This isn’t going to be organized or maybe not even well-thought out what I’m typing up here, it’s more of a collection of thoughts on the storytelling of video games as of now and Bioshock Infinite’s place in that. I’m late to the party for playing Bioshock Infinite, I’m highly aware of that. I loved the first Bioshock and see that game as a huge step forward for video games, advancing the medium forward in a positive nature and who knew that Infinite would do it just the same if not much better? I’m not claiming it did much in terms of gameplay mechanics or innovation in that regard because…it didn’t. It plays pretty similar to the first Bioshock with one side using guns and the other using vigors (basically plasmids). But this is more on the aspect of storytelling even if the gameplay had some interesting new things like the sky-lines. The story though is one of the most complex, well-thought out video game stories ever.
It doesn’t necessarily make all that much sense nor is it supposed to. This to me is the embodiment of what video game storytelling can be. Open to interpretation, being a meta commentary on the superficial story choice mechanic that rarely actually works (I’m looking at you Dishonored and the awkward, unnecessary tacked-on part of Bioshock), etc. Besides the gorgeous atmosphere of Columbia which Rapture had achieved in the original game, we are slowly leapt into this world. At first it seems somewhat normal despite the complete religious extremism which is obviously an important theme of the story among the many, many themes. And suddenly, extreme, disgusting racism is put right at the choice of the player. Out of left field completely. And that’s when I knew this game was going to be interesting and something different.
Obviously to today’s standards, racism is bad and obviously should be bad. It’s horrible. But, let’s put the game in the perspective of it’s time period, the early 1900s. This is how it was for the most part. Most people were still extremely racist and it is a pretty clear-cut commentary on that aspect and how many games can you think of that actually go ahead and tackle something like that? I can’t think of any at all. I think the fact is period pieces and even more specifically, period pieces set in a completely fictional setting and world, have the ability to be the strongest thematically and bring something new to the table. Columbia provides that. It is a commentary not only on racism in the early 1900s but just in general despite it playing only in reality a small part in the main aspects of the story in the end. American Exceptionalism also plays a part but again, it is just there. The subtleties thrown in this game are what make it special, I couldn’t help but explore nearly every inch of Columbia while playing it because so much work was put into it to portray the false sense and ridiculous American Patriotism some Americans feel especially in that time period. On top of that, we have themes of American capitalism with the character and work of Fink-a captain of industry who treats his workers like labor rather than actual people, and frankly that still plays a part in today’s world of America. We have Daisy Fitzroy who seems to be a normal rebel at first but in the confusing layers of multiple realities of Bioshock Infinite, she comes off as an extremist just as bad as Comstock when she murders Fink in cold blood.
The multiple themes in Infinite are essentially a companion to the ending itself-confusing, complex, and not right in your face. The themes aren’t told directly to you most of the time, you must observe this world and make of it what you want to make of it and a lot is there to observe and commentate on. It isn’t supposed to make complete sense and I’m pretty damn sure Ken Levine knows that. It involves time travel, multiple realities and universes, literally puts you into Rapture once again (and the game is a pretty clear companion piece to the first Bioshock), etc. You aren’t supposed to be able to piece this story entirely together. That would be absurd. Anybody who tries to is completely missing the point. The point being is the commentary on multiple themes especially regarding America and (at least to me) the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth.
Regardless, my thoughts are just a small speck on many people’s thoughts. That is the beauty of this game and what very few games have achieved, extreme amounts of analysis, deservingly so. We needed Infinite. The games industry needed Infinite. This game needs to exist as living proof that video games can and will be the most interesting art form in existence if it continues in this pathway, telling complex, layered, unique, stories that are completely open to interpretation similar to the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. We are getting there. Video games truly are getting to this wonderful point, a point of being so utterly amazing and filled with limitless possibilities. Video games have the one thing that no other art form has: interactivity. Bioshock Infinite displays the advantages of that interactivity even if you are simply pushing the character forward with an analog stick or moving the camera with the other analog stick in a “cutscene.” It adds something so much more compared to anything else. We have truly reached the point of video games tackling an incredible amount of themes in a single game, constructing something as complex as a piece of literature or a movie, and it’s wonderful. Frankly, I could go on and on with more analysis of this game but I won’t, just play it and make of it what you want to make of it.Thanks Ken Levine and the rest of the team for constructing something so mind-bending and game changing especially in regards to triple A games which most definitely need to see more games similar to Infinite and games need to expand upon it further and bring something even more innovative to the table.