Girl Talk: Sinclair

by Jennifer Culp

This one’s a little weird, I admit, but I’d appreciate it if you would kindly indulge me in a discussion of the merits of one Augustus Sinclair, Esquire.

The BioShock games don’t provide crush material as readily as, say, any game from any BioWare franchise. For one thing, you (“you” being the pair of hands that represents Jack or Subject Delta) are quite isolated during most of your time in Rapture. Your closest non-violent contact with other characters occurs when — post-Big Daddy slaughter — you pick up ghoulish Little Sisters to rescue or harvest them for ADAM. Your more typical face-to-face interactions with other people involve battling deformed shrieking Plasmid addicts when they attempt to beat you to death, shoot you, blow you up, or whatever else they can devise to bring about your end in an unpleasant fashion. For the most part, you get to know the, uh, *normal* denizens of Rapture through voice recordings they made and, for whatever reason, scattered across the breadth of the city prior to your arrival. (They sure didn’t keep up with those things for all the sensitive subject matter they recorded, did they?) Each character has a little avatar that pops up on the bottom of the screen when you listen to his or her audio diaries, which makes it feel sort of like getting to know people from a sample of their internet comments, if said comments were read aloud in diverse easily recognizable accents AND if said comment writers had some serious boners for Ayn Rand. Which brings me to the second thing: damn near everyone you encounter in these games is HORRIFYINGLY AWFUL. Terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad people. But also, entertaining!

One of the most entertaining is Augustus Sinclair, who you don’t hear from in the first game. You do, however, see evidence of his influence. You hear about him in other people’s audio diaries, you see his name on storefronts, the name “Sinclair” (spelled out in a gloriously Art Deco font, of course) seeps into your brain. And then shortly after beginning BioShock 2, he starts talking to you! He is, of course, a terrible person. He’s a slumlord in Pauper’s Drop and uses his residents as cheap labor sources to assemble products he later upsells, while offering them a slight discount at his liquor chain in order to lure their business and regain his meager investment in their efforts. He built a private prison, Persephone, to house political dissidents for profit, and was directly involved in spying operations that placed certain people under arrest. He further profited from political unrest in Rapture by running a “consumer rewards testing program” which basically allowed citizens to murder one another in the streets in the service of “testing” his “home defense” products. He’s a pretty bad dude. Somehow, though, he’s just so damn charming about all of it. (It helps that he’s not real.)

Saying that Sinclair isn’t as bad as some of the other characters in the BioShock franchise isn’t exactly a recommendation. I mean, the only bold-font male character in Rapture who isn’t acomplete moral horror show (excepting bereaved fathers looking for their kidnapped daughters-cum-Little Sisters) is Bill McDonagh, and I only know that because I read BioShock: Rapture by John Shirley. (Which I really enjoyed! You should read it. It’s extra fun if you have a friend/significant other/long-suffering pet to read it out loud to, so you can try all the voices. I do a better Frank Fontaine than I would have thought! But I digress, and good ol’ Bill is dead by the time the events of the game take place, anyway.) Sinclair is definitely a black hat. In fact, he was described as “affably monstrous” by Jordan Thomas of 2K Marin prior to BioShock 2’s release. I find that description quite apt. “Affably monstrous.” Isn’t that how we prefer our cinematic action heroes? Drop a friendly wisecrack before smashing that nameless, faceless man’s skull? Not that Sinclair would personally take part in any skull cracking, given a choice. Much too vulgar an activity to undertake with one’s own hands when … alternatives are available. Sinclair’s forthright declarations about his own motives and transparent moral adjustments as his goals shift, however, are disarming and occasionally downright endearing.

Sinclair’s voice acting (the importance of which we’ve discussed before) doesn’t hurt. He sounds so skeevy, and yet somehow so charismatic! I am a lifelong resident of the southern United States and have a sometimes more apparent (when drunk, tired, cussin’), sometimes (slightly) less obvious Southern accent of my very own. Fake Southern accents are a thorn in the fabric of my existence. Voice actor Doug Boyd performed a miracle in this case, though; Sinclair sounds like my 96-year-old grandmother filtered through a middle-aged guy who really loves capitalism, and it is somehow bizarrely attractive. Maybe it’s because of the game’s sense of loneliness in fabulous environs populated only with scary enemies? Real talk, guys, I went to great lengths (reloading the game lengths!) to preserve some of my hacked ‘bots with names via the Handyman Tonic or upgraded Security Command Plasmid in BioShock 2. Don’t diiiiiiiiiiie, Tommy!! But I don’t think that explains the nature of Sinclair’s appeal. I wished some of my other guides would go away at times. Stanley Poole can go swim, for all I care, and Grace Holloway could have refrained from the “monster” accusations in at least half of her communications. Sinclair, though … as long as your goals align, he’s a good partner in crime.

Then there’s the imagination factor. Along with fun combat, the huge appeal of BioShock is running around in its environment. Rapture is this glorious decaying Art Deco would-be paradise. Does anyone else daydream about living in one of the apartments in Mercury Suites before the city’s fall? Minus the actually-living-in-Rapture part, of course. Hello, GORGEOUS. And after the city’s fall … what do the remaining movers and shakers in Rapture do with their time? Drink a lot of Old Tom Whiskey and Chechnya Vodka? Record their life stories on audio diary? Private dance parties? I know I’m not the only person who casts “played by real people” versions of video games in my head. When Splicers are coming at you from all sides, you don’t necessarily want them to look like perfect representations of real human beings. When you’re sitting around thinking about video game characters doing things in their spare time, however, you don’t want to picture them exactly as they appear graphically in-game. Therefore, when he’s not killing zombies or parasite-possessed Spaniards, the Leon S. Kennedy of my brain looks a lot like that guy who plays Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. And the Augustus Sinclair of my brain looks less like a 54-year-old dude who hasn’t seen the sun in almost a decade and much more like a smilier, more expressively eyebrowed, and, oddly, therefore more sinister Jon Hamm.

Does anyone else feel newly interested in Augustus Sinclair now? Well, too bad. He meets an ugly end when Sofia Lamb gets hold of him and turns him into an Omega series Big Daddy who can still think, speak, and feel, but can’t control his own body. The suck, right?! You end up killing him per his request so that, like Andrew Ryan, he can die as “a man,” though it’s less of an ideological point since he actually is a prisoner in his own body by the end of BioShock 2, whereas Ryan is just sick of living in the remains of his own failed experiment and wants you to golf club him to death before “Atlas” can order his demise. Bummer, dude. In those in-between times beginning with New Year’s 1958 and ending with the collapse of Persephone in 1968, however, I’d have been quite happy to share a Fine Gin and a dance with Augustus Sinclair, Esquire. Since I never had the opportunity, I’ve had to be satisfied with naming a goldfish after him.

Further discussion:

– Just HOW AMAZING are these games?

– What’s your favorite Plasmid? Favorite weapon? Favorite area of Rapture?

– Does anyone else get super attached to their named Security ‘bots? And maybe wish you could have one in real life?

– Do you prefer the hacking system in BioShock or BioShock 2? I like Pipe Slider better than real-time, myself.

– Harvest or rescue? Why?

– BioShock: Infinite — thoughts! Give ’em to me!

Previously: Alistair.

It only took Jennifer Culp three tries to master Sofia Lamb’s hairstyle.