Psychopathy In Fiction Part One
Is it ever well done?
Psychopathy is a common trope in fiction and it is often done so poorly that it is unrecognizable as actual psychopathy. The rule that I have seen again and again is that if they state the character is a psychopath, expect it to be an absolute mess, and nothing like psychopathy.
However, there are characters that aren’t absolute travesties when it comes to representing psychopathic traits, and without fail when it comes to these characters, they are those that the creator doesn’t try to pigeonhole them into a label that they will then violate with inaccurate information. I thought today we would discuss a couple of these characters, and there will be spoilers, of course.
Let me first begin by stating, there is no perfect representation of psychopathy in fiction that I have ever seen. There are simply “close enough” characters. That doesn’t mean that these characters don’t have aspects that would remove them from being psychopathic, often they do. There are often mistakes. When I say “mistake, I am not referring to the creator making a mistake when it comes to the character that they imagined, I mean mistake as in deviations from them being a faithful representation of psychopathy. As the creators never said that these characters were meant to be psychopathic, these deviations are to be expected.
The first character that I will discuss is from Bioshock. If you haven’t played this game… well, there’s no accounting for taste. All right, I am slightly kidding. Slightly. There will be spoilers, and with Bioshock, this character absolutely spoils the ending of the game, so be warned.
In Bioshock, you play a character named Jack. Jack was in a plane crash in which he is the only survivor. Fortunately for Jack, the plane came down near a lighthouse.
Which he dutifully swims towards. Once he is there he finds that there is nothing but a bathysphere, which he of course has no choice but to get into and go wherever it leads him. It leads him to Rapture.
Rapture, as you can see is a city under the ocean. It was created by a man named Andrew Ryan, and the purpose of Rapture is for the intellectual elite to have a place where they could pursue their passions unhindered by the governments of the world. This experiment in Utopia was destined to fail, because it doesn’t matter how many intellectual elites gather in one place, someone still has to do the hard blue-collar work.
This causes a lot of strife and unrest with the workers of the city. They feel unappreciated, and they feel lied to. Rapture was sold to them as a paradise, but they found themselves in the same place that they left on the surface. This separation of workers from the elite fosters a class divide, and as there always will be, a man was there to take advantage of the disgruntled.
Enter Frank Fontaine, and the subject of today’s post.
Frank Fontaine had a less than upstanding past, which we will get into further down. For now, we will go with what is known about him at the start of the game. He was an industrialist who owned and ran Fontaine Fisheries that was responsible for both the fish supplied to Rapture, but also smuggling banned goods into Rapture, such as bibles. There was no religion in Rapture. The motto was:
No Gods or Kings. Only Man.
One day one of his workers who had been injured years prior and had a deformed and totally disabled hand was bitten by a sea slug. This bite had miraculous properties, and restored his hand to be fully functional. This is noticed by a doctor named Brigid Tenenbaum. She was a survivor of the camps of WWII, and was an assistant to a Nazi doctor even though she was a prisoner herself. She saw the unbelievable qualities that this sea slug apparently possessed and asked the worker if he had kept the slug that bit him. He had, and from her research came the advent of Adam.
Adam was a substance that could rewrite a person’s genetic code in a variety of ways. Fontaine saw the potential for this and partnered with Tenenbaum, and another doctor, Yi Suchong to start creating plasmids. These were things that could allow you to do things like throw electricity or fire about by thinking about it:
Tenenbaum informed Fontaine that in order to mass-produce Adam, they will need living subjects to make it within their own bodies, and through experimentation, the only individuals that qualified were young girls.
Fontaine then opened the Little Sister Orphanage. This was a front that he used to manipulate parents to willingly give up their daughters to him, and when that didn’t work outright kidnapping them for his purposes. From which he was able to start using the little girls as his Adam factories, and thus came to be the infamous Little Sister of Rapture.
These little girls had the sea slugs implanted into their stomachs, and could therefore mass-produce Adam, and allowed Fontaine to introduce plasmids to the population of Rapture, allowing them to gene splice themselves into “evolved beings”. The problem with that was that Adam was very addictive, and it turned ordinary people into Adam addicted creatures called Spicers:
“Plasmids changed everything. They destroyed our bodies, our minds. We couldn't handle it. Best friends butchering one another, babies strangled in cribs. The whole city went to hell.”
These were heavily mutated addicts of Adam that are very murdery, leaving a number of people dead in the streets of Rapture, with Adam still in their bodies. The only creatures that were capable of collecting this leftover Adam were the Little Sisters, but remember what I said about Splicers being very murdery? They don’t care about killing little girls, and also those little girls have Adam, which they want, so they murdered them by the dozens, presenting Fontaine with a problem. How was he going to protect his Little Sister Adam factories? It was Yi Suchong that came up with the solution, and that solution was the Big Daddies:
These creatures are genetically manipulated sheepdogs for the Little Sisters. They follow them around while they gather Adam placidly. If the Little Sister is attacked they go from docile, to extremely angry and dangerous, which you can see here:
At first, Andrew Ryan is impressed by Fontaine’s business acumen. He sees all enterprises as a good thing, that is, until Fontain’s own enterprise begins to challenge Ryan’s place at the top as the creator of Rapture. He uses the fact that Fontaine is smuggling as an excuse to shut down Fontaine’s operations. During this process, all of Fontaine’s associates are arrested, and Fontaine himself is shot.
From there, Ryan decides to take over Fontaine’s businesses, continuing the manufacturing of Adam, the Little Sisters, and plasmids. He also introduces a pheromone into the air that makes the Splicers obedient to him, and him alone. People begin to revolt against Ryan’s authoritarian measures, and a civil war erupts. Many people no longer trust Ryan. For as much as he professed to love free enterprise, and despise tyranny, he was very quick to resort to authoritarian measures to remove Fontaine as a threat.
Ryan begins to round up dissidents and anyone who resists meets a hellish death as an example to the rest of Rapture. From this rises a leader on the side of the resistance. His name is Atlas:
Atlas is a man who knows how to inspire people. They will live and die for him, and Atlas launches a full-scale assault on Ryan, and Rapture on New Years Eve 1959.
By the time that Jack arrives Rapture has already fallen under the weight of the civil war that has left most of the city in ruins or underwater. Ryan is still alive, but he has shut down all transportation in and out of Rapture, save for a couple of bathyspheres that the resistance is running, like the one you came down in. Once Jack arrives in Rapture the Bathysphere that he is still inside of is attacked by a spider splicer:
who would like nothing more than to eviscerate him. Terrified, and unsure of what to do next, he hears a voice:
“Would You Kindly pick up that shortwave radio?”
“I don't know how you survived that plane crash, but I've never been one to question Providence. I'm Atlas, and I aim to keep you alive. Now keep on moving ... we're gonna have to get you to higher ground.”
And thus begins the game of Bioshock. Atlas is the only person that can guide you through the dark depths of Rapture where the residents would like nothing more than to murder you just for existing. Atlas wants nothing more than to leave the city, but Ryan has made that impossible. He is separated from his wife and child, and he begs you to help them. If you can, Atlas will do everything in his power to help you not only survive, but escape with him and his family.
“Listen -- I've got a family. I need to get them out of here. But the Splicers have cut me off from them. If you can reach them in Neptune's Bounty, then maybe, just maybe ... I know you must feel like the unluckiest man in the world right now, but you're the only hope I'll ever see my wife and child again. Go to Neptune's Bounty ... find my family ... please.”
You make your way through the treacherous city, while Ryan continuously sends out Splicers to kill you. Without the help of Adam, you will not survive this trek, so without any options, you yourself have to use plasmids. Along the way, you will also have to battle Big Daddies. The Little Sisters possess much-needed Adam, without which you will not make it. This introduces the moral question of the game. Will you murder the Little Sisters for their Adam, or will you save them, as Brigid Tenenbaum would ask you to?
Not too long into the game you reach Fontaine Fisheries where you find the memory of Frank Fontaine very much alive and well in the minds of those that remain there, and they are terrified of him.
“Grown man, jumping at ghosts. Fontaine's dead and everybody knows it. In the ground for months, and half the place still jumping at his shadow. Christ, even Ryan. You never mind all that. We got work to do.”
Throughout this level Atlas will tell you about his family:
“The thought of my wife and child hiding in that filthy submarine makes me blood boil. Help me get them to safety and I'll be in your debt for life.”
“I took me wife on our first date to this place. You must think I’m a fool, taking a fine lady to a dump like this, but you don’t know me, Moira. Give her a string of pearls and a silk gown, and she’ll dance a waltz. Give her a sea shanty and a bottle of rum, and she’ll drink a pirate under the table."
“Me wife, Moira -- she's a right pain in the neck. But she's a beauty and she means the world to me. I can't help but feel God's punishing me for bringing her and Patrick to this place. I thought this would be a better life for us. Can you imagine a bigger fool than that?”
When you reach the end goal of this level, which is to get to Atlas’ family hidden away in a submarine, Andrew Ryan sends his Splicers, and the sub is detonated, leaving no survivors.
Atlas is devastated and vows revenge. He can’t get to Ryan, but he can lead you to him:
“Moira ... Patrick ... Ain't that just like Ryan. Waits until we're almost out, and then he pulls the string! We'll find the bastard! We'll find him and we'll TEAR HIS HEART OUT!!”
“You get to the bathysphere in Rolling Hills. That'll take you straight to the devil himself. And then all debts will be paid in full.”
For the next several stages of the game, you follow Atlas’ directions, and try to find workarounds for the problems that Ryan throws in your way. Ryan assumes you to be a spy or some other operative.
“So tell me, friend, which one of the bitches sent you? The KGB wolf, or the CIA jackal? Here's the news: Rapture isn't some sunken ship for you to plunder..." - Ryan, end of Medical Pavilion level.
"You ooze in like an assassin and then you try to sneak out like a thief. You're no CIA spook. Who are you? Why have you come here? There's two ways to deal with a mystery: uncover it or eliminate it." -Ryan, Smuggler's Hideout.
"You're not CIA, are you ... you belong to Atlas, the one roach I can't seem to exterminate. " -Ryan, Arcadia.
Finally, you reach where Ryan is hiding in Hesphetus. You find how to override the magnetic locks that keep everyone out, and go to your ultimate confrontation. You finally reach Andrew Ryan.
Here I will take a pause. You are probably wondering why I have written for you a large portion of the plot synopsis, and haven’t mentioned psychopathy in quite a while. You might think, wow Athena, you and Bioshock should get a room already. We get it, you really love the damn game, but this is a bit much, don’t you think?
Congratulations reader, you made it. You made it to the part where I tell you the point of this post. Before you reach Ryan, you find yourself in a room with a lot of different pictures on the wall, and scrawled across the wall is an all too familiar phrase:
“Would you kindly”
You hear it many times in the game:
"Would you kindly pick up that shortwave radio?".
"Now, would you kindly find a crowbar or something?"
"Careful now…would you kindly lower that weapon for a moment?".
"Head over to Fontaine Fisheries when you're ready, would you kindly?"
"Would you kindly get this thing crafted already? Air's only getting thinner down here."
"Would you kindly leg on over to the 'sphere and get on down to Hephaestus?".
"Now, would you kindly head to Ryan's office and kill the son of a bitch?"
Would you kindly.
Now face to face with Ryan Jack finds that phrase isn’t so simple after all. He doesn’t understand the totality of it, but Ryan does. Ryan realizes what Jack actually is, and that is his own illegitimate son. A dancer that Ryan was having an affair with sold his preborn son to Fontaine. Fontaine then manipulated this child with Adam, making him grow very fast, be much more resilient to injury, and totally controllable with one simple phrase.
Would. You. Kindly.
Jack was Fontaine’s ace in the hole, sent away from Rapture before it fell, only to be brought back to take down Ryan himself. All of Rapture’s security was highly advanced. It could be programmed to respond to someone’s genetic key. A son of Ryan would have a close enough genetic key to override the security, thus allowing Jack to get to Ryan when no one else could. Ryan, realizing that Jack is his, is completely disgusted, but cannot bring himself to kill him.
Ryan’s entire philosophy is one of self-determination, and Jack is a preprogrammed slave. He cannot defy whoever has the key phrase, and Ryan demonstrates this to Jack in a very stark way.
Timestamp 3:43-7:06, and please do stop at 7:06, would you kindly?
Now Ryan is dead, you have accomplished your task. You now know what you are, what you were created to be, and that you have no agency in your life whatsoever. Just when you think, it cannot get any worse, the last reveal awaits you, and the reason I wrote this post:
Atlas, your buddy, the one that you have been following throughout the entire game, the one that has helped you, guided you, encouraged you, was Frank Fontaine all along. The man that led the uprising against Ryan, the one that everyone believed was their salvation, was none other than the conman, Frank Fontaine.
Frank Fontaine isn’t even Frank Fontaine. That is just another name that he stole from a man he killed in order to get access to Rapture. The first name that he is known to have used was Frank Gorland who was a run away from the orphanage that he lived at in order to become a stage boy for a theater troop. It was there that he learned about the power of costumes and characters, that he would use throughout his life. When he morphed from Frank Fontaine to Atlas, he employed an insane doctor in Rapture in order to remake his face into a totally new one. Not even Andrew Ryan knew who he really was.
Some people suspected that Fontaine was somehow still alive, with one person stating:
"Strikes me that Fontaine wasn't overly inconvenienced by his own demise.”
In my opinion, Frank is a fairly well-represented psychopath. He is entirely believable in his cons and the personas that he adopts. The writer of the series Ken Levin has not commented on Fontaine being anything in particular, which suits me fine. I prefer there not being a label. If there are things that deviate from psychopathy, that’s fine, he was never stated to be psychopathic to begin with. Things that I think speak to Fontaine/Atlas being psychopathic are:
He would do whatever necessary to get the results that he was looking for
He had no empathy for anyone.
He was a shrewd businessman. He ran both legitimate and illegitimate enterprises, both were extremely successful.
He knew how to use the people around him. Both the doctors that he employed to create his Adam business were difficult to work with, but he figured out their currency, and created a thriving business with them.
His actions were that of pure logic. He viewed life as a chessboard, Rapture as the prize, and Ryan his opponent.
He could make anyone want to serve him, and he could become whoever he needed to make that happen.
He was able to charm Jack, and by extension the player, easily. If you suspected Atlas of being Fontaine, the game would have been a flop. He had to be both characters completely. Throughout the game you come across recordings of different people, Fontaine included. Nothing about repeated exposure to Fontaine’s voice ever let on that it might in fact be Atlas. There was no indication or similarity at all.
The stories about his family were very believable. He conveyed love for his wife and son, despite the fact they were totally created. They never existed, but you would never know that until the reveal.
Andrew Ryan doesn’t have a clue that Fontaine is Atlas. He is completely convinced that Fontaine died in the shootout with Ryan’s men. He dies never knowing the truth. Fontaine never felt the need to taunt him with it as someone that had their ego invested in their game might. It was all about getting Rapture and all its spoils.
Even when Jack begins to fight against Fontaine after the reveal he still sees it as a game. You didn’t think that the game ended there, did you? Oh no no no no. You get to go after the son of a bitch that created you. As you seek your revenge and look to end Fontaine, he keeps talking to you, right until the end. By then he is spliced up with so much Adam that he is unrecognizable as human, and the choices you made in the game regarding the Little Sisters will determine your ending.
Interestingly, the entire dialogue of Atlas had to be re-recorded by a new actor very close to the release of the game. Why? From the get-go, beta players of the game did not trust the actor that was playing Atlas. They immediately suspected him of being underhanded, which ruined the entire journey of the game. If the players thought that Atlas was a bad guy, the reveal wouldn’t be a surprise. You had to trust the actor that they choose, and therefore they had to recast the character, and re-record all the lines.
The results made for one of the most dramatic reveals in all of gaming history. The Atlas/Fontaine moment in the game shocked most players. I didn’t expect it, and I usually see through plots right away. It was very well done. They also managed to write the tale of at least one fairly accurate psychopath, with Andrew Ryan being a possible second. Neither of them had empathy for others, and b were strong individualists. You could theoretically argue that the game was basically two psychopaths fighting one another because they liked the challenge, and wanted to best the other one.
In reality, Bioshock is a much deeper game than that, and if you haven’t experienced it, the most iconic moments are now spoiled for you. However, you now understand why I think that Fontaine was likely a psychopath. It is possible as I mentioned that Ryan was as well. However, I will say that there are Bioshock novels that I haven’t read. It is possible that in these novels both Fontaine and Ryan have aspects that would remove them from the possibility of psychopathy. I have no idea, I haven’t read them. I should, but haven’t.
So that is my first case presentation for a rather faithful representation of psychopathy in a fictional universe. The series of Bioshock games are amazing, and the writing has always been top-notch. There will be a fourth installment that ken Levin, the writer of the first games, will, not be a part of. We shall see what the people that do write are made of. Hopefully, it will be another amazing installment.
"There is always a lighthouse, there's always a man, there's always a city."