Bioshock and the folly of libertarian utopias

What happens when you run a society based on the premise of unrestrained greed

“[Atlas Shrugged] is not a book to be lightly thrown aside. It should be thrown with great force.” – Attributed to Sid Ziff of the Los Angeles Mirror-News

Despite being a firm believer in reading your enemy (as evidenced by the copies of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Milton Frideman’s Free to Chose that I have gathering dust somewhere), I must confess I have never read Ayn Rand’s most well known novel, precisely because of reviews like the one quoted above. Atlas Shrugged is something of a bible for libertarians since it delineates her philosophy known as Objectivism which is based around ‘rational egoism’ and the economic system best suited to promote it, laissez-faire capitalism. The book was critically panned during its day and Rand was never taken seriously as a philosopher (or a novelist for that matter) although this has not stopped the book from finding its way into millions of college dorm rooms by “edgy” econ and political science undergraduates who fail to realize the lifelong cognitive and moral impairment that reading it and believing in it might entail.

The book itself is about a group of industrialists who, oppressed by excessive government bureaucracy and regulation, decide to abandon their businesses in order to create a new community based entirely on laissez-faire principles. The community would be called Galt’s Glutch, named after the mysterious character of John Galt who masterminds the capitalist rebellion and also outlines the community’s philosophy. Since then, the idea of forming a real-life Galt’s Glutch has been something of an obsession for many libertarians, although finding a location for such utopias is not easy. There is not a square inch of land left on Earth that is not claimed by a government as sovereign territory. This leaves only one place where states have no authority: international waters. Continue reading

DOOM: from here to eternity with a detour into hell

Remembering the most influential videogame in PC history

No list of the greatest PC games is complete without Doom, the classic 1993 first-person shooter with revolutionary 3D graphics. In the second installment of retrogaming for this blog, I picked up my pixelated shotgun and navigated through Doom’s nightmarish landscapes to remember just why this game was so damn good… and so damn controversial.

My first encounter with Doom must have come sometime around 1994, shortly after I made the jump from console to PC gaming. My mother had thankfully spoiled me with a brand new 486DX-50 which was as close to top of the line at the time as an eager, 15-year old could want. One of the early gems in this new life as a PC gamer was Wolfenstein 3D, the delightfully campy Nazi-killing slug-fest that was one of the first true first-person shooters, at least one that was played in full screen and fast pace, something that at the time required the type of processing power that only a top of the line PCs could provide. Wolfenstein 3D was a bit repetitive but maddeningly fun, as you rampaged your way through Nazi bunkers adorned with swastikas and Hitler portraits while killing Wehrmacht grunts, SS officers, zombies, mad scientists, and even Der Führer himself in a mech-suit. The violence was also over the top, offering blood and guts on a scale that Nintendo at the time would not dare come remotely close to.

It was then that my neighbor (also an avid Wolfenstein fan) told me that another kid on the block had a new game he wanted to show us. “Better than Wolfenstein”. A cynic even in my teenage years, I would not be convinced until I saw it for myself. But when I did, my jaw dropped. As great looking as Wolfenstein was by late DOS-era standards, Doom was a quantum leap ahead. Rooms were decorated in complex techno-futuristic textures, lighting was used to create an atmosphere of ever-present terror, and the monsters were just so much scarier: I still remember jumping the first time a “Pinky” Demon appeared out of nowhere, it’s now iconic growl forever etched into my gaming consciousness. The game also did a wonderful job of prepping you for danger, such as by the subtle hisses and cackling of enemies (particularly the ever-present Imps) whenever they were lurking around the corner. To top it off, Doom was dripping with macho bravado by taunting you when you tried to quit (“go ahead and leave, see if I care”), challenging your manhood with the labels of the easier difficulty levels (“Hey, not too rough”), or by sublime touches like your character’s devilish grin whenever you picked up a new weapon. The 90s were all about the ‘tude, and Doom was the 800-pound gorilla.

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Metroid: how to make an atmospheric masterpiece

Among the countless Alien rip-offs in gaming, this is one of the few that got it right

Metroid cover

Not everything in life is politics and economics. I will be be adding the occasional cultural content to this blog including music, movies, and retro gaming, the latter which I have been recently spending some of my spare time on. Enjoy this first post and there will be more to come!

Ok, I must confess that I never owned Metroid. It was already two years old when I first got an NES around 1988 and looked decidedly antiquated by the standards of later NES titles. Although I may have rented it a couple of times, this was not a game that was easy to get into and it quickly became a bit too daunting to invest more time into it. But in the age of emulators and online strategy guides, I recently decided to take a plunge into the depths of Planet Zebes and lead the intrepid intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran (one of videogame’s first female heroes, though you wouldn’t find out until she took her mask off during the end credits) into the adventure that launched one of Nintendo’s most famous franchises.

The birth of the action/adventure game

First some history: Metroid was Nintendo’s first true action/adventure game, intended to bridge the gap between the side-scrolling jump-fest of Super Mario Bros. and the adventure and RPG elements of The Legend of Zelda, all three of which were released the same year. Particularly unique about Metroid was its non-linearity: there are no levels in the traditional sense, the game is one giant interconnected whole. The seemingly endless corridors and shafts of Zebes were often dead ends, and most areas required you not just to reach a certain item but to backtrack your way to where you started. For example, the entrance to the game’s final section (Tourian) is found not too far from the starting point but you’ll first need to find and beat the two mini-bosses, Kraid and Ripley, to go through. Frustratingly, the game did not include any in-game mapping feature which means the unaided explorer was forced to map the game the old-fashioned way: with pencil and paper. Even then, there is a chronic same-ness to the different areas of Zebes, with the layout of many corridors being identical to each other giving you no sense of whether you had already explored that area or not. Many areas are also only accessible by shooting or bombing “false” floors or ceilings. And yet if you are to map the whole game, hours will have to be spent exploring every corner of the game’s five main sections, only the last one which is mercifully linear (and where you first encounter the game’s eponymous enemy, the Metroids). Continue reading