1984 is a complex journey through the possibilities of a highly oppressive dystopian government. Bioshock also deals heavily with a complex society and ultimate power (especially the idea that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”). Bioshock does make some references to 1984, though nearly any reference to 1984 is due primarily due to the fact that 1984 is often viewed as the penultimate example of dystopian literature. Bioshock is especially interested in a dystopian society’s social disorder with governmental power and extreme political factions. Whereas 1984 is focused more on the government’s control of people, it also deals with social disorder.
The key different with how 1984 and Bioshock approach the idea of power and societal control is rooted in their different political starting points. Orwell is a Socialist at heart, whereas Bioshock is about the corrupting of Capitalism at its heart. Bioshock’s main antagonist through much of the game is a self-professed capitalist named Andrew Ryan. Ryan took to the seas to build his ideal society (AKA his utopia). He built the city of Rapture deep in the Atlantic Ocean, and meant it as a place where mankind could raise himself up by the sweat of his brow, even t the point of overtaking “the gods.” According to the opening monologue as the protagonist enters Rapture:
“…I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture. A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small. And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.” – Andrew Ryan
One of the main differences in 1984 and Bioshock is the time. While 1984, read in the present, is about a possible past society, it was originally written as an idea regarding the future. Bioshock, on the other hand, was written as a societal idea about the past. It accomplishes this by creating a fictional under-the-sea colony. Another difference is in themes. One of 1984’s themes is conformity and group identification. Bioshock, on the other hand, deals very prominently with personal choice as distinguishing you from another. One of the main plot twists of the game deals with the phrase “A man chooses, a slave obeys.” The game goes as far as to announce at one point that “Altruism is the root of all wickedness.” Altruism is a “concern for the welfare of others.”
Another difference is the textual meaning. 1984 has a dark ending, basically saying that apart from “Big Brother,” mankind has no hope. Bioshock, on the other hand, has a very optimistic ending with personal choice winning. It also has a sort of resurrection on the surface of the ocean, the idea being that despite the evils of society that lurk “under the surface,” there is hope for tomorrow.
In a way, I view these two as companion pieces, opposite sides of the same coin of dystopian literature.