Book Excerpt: The Mythological and Religious References of BioShock

By Third Editions on at

The following excerpt is taken from the new Third Editions book, BioShock: From Rapture to Columbia.

In addition to numerous political, philosophical and literary references, the BioShock world has several connections with mythology. Ancient Christian and Greek beliefs are especially referenced.

While the name Rapture can be interpreted as ecstasy or euphoria, two terms that closely correspond with the ideal represented by Ryan’s underwater city, it also has a Christian connotation. Its Latin etymon, raptus, is derived from the verb rapere, used in Latin translations of the Bible in I Thessalonians 4:17. The passage describes the journey to the clouds for those who continued believing in God, so they could finally meet the Lord. Although the term rapture isn’t directly used in the English translations of this epistle, it is often used in English to describe this event described by Paul the Apostle. It would be difficult to not see a biblical connection with the aspirations of Ryan, who selected people from the elite class who deserved to go down with him to the bottom of the ocean to create his ideal society. We are nevertheless drawn to a type of “diabolic reversal” of the ascension described by the Thessalonians epistle. This symbolism subtly highlights the game’s dystopian nature.

On the other hand, Rapture can also be interpreted as a Garden of Eden—of course, the use of the names ADAM and EVE is no coincidence. Corpses full of ADAM are also seen by the Little Sisters as sleeping angels. In the same way that the serpent brought Eve the apple, which was a symbol of knowledge (which drove God to exile the first two humans from Heaven), the same can be said for Frank Fontaine, who brings men prohibited knowledge (ADAM) which then drives them to their decline. At the very end of the game, when we find and confront Frank Fontaine-turned-Atlas, we discover him chained to what could be described as a cross—another reference to Christianity.

Rapture is also teeming with references to classical mythology. While the majority of location names don’t necessarily hold a deeper meaning, there are nevertheless several places that are named after deities from the Greek pantheon. Neptune’s Bounty is a reference to the Roman god of freshwater and the sea, which is logical in the context of an underwater city. As another example, the industrial and geothermic centre of Rapture is called Hephaestus, after the Greek god of blacksmiths and tradesmen, which are values that Andrew Ryan holds dear. The district of Rapture called Olympus Heights references the place where the Greek gods lived. In Rapture, the geniuses of the moment consider themselves gods. This being said, while Ryan chose to name so many places with references to a polytheistic religion, perhaps it was to enforce his rejection of the Jews’ and Christians’ sole God. As head of the city, he can be compared to Zeus. It is therefore not surprising that when standing up to him, Fontaine took the name Atlas, a Titan that opposed Zeus. Greek mythology also has a connection with the way they constantly try to show that men are prisoners of mortality. The inhabitants of Rapture wanted to change the world, but they were irrevocably enslaved by their nature of being imperfect human beings.

The prison Persephone directly references the young girl by the same name abducted by Hades, who wanted to make her his wife and therefore the queen of the Underworld. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, tried to save her from Hades’ grasp, but he refused to let the young girl go. Zeus then took action. As Persephone had already eaten pomegranate seeds (the fruit of the dead), she had to stay in the Underworld. However, in order to satisfy all parties, Zeus chose a compromise allowing Persephone to live on the surface for half of the year. This decision marked the beginning of the seasons. Because Demeter, goddess of agriculture and harvest, lamented the absence of her daughter while she was held in the Underworld in winter and fall, she allowed no harvest during these two seasons. In this way, the Rapture prison references the fate of these detainees, whose only real fault was that they had stood up to Ryan.

Finally, one of the places in Rapture references the myth of Prometheus. For giving fire (a metaphor for knowledge) to mankind, the Titan was severely punished by Zeus. Chained to a rock, every day he suffered from an eagle eating his liver, which would grow back each night. In BioShock, the character of Atlas/Fontaine provided knowledge to the people of Rapture through ADAM. Before the final battle, we see him chained to a cross, as though waiting for the player, armed with a syringe, to come steal his precious liquid—just as the eagle in the myth ate Prometheus’ liver.

At the end of BioShock, this double reference to Atlas the Titan and the crucifixion of Jesus, both with Greek mythology and Judeo-Christian mythology (through the metaphor of the Garden of Eden and the gift of fire by Prometheus), shows what the Greeks called hubris, which can be defined as pride of men in their temptation of comparing themselves to the gods. Overall, this is a good summary of the plot in BioShock.

Written by Nicolas Courcier, Mehdi El Kanafi and Raphaël Lucas, BioShock: From Rapture to Columbia is a detailed analysis, covering 192 pages, of the three main games that make up the famous first-person shooter series, from the ocean depths of 2007’s original BioShock through to the airborne action of 2013’s BioShock: Infinite.

BioShock: From Rapture to Columbia is the fifth English-language book from Third Editions, following titles on The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dark Souls and Metal Gear Solid. BioShock: From Rapture to Columbia is available in two editions – a standard version, priced at £22.90, and a website-exclusive Collector edition, at £27.90.

Third Editions is currently running a kickstarter campaign to translate other works. For more information on this and other titles please visit the publisher’s official website.