Quick Offload: Bioshock’s Andrew Ryan is videogames’ Donald Trump

I didn’t really like Bioshock a decade ago. In many ways it felt like a bloody cracking world in want of a game and story that did it justice. I got that it was trying to be cutting, but in most respects, it just felt incredibly forced. Andrew Ryan’s speeches sounded like the sort of economic dogmatist that you’d see head into the corridors of power in the name of conservatism – and even with my economic conservative leanings I find those most dogmatic about the discipline are the ones that understand it the least. In other words Andrew Ryan was just your standard economic madman; just not a particularly deep or well-written one.

Playing through the remaster in 2016 though – well that’s completely changed my perspective on it. Fact is Bioshock could not be more relevant right now. Because Donald Trump is trying to make the United States into quasi-Rapture.

And the catalysts for his rise in popularity on the back of his policies aren’t much different, either. He argues for low tax. He is defending good old hard-working American values and American jobs against the centralists in People’s Republic of China. The world is in economic turmoil and Trump believes he’s the one to save the United States from itself. “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow? “No” says Washington. It belongs to the poor”

What was that about not paying taxes making one smart, Donald?

The slow decline of the house that neoliberalism built. Near-zero inflation in a low-rate world. Slow growth. The rise of China. We’re in unprecedented economic territory. And just as the limitations of Keynesian economics were exposed in the high-inflation era of the 1970’s and 1980’s, we’re beginning to reach the limit of our current suite of economic tools. To quote former Bob Hawke in the late 1970’s, “it would seem to me…economics has reached a crisis point”.

We need to have conversations about perpetual economic growth. About population growth. About most of the fundamental assumptions that underpin our economic systems. About the effects of low cash rates on asset prices. The list goes on.

The scary thing is, the backlash against Trump’s lunacy means that sadly, we may never have them.


Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests but – quite honestly – can’t be arsed writing the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. And on issues of economic management, well it’s probably best I keep my mouth shut. But please, would you kindly take potshots in the comments?



  1. I don’t know if I’d make a straight connection between Andrew Ryan and Donald Trump. Andrew Ryan was meant to be a caricature of the committed Ayn Rand-objectivist, while Trump is more straight populist. He promises the shit his fans want to hear, but has no real plan at all (I’d argue that’s what makes him the most terrifying). At least Andrew Ryan had an actual plan (as insane as “let’s build a city under the sea” is).
    But I get what you mean mate. Truth be told Andrew Ryan didn’t have much resonance with me as a villain, but I think that’s because Rand’s dumb-arse ideology never made a mark on Aussie political and economic thinking. I think we’re a bit to practical for something like objectivism. In four years of political economics courses (and a couple of political philosophy courses) we never even mentioned the bitch. She had a much more profound influence on North American thinking (where individual exceptionalism was already enshrined in the zeitgeist).
    But, while I wouldn’t necessarily align the Donald with a fictional objectivist, I get what you mean ’cause he’s certainly the right bullshit to attract all the Andrew Ryan wannabes running around the US.
    Huh, that was a longer comment than I had planned.

    1. Thanks for the comment (the longer, the better)

      See here’s the thing. I agree with you. But after having paying close attention to his recordings – and I’m no scholar of Ayn Rand – think he’s quite inconsistent in his application of the ‘philosophy’. Donald Trump is similarly all over the place – particularly on his economics, which is the only thing I can really speak to. He comes across as ultra-con, but I’ve actually had a hard time placing him on the spectrum.

      And you’re right on Australia – again from an economic point of view. Look at the socially-minded Hawke; the Prime Minister who kicked off at least one and arguably two decades of micro reform.

      1. You might be right there, it has been a while since I’ve played the game nor am I that much of a scholar of Ayn Rand either – there’s only so much of her bullshit that can be swallowed before you need to read someone who actually knows what they’re talking about – but I think that might be because there’s so much of Rand’s words tied into the language of the modern conservative, even if they don’t necessarily follow everything she said. “Greed is good” is essentially an extension of her views about capitalism. The bitch.
        Still, Bioshock is more or less a reimagining a sequel to ‘The Fountainhead’ (ideal man with a vision he is unwilling to relinquish control over, even if he has to destroy it to keep others from perverting it) except with undersea superpowers instead of architecture, and pointing out how stupid it actually is (and he is).
        But again, been a while since I played it.
        Funny though, now that I think about it I can’t help but wonder if a better comparison from the game is between Trump and Atlus? Conning the poor and stupid into fighting for him by promising cheap plasmids (that ultimately drive you nuts) and promising a vaguely better world while operating a criminal empire that people seem happy to ignore (until it all goes to shit). Populism mate.

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