TGA’s Reader Survey and Giveaway!

Hello dear TGA readers!

One of our New Year resolutions here at TGA is to continue to improve our community blog and to bring you a pleasant anthro-geeking-blogging experience. We would also love to get to know you a little better! So we would be eternally grateful if you took a few moments to answer the following reader survey.

But wait, there’s more! We’ll be giving away a free copy of the game Chariot to two of the readers who will answer the survey!

2014_05_20_Chariot_Logo_FinalJust answer all the questions and enter your email address at the end! Chariot is a beautiful and fun game launched by Frima Studios in 2014. It is available on PS4, WiiU, Steam and XBOX ONE.

The survey is completely anonymous and you can skip questions if you wish. All data gathered with this survey will be used only by the TGA editorial team. We won’t give or sell your email address to anyone.

Feel free to share any additional thoughts, suggestions or special requests in the comments section below! 

The survey will be up until February 7th, so please make sure to answer quickly!

Do you have additional comments? Add them in the comments section below!

Thank you so much for taking part in our survey! Your help is greatly appreciated! Check back on the 8th of February for the results and to see if you won the giveaway!


The Biopolitics of BioShock: Conclusion

By Emma Louise Backe

BioShock’s impeccable, steam-punk inspired graphics, superb game design, innovative and evocative storytelling and underlying political, social and economic commentary made the game an instant sensation that revolutionized the gaming industry. The game received numerous awards and provoked critical attention for its artistry, included in books like Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media (2008) and exhibits on video game art by the Smithsonian. The game’s appeal speaks to the multiple, and expertly crafted creative layers that make BioShock continually playable, revealing new insights and mysteries with each exploration. But BioShock is also evocative due to the dystopian society, the labyrinthine, enigmatic story, and the moral and bioethical subtext that informs and drives the narrative. The immersive storytelling experience rewards multiple rereadings and can be approached with an eye toward textual analysis. As a student of both anthropology and literature, I was most drawn to the biopolitical controversies BioShock provokes. Andrew Ryan’s supremacy of the individual and the ego are analogous to Ayn Rand’s philosophies of Objectivism expressed in The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), so that BioShock’s Rapture is grounded in the same self-deterministic principles as Galt’s Gulch. The laissez faire economy of Rapture and supposed sovereignty over your own destiny are turned on its head through the game mechanics, story development and disclosed audio diaries, raising questions about individual agency and the governmental control over the human body. As you first enter Rapture, you encounter signs proclaiming, “We’re not your property!” and “Ryan doesn’t own us,” yet the sinister reality is that the citizens of Rapture are genetically manipulated and controlled like objects without even realizing their subjugation.

The medical experiments conducted by Dr. J.S. Steinman present an ulterior aesthetic philosophy, one that elevates a radical form of beauty that strains for superhuman perfection yet deforms the visage of the patient beyond human recognition. Rapture citizens are morally compelled to achieve beauty and progress into a state of near divinity. Steinman’s character and aesthetic ideologies can be further situated in the history of eugenics, its appropriation by Hitler for his Nazi regime, and the medical experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele. Through Steinman’s medical experiments, individual value is placed on appearance and is perceived as an outward demonstration of inner beauty. Not only does Steinman elicit harrowing historical resonances, but his experiments also serve as a warning to contemporary society as plastic surgery become normalized and individuals reformulate and endanger their bodies to fit ever changing aesthetic ideals.

BioShock also speaks to the bioethical dilemmas of our time. The creation of ADAM and plasmids reformulated human genetics, promising the potential of superhuman powers and instead perverting humans into zombified Splicers, individuals that could be considered post-human. The creation and subsequent commodification of the Little Sisters further represents the dangers of an occult, capitalist economy, in which supply and demand reproduce schisms and hierarchies of dispossession. The Little Sisters are seen as monstrous by their very creators, yet are seen as necessary devices for Rapture’s social order and sustainability. We can see the way that certain bodies are deformed and objectified by certain medical establishments and global power structures, just as those in Third World countries are often coerced into selling their organs to support their family, victims of a global market in human materials created by biomedical innovations. As Lars Schmeink points out, “In Our Posthuman Future, Fukuyama claims that ‘the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a “posthuman” stage of history’” (2009). What will the encounter between human and posthuman look like, Schmeink wonders. It is clear from the rendering of biotechnology in BioShock, and its perversion of human society and morality, that the alteration of human nature will not be fortuitous, nor will it usher in a better version of human society. BioShock is a fictional harbinger, an experiment of what our potential posthuman future.

BioShock encourages video game writers to construct complicated, morally vexing worlds that make us consider the history that has determined our present, and the future that may emerge from our contemporary society, global assemblages, and concepts of harm and personhood. BioShock teaches us as much about our society, as it makes us think about the society that we hope to inhabit and build in years to come.



Works Cited

BioShock (2007). 2K Games & Feral Interactive.

BioShock Wiki.

Schmeink, Lars (2009). “Dystopia, Alternate History and the Posthuman in Bioshock.” Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, Vol. 10.

Source: Niccol, Andrew (1997). Gattaca. Columbia Pictures.

The Biopolitics of BioShock Part III: The Bioethics of Rapture

By Emma Louise Backe

(Spoiler Warning)

“Whatever you thought about right and wrong on the surface, well, that don’t count for much down in Rapture.” -Atlas

 In the past two parts of this series, I have looked closely at the biopolitics of self-determination and free will in Rapture’s economic environment in relation to Ayn Rand’s principles of Objectivism, as well as the new aesthetic moral imperative constructed by Dr. Steinman that compelled new ways of seeing and perceiving beauty, contextualized within the history of eugenics. This final section will focus more broadly on the bioethical dilemmas Rapture’s technological innovations present, and the ways in which technologies like ADAM and plasmids reformulate established notions of humanity. Rapture not only presented its citizens with new economic and political options within the utopian society, but also revolutionized modern technology. Rapture scientists discovered that certain sea slugs contain ADAM, which can be genetically manipulated to alter human physiology. ADAM led to the creation of plasmids, a special serum that triggered genetic mutation in humans and conferred “super powers” like the ability to manipulate elements like electricity, ice and fire. While the unstable stem cells in ADAM were initially used to cure conditions like cancer, ADAM’s marketability and technological possibilities for plasmids soon led scientists like Brigid Tenenbaum—who discloses through audio diaries that she was a part of the scientific medical experiments during the Holocaust and felt a special kinship with the Nazi doctors—to search for ways to mass produce ADAM. The solution was to implant the sea slugs into host bodies, which scientists could use to harvest more ADAM and accommodate popular demand. This was how the Little Sisters were created, in response to the occult economy of Rapture, where citizens became hooked on the genetic potentialities of ADAM. As Rapture scientists rewrote the human genetic code, they redefined bioethics and ushered in a post-human paradigm.


Let’s start with the plasmids. As Atlas retroactively relates to the protagonist, “Plasmids changed everything” (2007). Like Steinman’s desire to create a population of aesthetically perfect gods and goddesses, plasmids allowed individuals to genetically enrich themselves and expand their preternatural abilities. Similar to the society depicted in Gattaca (1997), the presence of plasmids radically altered expectations of the human genome and reformulated cultural assumptions about “normality,” spawning a schism between the genetically enriched and the normals. If everyone in a society is expected to participate in ADAM and plasmids, then those that abstained were left behind and deemed “parasitic” by the rest of the population. Advertising for plasmids is framed through the discourse of evolution. The situation was further complicated by the addictive qualities of ADAM, which only further fueled the free market economy. There was, however, a threshold to the almost divine capabilities that plasmids could confer before the user began to physically and mentally deteriorate.



The Biopolitics of BioShock Part II: Aesthetics Are A Moral Imperative

By Emma Louise Backe

(Spoiler Warning)

“As your tools improve, so do your standards. There was a time, I was happy enough to take off a wart or two, or turn a real circus freak into something you can show in the daylight. But that was then, when we took what we got, but with Adam… the flesh becomes clay. What excuse do we have not to sculpt, and sculpt, and sculpt, until the job is done” –Higher Standards, Dr. J.S.S. Steinman

Just as Rapture advanced a new precedent in economic and existential freedom, the values of Ryan’s city liberated the scientific community as well. The ethical strictures doctors adhered to became warped by the priority to expand the imagination and explore the realms of possibility for the human body. The creation of plasmids from ADAM demonstrated that the humans could be elevated to god-like potential through new, superhuman capacities. But the paradigm shift in medical intervention also triggered new conventions of beauty and codes for practicing doctors in Rapture.


Dr. J.S.S. Steinman, who occupies the Medical Pavilion of Rapture, embraces Ryan’s “freedom from censure […] and petty morality” (2007) to formulate an alternative surgical moral imperative and novel aesthetic figuration. We learn through the audio diaries littered throughout the game that Steinman begins to experiment on his patients against their will, creating new visages and bodies he perceives as beautiful. Since “Ryan frees us from the phony ethics that held us back” (2007), Steinman believes, “ADAM denies us any excuse for not being beautiful” (2007). As the player descends into the bloodied studio of Dr. Steinman, we begin to discern his aesthetic vision, one that has parallels in the history of eugenics and the work of Dr. Josef Mengele.



The Weekly Geekout: Girl Talk

By Emma Louise Backe

Let’s talk about women. Last night was a big moment for women in the entertainment industry. As I watched the Golden Globes last night, I couldn’t help but notice not only the number of complex, complicated roles women were nominated for, but also the ways in which problematic gender stereotypes were subverted. Throughout Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening act, the two women drew attention to double-standards in the industry, highlighting Amal Clooney’s incredible work as a lawyer and activist on a number of crucial human rights issues. Fey noted the impossible beauty standards that women are held to, while inverting typical sexualizing discourses about women’s bodies by playing a game of “Would You Rather” with the men in the audience. In a field that has been dominated and oriented around the male gaze, women were staring right back and presenting the world with new formulations of looking.

unnamedAcceptance speeches by winning actresses followed in the spirit of gender equity, celebrating the diversity of roles, the superb writing and the focus on women’s stories. Gina Rodriguez won for Jane the Virgin, vexing the historically fraught ideal of virginal, naïve women who have to atone for the sins of Eve. Joanne Froggatt of Downtown Abbey took the opportunity to discuss the pervasive shame and invisibility that still surrounds issues of rape and sexual abuse. And Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent, dedicated the award to Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl whose suicide demonstrates the very real ways in which discrimination and ignorance can kill. Gender as a culturally constructed, socially contingent concept matters. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda gave the ultimate rebuttal to the myth that women aren’t funny and Twitter’s response to misogynistic comments like Jeremy Renner’s attest to the fact that sexism will not be tolerated the way it has been in years past.