Irrational Games’ creative director Ken Levine spoke to the Washington Post recently about the political themes behind the game and how the two opposing factions in the game share similarities with real-world movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. While there are similarities it should be noted that these groups didn't exist when Levine and company started working on the third BioShock title.
In BioShock Infinite a fight has erupted between two factions: the Founders and the group Vox Populi. Levine claims that the Vox Populi is based loosely on the Baader-Meinhof Group, a left-leaning German student movement that devolved into extremism in the mid-1970s to become the RAF (Red Army Faction).
“I initially based the Vox Populi on this German student movement, the Baader-Meinhof Group. I’ve been looking at how people evolve into extremism: They start in a peaceful, understandable place and end up somewhere very different,” said Levine.
“What’s really interesting, what’s most interesting to me, is how the movements reflect movements that have come before. That’s either reassuring or concerning when you look at what’s going on now. Some of those movements, dating back to the French Revolution, have had similar complaints to what Occupy Wall Street has. It’s interesting to watch how they evolve. They tend to reflect each other, and for the game you can look at what’s happening in real time, but you really see what could be happening in the future by looking at history.”
Levine notes that some of the problems the Occupy Wall Street protesters are facing are similar to the core problems with Vox Populi. The main problem, he says, is messaging:
“I’ve been spending a lot of time watching Occupy Wall Street. The complaint is that they don’t have a consistent message. You can watch that, and this is a challenge I’ve had writing [the Vox Populi]. Leftist movements are always less organized. There’s a messaging machine on the right, where they’ll come up with something and the next day you have 10, 20 people out on the news using those points,” he explained.
“Leftist groups tend not to like authority; nobody in them tends to listen to it. So Occupy Wall Street has been helping me because I’ve been struggling to figure out how the Vox Populi get to the point in the demo. Throughout the game, you’re actually watching them — you see in the beginning of the game that they’re a dead movement and a movement that really fails, and it picks up steam based upon your actions.”
Levine says that he prefers the gray areas between the two ideologies in the game.
“So I start [Vox Populi leader] Daisy Fitzroy and [Founder leader] Comstock on opposite ends of the spectrum. Maybe that’s what the study of these movements is: The movement becomes about the ideology and not about reality. The reality starts to change, and it becomes that people would rather give up reality than ideology.”
“From where I sit, people think it has to be one or the other and there’s no middle ground. Personally, that tends to scare me,” he continued. “What’s the point of having something that’s about people shutting down ideologically, intellectually? People are using these movements to pose questions. If you look at Occupy Wall Street, it’s opened up dialogue, and you can say the same about the tea party. Hopefully, they don’t become extensions of parties, they will open up the conversation.”