3. Atlas (Bioshock)
Bioshock was created by System Shock 2 developer Ken Levine, so it’s no surprise there was a major plot twist waiting in the middle of the game. After a plane crash strands you in the underwater libertarian-utopia gone horribly wrong known as Rapture; you are guided on your quest for answers by an endearing freedom fighter named Atlas. Atlas’ gentle irish lilt; his struggle against Rapture’s desperate overlord Andrew Ryan; and his sympathy-inspiring stories about his wife may well make you trust him. In a crucial moment though, Atlas reveals himself to be the considerably more Italian-American-sounding Frank Fontaine! Of course, we know that an Irish accent is an aural shorthand for characters who are plucky, romantic underdogs; so Frank’s harsh Bronx drawl surely means he is the real villian of the piece!
It was Fontaine’s plan all along to bring down Ryan and rule Rapture in his place, with the player merely a pawn in his diabolical schemes. Even his polite pre-amble: “Would you kindly…” turns out to be a subconscious command phrase planted in the player’s head. Andrew Ryan – in a moment of bizarrely dignified devotion to his libertarian beliefs – even uses the “Would you kindly…” phrase to demand the player kill him, perhaps realizing how he has become the very image of the totalitarianism he had once opposed. His last words: “A man decides, a slave obeys…” seem to reflect his gratification that he has taken the responsibility to decide his own fate.
What quickly makes Ryan seem like a sympathetic figure by comparison to Fontaine; is how Ryan is a debased ideologue, but Fontaine is a cypher: a conman who has spent his life taking on different identities, only interested in his own advancement. Fontaine goes on to take over Rapture, pumping himself with Gene-altering ADAM like an eighties wrestler on steroids, turning into a muscled demi-god. The player ultimately defeats and kills him at the end of the game when a group of little sisters jump on him and turn him into a pin-cushion of syringes in one of the all-time great gaming villian deaths. We also see just how cruel Fontaine can be using his Atlas persona in Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea, turning the poor and downtrodden of Rapture into a ruthless partisan army early on in his attempts to gain power.
What’s interesting about Atlas is that he’s the perfect simulcra of everything we’ve seen in fiction to represent trustworthiness, and this probably informed Fontaine’s creation of the freedom-fighting Irish family man. The revelation that Atlas is just a fiction reminds us just how much skilled manipulators work to play on the assumptions in our collective subconscious.