Before I start writing in earnest, I’m going to say one word.
If this word means nothing to you, if this blog post is the first time you’ve ever come in direct contact with that word, beyond some sporadic passing in a game store, then listen very closely.
You have to stop reading right now! Close this window down and go play Bioshock. If there is the slightest chance of you wanting to play that game, you owe it to yourself not to read any further. The same goes for Bioshock Infinite.
I would never forgive myself if I spoiled this game series for someone who’s never played it.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
Bioshock Infinite casts you as Booker Dewitt, a man hired to find a young woman named Elizabeth.
Piece of cake, right?
If you agree, then you’re clearly not familiar with this game series. (which also means you shouldn’t be reading this.)
As it happens, Elizabeth is kept in Columbia, a fine city famed for its scenic views, it’s peculiar architecture and the fact it’s floating some 15.000 ft in the air.
a murderous, violent bloody rampage, causing death and destruction throughout the city some minor issues with the local population, you rescue Elizabeth from her captivity.
As the game progresses, you find that she has a strange ability to open tears in the fabric of reality, opening windows to other worlds and bringing objects through those windows.
Hijinks ensue… and by hijinks, I of course mean a long, bloody campaign against Zachary Hale Comstock, the self-proclaimed prophet and agent of God, and his fanatical followers, and a revolution led by the equally merciless and devoted “Vox Populi”.
If it seems like I’m glossing over a lot of things, it’s because I’m assuming you’re already familiar with the game. After all, if you’re not, surely you would’ve listened to me and stopped reading by now, right?
And finally, after much blood, sweat, tears and gnashing of teeth, you reach the end, and you’re treated to one of the most mindblowing twists I’ve ever seen.
A large focus of the game, as illustrated and discussed by the twins and quantum physicists Robert and Rosalind Lutece, is the idea of probability, chance and choice. As we reach the ending, we’re shown that there are an infinite number of parallel worlds, for every probable outcome of every probable scenario.
Not only that, but Rosalind Lutece developed the ability to observe and travel between these different realities. Comstock was able to use these “tears” to see the past, present and future of any scenario.
As the siblings (in reality alternate counterparts) put it.
Lives, Lived, Will Live. Dies, Died, Will Die. If we could perceive time as it truly was, what reason would grammatical professors have to get out of bed?
The downside, as you learn during the course of the game, is that the side effects of the machine resulted in Comstock aging beyond his years, and also rendering him sterile. Convinced that Columbia is doomed without his bloodline at the helm, Comstock demanded a solution.
The “Twins” came up with a plan: passing into an alternate reality, and take the child of Comstock’s alternate self. The child in question being Elizabeth. She would then take Comstocks place and fulfill his goal to rain down fiery death on the “Sodom below“.
(After all, if you’re a fanatic religious leader with thousands of followers, you are contractually obligated to rain down fiery death on sinners. it’s part of the job description. Sure, he could choose not to, but then he’d lose his membership card, his discount at the local café and his parking space.)
You and Elizabeth both realize that as long as Comstock exists in any reality, this future will come to pass. As such, you have to kill him before he’s ever born.
To do this, you travel to his birthplace… the baptismal meeting where he went after the massacre of Wounded Knee. The place where he was reborn and abandoned his old name.
And the game ends with Elizabeth drowning you before you can accept the Baptism, preventing Comstock from ever existing.
Now, the more observant among you might be wondering why I’m talking about this at all, if I like this ending so much?
To which my answer is: Who said I liked it?
Ok, that’s not completely fair. I don’t dislike the ending. I just dislike the implication of the ending. This is partly because it renders every choice you make in the game pointless. Spare the couple at the fair, killing Cornelius Slate, picking the bird-locket instead of the cage…. it doesn’t matter, since somewhere else, you made the opposite choice.
And none of your choices affect the ending. At one point, Elizabeth flat out tells us that no matter our choices, we will always end up in the same place.
Of course, this in itself is the point. Having these choices and the alternate realities is really the focus of the game. My own disdain for the illusion of choice aside, what is there to dislike?
The answer: The fact that at one point, you arrive in Rapture, the City from the first and second game.
THIS is where I have a problem, simply because the philosophy and message of this game is violently at odds with the message of the first game!
The first game was all about choice, giving players a new perspective on the idea of free will, with one of the most powerful and astonishing cutscenes in video game history. I don’t even have to describe the scene. If you’ve played the game, I just have to say one sentence.
A Man Chooses. A Slave Obeys
By introducing the idea of alternate realities into the canon of the first two games, they’ve rendered the message of the first and second game completely meaningless.
Suddenly, there is no choice. There is no point in making a decision in the first or second game. Sparing the little sisters or harvesting them, murdering people or showing mercy, it’s all irrelevant. This has now been retconned and established as a FACT in these games.
Had they just left out Rapture from the game, and had this be a self-contained entity, I wouldn’t have minded it!
It could have sparked some debate about whether or not Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite takes place in the same universe. But the moment you see Rapture, that’s all destroyed.
They could’ve called it something different, but they had to keep the name “Bioshock” to make sure it sold well.
Of course, I’m not trying to say that I could do it better. I just feel it’s a shame to have the first game, that was so revolutionary and amazing in how it used cutscenes and the metaphysical concepts of “objectives” and “free will”, be swept aside with a game that’s essentially saying that my choices in that game were meaningless.
Now, I don’t think the game is bad! I know it sounds weird of me to say it, but I think the story is amazing! The characters are great. The visuals are stunning. But I think putting it in the same canon as the first two games was a big mistake.
Had they made it a standalone game, it would have been great, but as an entry in the series, I can’t help but see it as a failure.
One goes into an experiment knowing one could fail
– Robert Lutece