Okay, so I have to vent some writerly envy.
Over a year ago (I don’t remember exactly when anymore), I conceived a story idea about a guy who’s obsessed with theme parks who sets out to create an infinitely novel ride, and in the course of building this contraption, traps himself in a semi-stable time loop. Quantum mechanics played the part of my very vague phlebotinum.
It became an overwrought short story that I tried to make work for quite a while before finally trunking it and moving on to other things.
Flash forward to a few weekends ago, when I decided to celebrate my birthday by buying BioShock Infinite while it was on sale for $10. As is my want when I have a shiny new game, I tore through it in a week (and spent one very long Saturday powering through the majority of the game).
Spoilers for BioShock Infinite follow.
So as I was playing through this game, already tragically aware of the ending twist (because you just can’t live on the internet and successfully avoid all spoilers), and I had an epiphany. BioShock Infinite was a variation on my story idea, and it was better executed. Of course, in my version there’s no lighthouse, but the same basic premise of a man caught in an unending loop of his own self destructive decisions (at the hands of quantum mechanics, no less!) was still there.
This made me kind of mopey.
But all that’s not terribly important, because I trunked my story many months ago, and really it’s just a funny coincidence (except, y’know, the entire ending of the game plays on the theme of endless variations on a story, and now my brain wants to jump down a wormhole of possibility that I actually wrote a BioShock Infinite fanfiction before I knew the premise of the game, which now that it occurs to me is just the best thing ever).
What is important is that I have finished BioShock Infinite, and now I have lots of thoughts about it, which means that my blogging public can rejoice.
Foremost, it needs to be said that this game is perhaps the epitome of paradoxical games. BioShock is a well-respected, AAA first person shooter series that gets tons of marketing and press, and at the same time it’s also a series that has the audacity to wrestle with complex philosophical questions while encouraging you to run around and slaughter people in spectacularly grotesque ways. I mean, the first BioShock offered a critique of Randian Objectivism while considering questions of the nature of free will, and let you torture enemies with swarms of killer bees shot from your innards. BioShock Infinite does something similar with a fusion of American exceptionalism and Christian fundamentalism (which the series’ creative lead Ken Levine has said was intended only as a backdrop given the time period in which the game’s set) and an exploration of the concept of the multiverse while letting you harass enemies with murders of crows that fly fully formed from your fingertips.
This series wants you to think about deep things in the spaces between ultraviolence without ever really inviting you to consider the nature of the violence itself (I think this is best illustrated after a mid-game sequence where you’re forced to fight off a group of would-be kidnappers trying to recapture Elizabeth; she’s not yet been introduced to Booker’s violent nature, and the sudden carnage startles her enough that she runs from you for a little while; once you catch up and explain that this is just what she needs to expect while the two of your are trying to escape Columbia, you receive no further complaints regardless of how sadistically you behave in fighting off enemies). At most the game explains that the violence is necessary by nature of the conflict (and by extension, the type of game you’re playing), but that never really satisfactorily explains why the developers designed it to be so spectacular.
At any rate, this was perhaps the first time I played a game where I felt myself honestly bothered by the amount of violence (I suspect this was partially carryover from having viewed Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on women as background decorations, which explores the problem of reproducing various forms of violence uncritically), and it influenced my playstyle. I found myself gravitating towards low powered weapons that didn’t mutilate enemy corpses, and I made more and more heavy use of the possession power to turn enemies against each other so that I could duck away from the fights while they were going on (I should also note that I played the majority of the game in a single sitting, and by the end I was definitely suffering from game fatigue where I was pushing on to get more of the story, but the gameplay was beginning to feel like a drag). For a story about a man who is unable to escape violence, I was doing everything I could to minimize it.
Maybe BioShock Infinite did succeed in making me think a little more deeply about the violence, in that case (with the help of some very insightful critique).
I’ll share more thoughts in part 2.