmids active. Not only this, but the very word ‘Rapture’ conjures up Christian imagery: of the ‘good people’ of the world being taken away to a better place. Rapture may have been that place but for, rather ironically, the use of ADAM and EVE.

The influence of other literature

One other book that was immediately brought to mind by the events of Bioshock was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Some of the toughest enemies in the game are called ‘Big Daddies’, which may not sound menacing but they are TERRIFYING. You’ll first know of them when you hear a low groan, and heavy stomping. You might also hear the accompanying Little Sister. The stomps will grow louder as they get closer, and the ground will shake. And it may look slow – but once it spots you or you try to hurt the Little Sister, it really isn’t.


Big Daddies were originally human beings, genetically enhanced and with their skin and organs grafted onto an antique diving suit. I mean, that’s enough to make anybody mad, right? After the process, they are unable to make any noise but a low groan, similar to a whale call. Their original purpose was actually for construction work. However, when the Little Sisters (genetically altered young girls) were sent to collect ADAM from the corpses of Rapture, the Big Daddies were sent to protect them.

The whole idea of creating new life and playing around with genetics really reminds me of Frankenstein, and the Big Daddies are definitely monsters. And like Frankenstein’s Monster, the Big Daddy also has something he wants to protect.

The creators of Bioshock have also claimed that both 1984 by George Orwell and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan were influences, in that way that the interesting societies in both books were ruined by their creators, humankind.

Have you played any of the Bioshock games? Are there any other books that you think influenced the series?


19 thoughts on “Prose & Pixels #2: Bookish Influences on Bioshock”

  1. BIOSHOCK. SO SCARY. I stopped playing for awhile BECAUSE I GOT STUCK and all these splicers and thugs were coming at me and I couldn’t handle the gun properly and gah. I might be almost halfway through and I know I need to continue it. Especially since my best friend is playing Bioshock 2 now.

    I have to agree with you, I absolutely LOVE Rapture. It’s so interesting to see what happened and how this happened. I never caught the reference to ADAM and EVE (because too focused on the scary part) and now that you mentioned it, THAT’S REALLY AWESOME. And I love how so many books influenced the game. I had no idea.

    Yeah, but anyways. I can’t play this game at night. I don’t understand how you do it. How did you even finish the first game. Just wow. I need to get on this.

    1. I KNOWWWWW. Although actually, once you’ve played for a couple of hours it’s less scary. It still made me jump a lot, and screech when I heard a Big Daddy (okay a couple of times one managed to creep up on me and I don’t know how??) it wasn’t terrifying. But wonderfully eerie for sure 🙂 I’m playing Bioshock 2 now as well!

      Isn’t the idea of an underwater city just so cool? And it looks amazing with its 1950s art deco style. There’s a lot more Bible stuff in Infinite I reckon, or at least hints at it.

      I would DEFINITELY recommend Bioshock Infinite if you haven’t played it. That one isn’t scary and it’s even prettier looking. Columbus is just GORGEOUS 🙂

      1. I KNOW everything is so awesome about the game. But I have a problem in that I have to play video games in order, so I have to finish Bioshock 1 and 2 first (but I like the idea of playing as a Big Daddy, makes me feel more invincible). I think I’ll continue playing today or tomorrow.

        But the scaryness. Meep.

      2. Well technically Infinite is set BEFORE the first two… and it’s a separate story, unless you get the Burial at Sea DLC 😀

        But I know what you mean. I’m currently also playing Assassin’s Creed II, even though I haven’t finished the first one. Which really bugs me, but I just CANNOT get along with it. I think the controls for PC are just awful, and whilst the ones for the second game aren’t great they’re at least better. But I want to finish the first game too, grrr 😦

  2. If I weren’t such a huge chicken when it came to games, I would totally love to play Bioshock. My friend plays Bioshock Infinite though, and I saw a few Bioshock cosplayers at a con. No one attempted a Big Daddy, but I saw a Little Sister cosplayer, and she looked suitably creepy!

    It’s so cool how you drew parallels/connections between Bioshock and books. 😀 It makes me want to play the game. In board daylight. With my boyfriend next to me. And a lamp for my bedroom when I go to sleep.

    1. Big Daddy cosplay would definitely require some serious dedication, haha 😀 Why not try Bioshock Infinite? That one isn’t scary 🙂

      The writers said it was definitely influenced by literature – now I need to find other games with similar stories, haha 😛

  3. These games are AMAZING! I can’t wait for you to play the third (seems like you’ve only played one and two). I will say though that the third one is very different then the first two. It is one of my all time favorite video games!!

    1. Oh no, I played the third (I assume you mean Infinite) first 😛 I finished that one around Christmas last year. I LOVED it, and yes it’s totally different. A lot shorter than I thought though.

      And I guess even though I said this was bookish influence on Bioshock, it’s more about the first two games.

  4. I don’t usually play video games but some of my friends have told me about this one. I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged (yet) but I love how you found all those comparisons to Bioshock and all those books. I never really thought of things like Frankenstein or Atlas Shrugged influencing video games, but what you pointed out makes so much sense! Awesome post 🙂

  5. Gaahh, I still have yet to play the Bioshock games. I’m slowly trying to get back into games, especially on PC. The top 2 on my list right now are Watch Dogs and Diablo though haha, I’m so mainstream. ><

    I think it's so cool how much literature can impact a game. After all, games are a story being told. I can totally see the similarities with the book cover and the graphics! Though the graphics in the game are a lot better. I think everyone's really into the idea of Dystopia right now so it makes sense that games can be so influenced by it. Lovin this feature!

    1. Haha, but they’re good games! I want Watch Dogs too, it looks really fun 😀

      Yes, I love it. I need to do some research into other games inspired by books. And I can only think of one game series that’s actually based on a book (I’m not counting the book to movie to game ones here).

  6. Cool post! I love this series, Rinn. I’m sending this to my boyfriend right now! I haven’t played Bioshock, but he has, so I bet he’ll be interested. You made it sound so cool. But I don’t know if I’m up for something scary haha.

    I love how you were able to connect it so much to books, though. I didn’t realize that video games were really ever related to literature that much. Cool! I haven’t read any of Ayn Rand’s stuff, but I feel like I should. They’re such classic books.

    1. Thanks Miranda 😀 Hope he enjoys it! It really is a great series and DEFINITELY worth all the being scared 😉

      Yep 🙂 I drew some of the parallels myself, plus I read a few other things – and there seemed to be quite a lot of inspiration so I thought it would be a good thing to write about for this feature.

  7. I’m playing Bioshock 1 right now and it is AWESOME. Sure, it’s terrifying because you don’t know what to expect and I tend to get panicky when Splicers jump out at me, but I can’t help but marvel at the idea and storyline all the same — it’s so fascinating! I never knew that books had so much influence on the game, but I guess it makes sense. I did find myself thinking, “If Bioshock were made into a book, it’d be great!”

    But isn’t it cool? It just goes to show that the influence of books is huge, and I love that so much. It’s a great feeling to be a part of something that has such a huge influence on so many of my favorite things, like film and video games.

    So happy that you decided to dedicate a post toward this game, which is probably one of the best games I’ve played, story-wise. Every time after playing I always feel really jittery, lol.

    1. AHH! There’s this one bit quite near the beginning of the first game that had me SHRIEKING. I’ll just say it’s in a dentists office, in case you haven’t encountered it yet 😛 It’s creepy when you hear the Spider Splicers on the ceiling too, although I do often manage to zap them off and kill them before they get to me.

      There is a Bioshock book actually! I’m not sure how great it is though, in my experience so far video game novels haven’t been all too good.

      It’s a fantastic game. Have you played Bioshock Infinite?

  8. I’ve played and beat Bioshock three or four different times, though the first time I did scream a LOT. After that, it was a lot easier. I only tried to play Bioshock 2 once but it was SO different, I couldn’t get through it! I plan on trying again though because I bought it and Bioshock Infinite for the PC.

    Spider splicers are my favorite though. Is it weird to have a favorite splicer? Especially during those scenes where the one woman was going around dropping rose petals from the ceiling. SO wonderfully creepy.

    This post is so incredible though! I never bothered to look up the story influences or anything, I just searched youtube videos for particularly creepy scenes to show people. I’d never heard of Atlas Shrugged before either.

    1. I’m playing Bioshock 2 at the moment, and you’re right, it feels very different! I think the fact that you play as a Big Daddy makes it a lot less scarier. I mean you’re now one of the most terrifying things from the first game and although you can still fight other Big Daddies, they’re just not as threatening. I haven’t played too much of the game yet, maybe four hours or so as I’m playing Assassin’s Creed II as well. I have noticed that things seem to hit harder though!

      I can’t remember that bit! Where was that? I hate the Houdini Splicers, they’re such a pain!

      Thank you! 🙂 If you do more reading into it there’s just so many different references – I didn’t really want to list them all, plus there are lots of non-bookish ones too.

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