A Quick and Dirty BioShock Infinite Analysis

I devoured BioShock Infinite in what, for all intents and purposes, could be called one sitting. I did get up about halfway through and drive down the street for some fast food takeout that I ate while watching Archer — you know, just for a massive palate-cleansing dose of cognitive dissonance — but otherwise it was an early-morning-through-late-evening furious run of 13 hours.

There are no shortages of BioShock Infinite reviews, so I will spare the world yet another one that tells you what you already know. Infinite is phenomenal, and you should buy it and play it. What I do want to talk about, and only briefly at this point, is what the game made me think about on a higher, conceptual level as I played and finished it.

This is a land of what I call the “gray spoiler,” the sort of spoiler that isn’t an explicit recounting of key story beats, but an area where if you think hard enough on the subject you might glean the shape of the story and as a result the directions it might go during its many twists and turns. For example, knowing that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is an explicit spoiler, however knowing that the story of Star Wars is, at least in part, about a son’s fight to redeem his father, might lead you to guess in the right directions. This discussion will lean to the latter part of that example, and thus should be avoided entirely by those who have not played or do not wish to risk spoiling the terrific overall story of Bioshock Infinite.

Do we understand one another? Good.

To me, what is genuinely impressive about the nature of Infinite’s story is how wide the net is cast, and how full the bounty it ultimately catches. There is no way to encapsulate a definitive statement on what Infinite is about, certainly not in the same way that you could haphazardly reduce down many of the themes of the first BioShock to being about Objectivism, though I actually think that is overly reduced, because Objectivism itself holds so many ideas within its confines.

In fact, I’d say where BioShock is a look at the tenets of a philosophy described and encapsulated within a story (specifically Objectivism within the stories of Ayn Rand), Infinite is Irrational’s stab at creating its own philosophy within its own story. In other words, instead of trying to deconstruct what Rand did, it is trying to replicate it with its own philosophical ideas, though it's probably not as concerned as Rand was with whether you agree with those philosophies.

I say this because Infinite contains a multitude of ideas or inferences about everything from race, to religion, to the metaphysical, to free will in the multiverse.

Where a lot of people, I think, have gotten hung up on the setting and the idea that Infinite is a criticism on American exceptionalism, I actually just see that as a context to create an isolated playground to explore broader ideas. After all, the America of Atlas Shrugged is there to serve the ideas contained within the Objectivist agenda.

I feel it necessary at this point to offer a brief word on authorial intent; specifically that I don’t care much about it. It could entirely be that anyone associated with actually making the game may look at the above and the content to come, and to think, “We didn’t mean to do any of that stuff.” That’s the beauty of art to me, that authorial intent is completely isolated and separate from the way media is received. So, to me, the question of what Ken Levine and his team meant to say with their story is far less interesting than what I and other players in the narrative interpret it to say. After all, a word is irrelevant in a speaker’s mouth. It only gains value in what the listener hears.

Anyway, I’m not ready to start the Cult of Irrational and proclaim Infinitism some new philosophy to which I should subscribe. But I do think there’s a very interesting way that Infinite ends up talking about not only our place in the world, but the agency we have over that place. I’m going to tread close to the spoiler line here, so beware for a few sentences — but in the very first scene, Infinite lays out an interesting question that you only realize much later. Booker DeWitt does not row. Why? Because he doesn’t.

The language of that segment is both very simple and very complex. There is an underlying question that I think isn’t clearly answered, which is whether he does not row because he chooses, or because the universe chooses him not to.

I think this is the part where religion comes in, and there’s a very good reason that the City of Columbia is so devout. If you look at religion in Infinite, it is not specifically any one religion — though it squares with the general trends of 1912 America, which is to say Protestant leaning. Infinite almost has its own independent religion, where the Prophet is a sort of deific figurehead protecting the Lamb and his followers from evil as manifest in the form of the False Prophet, or specifically, the player.

But ultimately Infinite resolves itself in a way that removes the mystery and divinity of that religion, which is interesting, because I think that by taking that approach, Infinite’s critique of religion as an ideology is defanged. After all, you can only understand that which seems divine in the game with extraordinary knowledge that, while not explicitly unknowable, for all purposes is unattainable by almost anyone. It does not paint the followers of the Columbia mystical vision as stupid, though it does cast them as unwittingly manipulated, which still could be seen to indict the institution of religion in a way, because in the end the foundation that the religion is built on has nothing to do with any kind of god. It has to do with very, very complex science, and people who manipulated that science to make it seem mystical.

That is not to say that the game is anti-religious. In fact, I don’t know in the end whether Infinite really says anything about capital-G-God, or whether he exists or doesn’t. It speaks only to the finite construction of religion within the terms of the one created in the game, and which is a knowable, finite thing. Infinite doesn’t really say, if you believe in God then you are misled, but that these people who believe in this god have been fooled.

In the end, Irrational's creation walks the fascinatingly fine line of critiquing corrupted institutions while not blaming the often innocent or at least misled followers of those institutions. After all, the thing about The Prophet in Infinite is that, by any reasonable measure to a citizen of Columbia, he is one in what seems every legitimate way.

So in the final quick and dirty analysis, I think if I were to distill Infinite down to a few words, the most obvious would be redemption. The game oozes redemption at every corner, though I think the corollary to that is equally true, which is that Infinite is also very much about corruption. It is manifest in the very deterioration of the city around you, as well as some of the institutions that slide from one role to another. Even within the way Elizabeth discovers her own abilities, it is evident that imparting a singular will upon the world, even with seemingly pure intent, ultimately corrupts and undermines the very things she wants to preserve.

It doesn't simply leave it at that, a surface statement that sounds suspiciously like "power corrupts, and absolute power ..." yada, yada, yada. Without diving too much into the ending, I think what it really is saying is that ignorant or cynical power naturally corrupts. There is this undercurrent, in the story of redemption, in the story of corruption, in the story of the religion, that knowledge unbinds us. It does so often with unflinching and uncompromising results, but power throughout this game lies in those who "know," and the way to undermine or co-opt their power is to also know, or even know more.

Or, perhaps, that is simply me projecting my desire onto the story I've been told. There's a lot of meat to gnaw at, but in truth not a very clear message to take away without unpacking Infinite's substantial baggage. That's good, though, I think. If nothing else it warms my heart to have a game worth thinking about, even if Ken and his team ultimately do hold the trump cards, because they are the ones who know.

Comments

The amusing thing about this, to me, is that this is true of every story you've ever read, or ever will read.

Not at all true. Authors are very frequently surprised by how stories come out. In the hands of the particularly talented writers, characters have a great deal of agency, and often refuse to do what the author had originally intended.

Sometimes, by the end, they're nearly as surprised as you are.

And yes, there are plenty of stories where everything was pre-planned and nobody really had any agency at all, but those books tend not to sparkle.

Metafilter had a brilliant comment, a really different take on what the design team was reaching for. I spoilered everything after the first paragraph:

emmtee on Metafilter[/url]]

That's my take on Levine's team's intentions with the Vox, too - I think ultimately the payoff to their story is a victim of the huge amount of content cut from the game during development.

Spoiler:

My best guess is that we were supposed to see a reasonable, sympathetic and fundamentally unsuccessful Vox initially, and that with every pulling-through of a reality where the only criterion was 'the Vox are more successful' by Elizabeth (shocked at the oppression in Finkton, fantasising about a revolution like in Les Mis and so on), Daisy and the movement became more morally compromised and willing to admit not just legitimately aggrieved members of the underclass, but every thug, criminal and white shopkeeper secretly longing to burn his neighbour's house down. Possibly morally compromised by Booker being one of their leaders, even, and by Daisy's horrific treatment having made her completely snap rather than turn hard and determined.

That made them able to rally enough fighters to really get somewhere against Columbia's military, ruthless enough to just march into Chen Lin's place, beat the owners to death and take what they needed rather than tasking random passersby with asking him nicely, and burdened with a membership largely distanced enough from their racial/class liberation origins that they continued to burn, murder and loot long after Finkton was taken.

The problem is, we never get to meet that initial Vox, violent when necessary but tempered by their morals and perhaps truer to their real life equivalents. I think we're just supposed to assume they're like that. We get the briefest look at pre-reality-alteration Fitzroy, and she certainly doesn't seem bugf*ck nuts like her post-Scratch self, but it's nowhere near enough contact to build the impression that later on, it's Elizabeth seeking solely a more successful Vox without any consideration of the variables that would have to change in order for them to be more successful, rather than anything inherent to a racial liberation movement, that turns them into an indiscriminately murderous horde.

If you look closely at the surveillance photos scattered around the police stations in the Finkton section (definitely the impound building, probably elsewhere too) there are a bunch of sepia-tinted screenshots of various places, once of which is labelled something like 'Vox headquarters?' and (as far as I know) never actually appears in-game. My guess is, Booker and Elizabeth were originally supposed to go there sometime early in Finkton and get to know pre-alteration Daisy and her movement a little better so there's something for their tampered-with selves to contrast. Without that contrast the later-game Vox just look like the continuation of the little we saw earlier, and it comes across very much as if Levine and co are trying to say 'this is the logical consequence of the oppressed taking up arms' when I doubt that was their intention at all. Still, judging what's actually on the page, so to speak, the story-as-told has horribly f*cked-up implications.

Oh, and then in the next comment, FAMOUS MONSTER had this to say:

Spoiler:

This is exactly right. The moment when you enter the new universe is the moment when the game first makes one of its big themes clear: That by trying to meddle around with time and space to fix things - by Booker (or Booker using Elizabeth as a proxy) trying to change anything but himself - you will only ever make it worse. You don't just flip ahead a few days in this new universe to find that the old Daisy is now a bloodthirsty maniac - you enter a world where you were on her side, you turned her into the same coldblooded killer that you once were, and then you died, and now everything is even more out of control than it was before.

It's not an accident that that section of the game contains a whole lot of moving goalposts and objectives that repeatedly move away from you. You go to get the weapons cache but Chen Lin is dead so you need to go find him in a different universe. You go into that universe and he's not responsive and doesn't have his tools. You go find his tools but you can't transport them. You go into another universe where the tools have been moved and now his tools are at his place but he and his wife are dead.

Booker doesn't really change in his outlook as a character until near the game's end, and that's when he starts getting important work done.

I thought both those comments were exceptionally insightful.

Malor wrote:

Not at all true. Authors are very frequently surprised by how stories come out.

I think you missed my point. Stories end the way they end. It's not like there's really any chance that Frodo WON'T get to Mt. Doom, or that Lennie is going to get to see the rabbits.

To have an issue that there was never really any choice in Bioshock Infinite is amusing.. there's no choice in any novel that you are reading. The characters will do what they do, and the ending will be what it is.

Valmorian wrote:
Malor wrote:

Not at all true. Authors are very frequently surprised by how stories come out.

I think you missed my point. Stories end the way they end. It's not like there's really any chance that Frodo WON'T get to Mt. Doom, or that Lennie is going to get to see the rabbits.

To have an issue that there was never really any choice in Bioshock Infinite is amusing.. there's no choice in any novel that you are reading. The characters will do what they do, and the ending will be what it is.

Not true!

IMAGE(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/f0/Cave_of_time.jpg/220px-Cave_of_time.jpg)

bnpederson wrote:

Not true!

IMAGE(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/f0/Cave_of_time.jpg/220px-Cave_of_time.jpg)

Touche! And yet, all we've done there is increase the number of possible endings.. they're all still fixed, though.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Spoiler:

What's more, it goes against the fundamental building blocks of what makes a good story: Your characters need agency. It's not enough to want something, they need to have the power to try to make it happen.

Spoiler:

Well, my point was the character did have agency, he just chose not to utilize it, because instead he kept trying to change a past that already happened instead of changing his future. As for the next point:

When you rob your protagonist of that agency, if you make his world one in which the freedom's made up and the choices don't matter, then why should I as the audience even give a damn whether he reaches his goals or not? Either he succeeds or he doesn't, who gives a crap? It's never in doubt either way, so I might as well not even bother getting emotionally invested.

...I guess I can't really respond other than shrugging my shoulders (or maybe saying I enjoy the journey of the character more than the destination), because that paragraph nails down exactly why the vast majority of sci-fi or fantasy I come across bores me. As Valmorian states, when everything from LOTR to Star Trek continuously refuse to set in stone any universal rules and constantly rely on an immeasurable amount of deux ex machinas, it's hard for me to feel engaged with anything going on. BioShock Infinite is one of the few that interests me because it's trying to say something beyond the fantastical setting, or at least to me it is.

So on the contrary, I don't feel the ending is cheating, because as I interpreted it, it was the main character finally reaching a revelation he could have made at the beginning. Clearly, that's not how you interpret it though.

*I disagree that in the epilogue we are supposed to believe that Booker remembers anything about what occurred. What we see is a Booker, not necessarily our Booker, in the 1893-verse, opening the door to his daughter's nursery. There's no reason to believe that this Booker knows anything about what transpired. In fact, I'm pretty sure the ending implies that he can't know anything about it, because our Booker was murdered in order to wipe Comstock and Elizabeth from the infinity of existences. If he DOES remember them, then they're not wiped from existence, are they?

I think the ending is so quick and so vague that I don't think it's safe to assume anything. You're right in that it's possible that he doesn't remember anything, but I think it's hard to tell. One possible theory is that since that would have been the prime moment when the meddling between those two timelines first occurred, the universe sends him there afterwards in an attempt to reset itself.

Regardless, I feel the ending is hopeful because it ends with the chance - however slight - that Booker has redeemed himself and is going to make the changes that actually matter, those he has yet to make. (Especially if you take the whole game as being completely inside his head, which I feel also has enough material in the narrative to be a valid interpretation.)

Valmorian wrote:

Touche! And yet, all we've done there is increase the number of possible endings.. they're all still fixed, though.

Also, let's be honest with ourselves. We always said the ending we got didn't count and reverted back until we made the choices that would lead to the ideal one on the last page.

Valmorian wrote:
KaterinLHC wrote:
Spoiler:

When you rob your protagonist of that agency, if you make his world one in which the freedom's made up and the choices don't matter, then why should I as the audience even give a damn whether he reaches his goals or not? Either he succeeds or he doesn't, who gives a crap? It's never in doubt either way, so I might as well not even bother getting emotionally invested.

The amusing thing about this, to me, is that this is true of every story you've ever read, or ever will read.

As a writer, yes, I have ultimate control over what my characters do or don't do. But that's not what agency means in the context of characterization. A character's "agency" means that, within the framework of the story, he or she has the power to make his or her own decisions, based on his or her own desires, ideals, goals, and unique understanding of the world.

As audiences, we engage with stories out of empathy: Only when we care and sympathize with the characters do we stick around to find out what happens next. Character agency is what creates an empathetic bond between story and audience; it's what gets us to stop thinking of the characters as constructs and instead think of them as "people", people we love, people we hate, people we want to know more about.

The one truth of all fiction is this: We have the power to move our own lives forward. And whether or not it's true in life doesn't matter -- we need it to be true in our stories.

Spoiler:

So when a writer takes that character agency away, when he or she shows that every choice Elizabeth or Booker thought they made was only the illusion of choice, the writer has effectively smashed that empathetic bond formed between the story and audience. The writer has tricked you, all in the name of a cheap "gotcha". That's not a very nice thing to do.

KaterinLHC wrote:

The one truth of all fiction is this: We have the power to move our own lives forward. [/spoiler]

I think Camus, Chuck Palahniuk, Nietzsche, Kafka, Vonnegut, Heller, Albee, and Sartre would disagree with that statement. You may not particularly *like* absurdist/existentialist/nihilist fiction, but to pretend it doesn't exist seems odd.

KaterinLHC wrote:

As a writer, yes, I have ultimate control over what my characters do or don't do. But that's not what agency means in the context of characterization. A character's "agency" means that, within the framework of the story, he or she has the power to make his or her own decisions, based on his or her own desires, ideals, goals, and unique understanding of the world.

It's kind of telling that everyone replying to my point is citing authorship, when what I said was about reading. The inevitability and lack of choice in Bioshock is inherent in every novel you read. While as a reader I can pretend that the characters in the book have agency, even a brief moment of reflection would show that of course they do not.

A novel you are reading is the purest form of determinism there is.

Note: Of course, this is partly because I don't understand how anyone can believe in the concept of free will (in the "pure actor" sense) in any situation.

Dont you all think the part of religion was a bit forced into the story?
Also why is there no sane person in the game? Not even Booker or the walking Voxophone called Elizabeth seemed sane.

Dont miss my ravings in the thread of the "GWJ Conference Call Episode 338" post

Fine. The one truth of 95% of all fiction. Better?

I mean, let's not pretend that nihilism is the rule in fiction, rather than the exception.

Loving the discussion in this thread. While I agree with a lot of Lara's core points, ultimately I still enjoyed it - but I've always had a bit of a soft spot for nihilism (in the weaker sense, rather than full-blown Nietzsche), particularly in cases like this where it's an aspect of the story but not necessarily all of it.

Spoiler:

Time travel/multiple universes really are hard from a story POV. Personally I'm in the "extinction of timelines doesn't undermine the story that occurred in those timelines" camp, but I can equally see why others would come away with a quite different response.

What can change the nature of a man?

Spoiler:

I always found "nothing" and "belief" to be the two most powerful/interesting answers, which may reveal something about the warped nature of my thought processes. I liked the parallel in some of the themes between this and Torment, but I guess those are the logical themes to investigate in the multi-universe setting. Or vice versa.

ScurvyDog wrote:
Elysium wrote:

I’m going to tread close to the spoiler line here, so beware for a few sentences — but in the very first scene, Infinite lays out an interesting question that you only realize much later. Booker DeWitt does not row. Why? Because he doesn’t.

I didn't pick up on this statement until the second playthrough, and then the importance of this dialogue to nearly everything about the experience hit me over the head.

Spoiler:

My brain would now add: "would/did it matter if/when he did?"

Spoiler:

"didn't/doesn't/won't?"

Sonicator wrote:

What can change the nature of a man?

Spoiler:

I always found "nothing" and "belief" to be the two most powerful/interesting answers, which may reveal something about the warped nature of my thought processes. I liked the parallel in some of the themes between this and Torment, but I guess those are the logical themes to investigate in the multi-universe setting. Or vice versa.

Interesting that you bring up Torment - I've found myself comparing the themes in both as well, but came to the opposite conclusion.

Spoiler:

Torment is a fundamentally humanist story; the Nameless One can only find atonement by confronting the worst parts of himself, acknowledging his faults, and making the choice to move on. His ability to choose, or not choose, is key. Booker utterly lacks the agency to save himself; he can only be saved by Grace, which is what Elizabeth comes to symbolize. It will ALWAYS end in blood for Booker, and he lacks the power to change it, as the Lutece twin's drive home. To me, that story is anti-humanist - very much instead a parable of the born-again concept of grace (external force) as the only means to salvation, rather than something a person can enact on their own.

YMMV, but this is NOT a story that works for me, and like Lara, I felt pretty upset by the nihilistic ending, and felt is was a drastically unsatisfactory end to characters I'd grown very emotionally invested in. No one was able to change, or grow - even Elizabeth fell into the same trap Fitzroy did.

Bastion spoilers below:

Spoiler:

Another comparison that's come up is the two endings to Bastion. To me, the only real ending was to carry on with the broken world, and do what you could do. Others will disagree strongly, and argue that restoring the world to the way it was before is the logical ending. The same contrast between humanism and divine grace is present, and I'm curious how the divide between BI and Bastion works out, because I'm willing to bet it's the same partisan lines :)

I have plenty of issue with Bioshock beyond the philosophical themes, but spoiler tags are a pain and I went over them more in another thread and won't bring it here. It's great to read such diverse analysis, even if I disagree with many of you

KaterinLHC wrote:

Fine. The one truth of 95% of all fiction. Better?

I mean, let's not pretend that nihilism is the rule in fiction, rather than the exception.

Fantastic. Now we can agree to disagree. I believe Albee's "zoo story" is the best play ever written. I imagine you'd want to burn an effigy of him yearly.

Traditional fiction is easy. Formulaic. I don't need the heroes journey retold for the thousandth time. Brazil. Zoo Story. Gregor Samsa. These are hard stories well told. I'm not nominating anyone for a Pulitzer here, but I applaud a hard story well told, rather than another simple triumph over evil saga in a new setting.

EDIT: Someone pointed out to me like, nobody on the planet has seen Albee's 1958 play, since it's never been made into a movie, so here's a surprisingly good 1 hour production done by some students. You have to crank the volume, but its very good honestly. And if you have an hour to understand existentialism/nihilism crossover literature, its worth it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctPun...

Whew! Getting a bit hostile in here! In any case, it's clear that there's always themes and tropes in fiction that some people don't like. That's ok. The problem is when we treat those things as if they're objectively bad, instead of just not our cup of tea.

DrunkenSleipnir wrote:

Interesting that you bring up Torment - I've found myself comparing the themes in both as well, but came to the opposite conclusion.

Hmmm, I like your reading of the contrast. I think I'll need to percolate some of that through my brain a bit more. Comparison with Bastion is an interesting one too.

Are we spoilering these?

My take:

Spoiler:

It's redemptive. It's nihilistic. It's about choice. It's totally predetermined. There is hope that the future will be better, right after I self-annihilate. Oh no there go all of the Elizabeths. Well, except for the one after the credits because ______. This thing is ABSURD. And I guess I mean that in both senses.

By the end of this game any sense of plot coherence or rules to this universe(s) are so shot to pieces that we're pretty much just going scene to scene, accepting constants and variables as they give them to us. It's a deus ex machina if I've ever seen one.

It's Amelia Pond rebooting the universe from memory because the show just decided that's what is possible and that's what's going to happen. It doesn't really follow from anything other than some foreshadowing that could have applied to many other endings. Wibbley-Wobbley. And I liked that episode, so I can get why people dig this.

I agree with Lara that it's a really nihilistic ending and I certainly don't find any sort of redemption there. Unless we're counting "nuke my future from orbit - it's the only way to be sure" as redemptive. Which whatever, YMMV. But I like that Rabbit name-dropped Camus, because I connected Booker with a kinda broken Sisyphus. Broken because Booker isn't able to choose to enjoy his appointed, absurd task. Because he can't learn anything because each time he rolls the rock up he's a discreet iteration of Booker with no accumulated memories or context from all of his repetitions.

I guess the Luteces are where that gets stored, but they really are pretty unhelpful. "He doesn't row." Well, maybe if you clued him into that he might. Or something. And so this game strips our Booker of even that ability - to learn, to change, to make choices beyond suicide. It's just random variables, it's just flip a coin enough and eventually you get 122 or whatever heads in a row. Bird or cage, doesn't matter. In the end it's whatever because whatever. Maybe some other Booker will figure a way around it. Chances are good, I guess- there's infinitely more. But you'll never know. In that sense this game is way more bleak than Nietzsche, Camus or Sartre ever were - all of them championed our unique ability of coming to an understanding of the absurdity, and to possibly transcend it - through living a heroic life, being happy in our absurd task, or accepting radical responsibility for our absurd selves.

And my reading of the end there I think proves that you kinda take out of the ending what you bring into it, because I sure do like the existentialists. I don't really know if that's a compliment to the game, though. This game throws so much at the wall, so many half-formed themes and ideas, something is bound to stick for you. It's either a pretty good story or just really arbitrary but we've become so invested that damn it we're going to pull some sort of meaning out of it because the game was so pretty and Elizabeth was so cool and shooting dudes is fun and did you see the Songbird and I feel all of the feels when I think about Elizabeth dancing on that pier.

JUST LIKE LIFE, GUYS. *serious expression*

I was reminded of back in my ministry days watching people argue over different ideas about God's omnipotence, specifically about the idea of predestination. Those convos generally ended up like most of the discussions I've seen about Binfinite's ending.

rabbit wrote:

Traditional fiction is easy. Formulaic. I don't need the heroes journey retold for the thousandth time. Brazil. Zoo Story. Gregor Samsa. These are hard stories well told. I'm not nominating anyone for a Pulitzer here, but I applaud a hard story well told, rather than another simple triumph over evil saga in a new setting.

The first 90% of the story was not a J Campbell style Hero's Journey - it wasn't even it about Booker. We followed the development of Elizabeth and Vox, and got all the cues for a different story. It followed a Heroine Journey cycle much more then a Hero's Journey, and I challenge anyone to point me towards another video game that does that. Seriously, I am looking for game suggestions

Spoiler:

BI was a pleasure because it wasn't like all other games I've played - until the end. All of Elizabeth's development as a character was rendered meaningless because she ended up as plot device; nothing more then a mechanism for Booker's own story. It's like every other game because the world revolves around the white guy. Nevermind Elizabeth, nevermind the Vox. For me, it wasn't cut from the same cloth as every other game I've played until the end, when it was disappointingly typically.

I disagree that myth arch fiction is easy, or even necessarily formulaic, but that's not really a discussion for here. Also, to clarify, the Life Cycle myth archtype (Hero's/Heroine's Journey) is not about triumph over evil, it's a story template about conquering oneself and reaching maturity. Fundamentally, that includes themes of redemption at one's own hand. I'd also argue that the nihilistic/Grace story BI tells is just as much a myth arch as a Life Cycle journey story. It's just one I very much dislike. YMMV.

rabbit wrote:

Traditional fiction is easy. Formulaic. I don't need the heroes journey retold for the thousandth time. Brazil. Zoo Story. Gregor Samsa. These are hard stories well told. I'm not nominating anyone for a Pulitzer here, but I applaud a hard story well told, rather than another simple triumph over evil saga in a new setting.

For most of the game, Bioshock: Infinite WAS going to be a hard story well told -- until

Spoiler:

the final segment, in which the story became an allegory, wherein the protagonists' agency mattered less than the authors' need to make a point about the permanence of sin, the illusion of free will and the gift of divine grace. That's not a hard story. That's a story we've seen told again and again and again in the Christian (particularly the Protestant) literary tradition.

Worse yet, as Sleipnir mentioned, the ending completely negated what had been a fairly brilliant exploration of the agency of oppressed peoples (via the Vox, but also Elizabeth). For about 75% of the game, the message had been that those without power can not wait for freedom to be given to them, that they must seize it for themselves -- and yet, there are consequences of that choice to seize freedom; that every revolution, be they metaphorical or literal, eventually becomes bloody. And while I wasn't wild about the idea of Booker becoming the martyr of the Revolution (white savior trope), I thought it only further reinforced the point that one's choices matter; that we may not be able to erase our past but we can still learn from it and change our ways. It felt like a story of humanist empowerment.

The message of the ending, however, is exactly the opposite: That the freedom you seize is an illusion. That these oppressed peoples can't end their own oppression. Indeed, if you're not the white middle-aged male protagonist, then apparently the only freedom from oppression is to be found in non-existence.

I mean, not even Elizabeth ends her own oppression by murdering Comstock -- because Comstock must first submit to her hand. If he doesn't submit, she doesn't succeed. It's his choice, not hers. And he gets the ability to start over. Not Elizabeth. She's wiped from the slate.

So the plight of the Vox, the victimization of Elizabeth, the oppressions of an infinity of existences, all of it comes back to one white middle-aged man's personal angst in the end, and all of it can be fixed by a single choice of that one white middle-aged man to submit himself to his own redemption.

I don't mean this in a personal way, rabbit, but the idea that the white middle-aged man is the center of the universe is, I suspect, a very comfortable story for a white middle-aged male audience to digest. Not so much for someone who might not be that. To me, it came off like the woman's story, the story of a girl maturing into the Divine-Mother-Queen, was only incidental to that of the white guy. It didn't matter one bit.

And as for the racial minorities and impoverished people in the Vox, well, their story mattered even less. An entire revolution, the Voice of the People crying out for freedom, only to be silenced because one white guy needed to be forgiven for choosing to be baptized that one time.

I don't mean this in a personal way, rabbit, but the idea that the white middle-aged man is the center of the universe is, I suspect, a very comfortable story for a white middle-aged male audience to digest. Not so much for someone who might not be that. To me, it came off like the woman's story, the story of a girl maturing into the Divine-Mother-Queen, was only incidental to that of the white guy. It didn't matter one bit.

How can one not take it personally when someone says "the reason you like it is because of this thing you are." It's literally no different saying "you only like that book because your a woman" or " you only like that because your black" instead of entertaining that any part of your own thinking could be questioned.

I think we just agree not to talk about it before I get angry.

C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER! Wow. Quadruple posts.

rabbit wrote:
I don't mean this in a personal way, rabbit, but the idea that the white middle-aged man is the center of the universe is, I suspect, a very comfortable story for a white middle-aged male audience to digest. Not so much for someone who might not be that. To me, it came off like the woman's story, the story of a girl maturing into the Divine-Mother-Queen, was only incidental to that of the white guy. It didn't matter one bit.

How can one not take it personally when someone says "the reason you like it is because of this thing you are." It's literally no different saying "you only like that book because your a woman" or " you only like that because your black" instead of entertaining that any part of your own thinking could be questioned.

I think we just agree not to talk about it before I get angry.

I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, that wasn't my intent. And nor was what I wrote meant as a personal attack, or an attempt to dismiss the opinions of others.

What I meant was that one's position in life affects how one views a story, and the value one finds in it. This is true of me, this is true of you, this is true of white people and black people and blue Martians from the 24th century. It's true of everybody. It's on us to question, identify and acknowledge how our particular life situation and experiences influence our perspective. Because as much as fiction allows us to put ourselves in other people's shoes, it is inherently a limited exercise, because we're so used to wearing our own shoes, and some shoes will fit us better than others.

I am a white, 30-something, cishet, agnostic woman living in a fairly comfortable economic status. I enjoy considerable privileges in some ways, and I struggle against oppressive forces in other ways. All of these things influence the way I come to stories: the value I find in them; their power; their relevance and meaning. I'm not saying your perspective is wrong because it differs from mine. I'm saying, simply, that it differs.

Spoiler:

But what offended me so much about the ending of Bioshock: Infinite (among other things) is that the message is that my perspective doesn't matter one bit. The experiences of women, the experiences of minorities, the experiences of the oppressed -- all of them hinged upon an older white man's choice, and could be negated at his will. Only his agency mattered. Only his agency changed anything. As I said in a previous post, the message of BioShock: Infinite is that the only freedom a woman or a minority or the poor can find from oppression is in non-existence, and that it's not even their choice to begin with. That's a fundamentally offensive, even hurtful, message to me.

That's not to say that it is impossible for a white, middle-aged man to also find that message offensive and hurtful -- heck, I think Sleipnir was just as pained as I was by the ending -- only that to do so, he must first step outside his own fairly comfortable shoes and try on somebody else's. That's all.

You're kind of arguing against yourself here Katarin.

Spoiler:

In one post you claim Booker has no choice, then in another you argue he's the only one who does have choices.

#4

#3

#2!

Katerin, you didn't lose any points for that post as far as I'm concerned. Just giving us more food for thought and discussion to analyze.

Spoiler:

I agree with trichy's interpretation that Booker's arc is actually to realize his selfish nature no matter which of the two main paths he takes around the baptism choice. Just because that realization results in removing all the events of the game from history doesn't mean it "didn't happen". It did happen, specifically it happened to us, the player. I see how you can be upset about the events themselves being wiped out, but they live on in the reader/player/viewer due to the nature of a story.

Now as to the meaning of this, I read BI as actually kind of having a similar statement about player agency as the original Bioshock. In Bioshock 1, the "would you kindly" twist made you question your role as the player, and whether you were just a slave to the game. In BI, I read the "this has played out hundreds of times the same way" thing as also kind of reflecting on the nature of the player's relationship with the game.

In video games, we love the idea that player interaction produces a unique experience due to emergent gameplay. This is true in small ways, but in the larger narrative, the game can only play out in a limited number of ways that the developers actually built, which is usually just one. This ties into the whole "constants and variables" theme. There are small variables, but there are constants that cannot be changed. I read this as questioning how flexible the video game medium really is, when you get right down to it. Maybe he's saying that, in the choice between asserting control in order to tell a story and allowing the player total freedom, he believes it's more important to tell the story and that means ultimately restricting player freedom?

On that note, when you were walking among the infinite lighthouse sea and you saw other copies of Booker and Elizabeth running along the piers around you, my interpretation of that scene was that those represented other players playing the game as well. They may have made slightly different variable choices about who to kill, or how they dispatched enemies, etc. But ultimately they ended up in the same place. The only way that scene would have been cooler in my mind is if it was networked and those were literally other human players online at the same time as me.

Blammo72 wrote:

Dont you all think the part of religion was a bit forced into the story?

I don't think it was forced. As in the original Bioshock, you're examining a method of (for lack of a better word) control/comfort. Ryan peddles the idea that you are entitled to everything you create, deference to the less fortunate be damned. Suddenly, being a well-off person owes to your bootstrappingness and overall superiority, not to the social capital you were fortunate enough to draw upon. In turn, Comstock sells his city above the hill as a new Eden, with those that live in Columbia as chosen/saved. You see, you're not really living with people that are national separatists, you've been fated to rise above the Sodom!

In both case, you're making alterations to the social contract to justify the specific brand of insanity being proposed. It just so happens that turn-of-the-20th century folks would be more receptive to Spiritual arguments than economic ones. The third Great Awakening happens in US History about 10-20 years before the game's setting, after all.

There's also undertones to the notion that Comstock reduces his guilt by becoming an evangelical Believer, casting himself as a savior that had sinned, and can now go spread the good word. The only way he can get over his past transgressions is to be reborn and commit himself to a Good Work of some kind. (Arguably, that good work is razing the world below that drove him to sin).

As for Katerin's arguments:

Spoiler:

Though I felt a kind of existential emptiness at the ending, some of my investment was sucked out during the events of the Finktown assault. When you find Chen Lin's dead body, and Elizabeth tells you that if she opens the tear you won't be able to return, I rationalized that my actions in that world would be rendered moot. I was, in effect, losing all the progress I made in that first Columbia, because I would be entering a New World without a way to get back. It's a very small, but I believe very powerful, choice that gets tossed aside for plot expediency. My actions from then on (even more so once the tools are tear-a-ported), weren't as weighty because this was just Some New World. It was a pretty significant shift for me, because while I was ok with altering the playspace to benefit myself (yes, I WOULD like a crate of medicine and a friendly PatriotBot delivered to my feet! thank you, Liz!), I was much, much less comfortable completely rewriting the world I was walking through.

In that respect, the ending wasn't a complete letdown. I had already walked through three(?) worlds. That there were infinite permutations out there wasn't hard to swallow. What importance was my journey in the face of vast, limitless possibilities?

And in that respect, I think the ending challenges the player to find their own value in the narrative. If you're there for the happy ending where Comstock is consumed by his own hubris, the sky-racists are purged, and Columbia leads a new era of prosperity under the graces of Lady Elizabeth thanks to the noble sacrifice of Booker DeWitt... well, you don't get it that easy, do you? I think, in its dark tone, the game asks that you consider just if redemption is possible. If it is, what's the price you need to pay? If it's not, how do you go on? And If your choices are meaningless in the context of the story's eventual conclusion, what (if anything) do you gain from making them?

I also believe there's something to be said about that father-daughter relationship that gets teased out through the game. Maybe something about how a toxic relationship can't be fixed, can't be atoned for, and that it's better in some cases just to let go and not risk hurting the individual any more? Or something about Booker's death freeing Elizabeth from his shadow, allowing her to be an individual, be free of his influence, free from being a tool? Or maybe that the function of parenthood is to provide for your child, perhaps at self-cost? I don't know, but it's something I'll be looking at when I start my 1999 playthrough.

"Booker DeWitt does not row. Why? Because he doesn’t.

The language of that segment is both very simple and very complex. There is an underlying question that I think isn’t clearly answered, which is whether he does not row because he chooses, or because the universe chooses him not to."

"He DOESN'T row." is, as you noted, an very important line, but I think I disagree as to why. It's not very interesting to me if he doesn't row because he chooses not to, or because he's fated not to; just that he doesn't and, more importantly, the Lutece twins are switched on to that fact. This early line hints at the subplot which I haven't seen people discussing very often.

Spoiler:

The Lutece twins have a project they've been banging their heads against for a long time, and it involves scouring the multi-verse to find instances Booker to throw against their respective Comstocks in hopes of dislodging an Elizabeth in one of them. This is why they know he doesn't row, because in the 120 or so instances they've seen so far, he never has. Whether he chooses to or not isn't really discussed that I can recall.

This also gives a creepy bent to the situation where Booker dies when Elizabeth is not around, and suddenly you're standing in front a gray door. Booker is dead, and the Luteces are fetching a new one to throw into the fray.

This is the smartest thing I've read yet, and I TOTALLY hadn't thought of this:

Spoiler:
benu302000 wrote:

This also gives a creepy bent to the situation where Booker dies when Elizabeth is not around, and suddenly you're standing in front a gray door. Booker is dead, and the Luteces are fetching a new one to throw into the fray.