Mark comments on how too many games treat story like an obstacle to the gameplay rather than a centerpiece. BioShock Infinite is a welcome exception.
Note: It’s probably necessary at this point to say that going over the general gib and flow of BioShock Infinite is a spoiler. This article doesn’t touch on any major points, but does talk about BioShock Infinite, so there may be some spoilers if you’ve decided on a complete blackout until you finish it.
I killed a man in front of an innocent girl today.
She had never seen nor experienced death before. She was locked in a cage and never had to fully embrace the idea of “death” — that people die, waste away, and are killed. In cold blood, I ended not only a man’s life but also a girl’s innocence. She had to experience that, and it’s all my fault. From that point on, every execution brought a horrified gasp or a phrase of terror for a while, but, after a bit, they became fewer and farther between. She witnessed every grisly act I performed while rescuing her and, while I was doing it for a good cause (her safety and the clearing away of my debt were pretty high on my sainthood list), I couldn’t help but feel like a monster.
BioShock Infinite, the newest venture from creator Ken Levine and developer Irrational Games, takes you through the floating city of Columbia as Booker Dewitt, a former soldier and currently indebted gambler tasked with saving a girl named Elizabeth from the clutches of the city and its prophet. Elizabeth is the prime example of a home-schooled girl — self-educated, naive, and, more than anything else, incredibly innocent.
As the game’s protagonist, you ruin that innocence in a way that made me, at least, feel like a terrible person with every scared and horrified comment she made. Anytime you perform an execution or anytime you make a choice that ends in grisly death, you’ll get Elizabeth’s feedback — usually a gasp, a small sob, or questions that dig into your moral fiber just like your skyhook (a device used to traverse the skylines around Columbia — it also becomes your melee weapon) cuts deep into a man’s skull or throat. It’s a visceral experience, and one that Irrational Games made me feel terrible about enjoying.
But that guilt is a testament to the incredible storytelling done through this game. It’s a phenomenal experience to actually care, if even for a moment, about how your actions affect a secondary character. In this game, there are a few “choices” you get to make (typical at this point for any heavy, storyline-driven shooter), but it isn’t clear if you’re making the right decision or not. Infinite does a great job of showing you both sides and that what you might consider to be a good decision can always have incredibly bad consequences.
It’s also, sadly enough, a stark contrast to most games I’ve played lately. Companies like Blizzard, which are known for their epic stories and characters, have lately produced massively budgeted sequels and expansions upon formerly deep and fulfilling stories that have, at times, felt incredibly lackluster in their player experiences. It seems that lately money has been tossed more at multiplayer and cinematics than the actual stories that propel them forward. StarCraft — Blizzard’s strategy game that revolutionized the genre and had an amazing story filled with love, deception, and invisible alien robot ninja assassins — feels bland and generic in its current expansion, and the same goes for Diablo III.
It seems like strong storytelling is becoming extinct in video games — like companies no longer care about having an important story to tell, only that they can hurry up and get it over with so they can release the good stuff. Honestly, that’s a damned shame because it’s the one reason why I keep playing games. I may not care if they’re art, but I certainly care that they’re an amazing medium for conveying a message or tale.
In a world where few people finish single-player campaigns, where endings are disappointing and low-budget, and where multiplayer makes millions of dollars, BioShock Infinite was able to make me feel like a monster, and that’s a good thing.