Bioshock: Infinite

Note: this post contains spoilers about BioShock Infinite. Caveat lector.

Will the circle be unbroken? By and by, by and by

Much of what I'd say about BioShock Infinite has been said well by other people:

I don't know where to start with my thoughts on Bioshock: Infinite. Here are a series of disconnected thoughts. It doesn't matter in what order you read them.

The shock: The carnival of the initial Columbia atmosphere turns dark all at once, when the candy-colored dreamscape turns into a variation of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, but with racism front and center. The player is offered a choice; the choice will have no bearing on the outcome. Throw the baseball at the couple; throw the baseball at the announcer; or, in my case, do nothing and turn to walk away. The baseball can never be thrown. It must be a distraction to enable the ensuing violence that will earn you the sky hook. Lutece tells us not to take that one, but we'll always take that one, that baseball 77. The deification of Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin after your baptism is so close before this that I couldn't help but draw together American Exceptionalism with America's Original Sin, and America's pastime with America's past.

Meticulous construction: The first time we hear Booker speak of Anna, his daughter, he is lying unconscious on the sand of Battleship Bay, waking from a dream we'll only see the entirety of when the game races to its conclusion. He starts awake, crying, "Anna!" Elizabeth comes to him and says, "It's me, Elizabeth."

In the real world...: Over here in the real world, Bryce Seligman DeWitt was a physicist; he wrote a book titled The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. While he had four daughters, none was named Anna¹.

In the real world...: There is a Comstock Prize for Physics, named for a Civil War soldier who served as the chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac, among other posts. The prize is given for advancements in research into magnetism and energy. A brief bit of research turns up no associations with Wounded Knee, though he served briefly on the military commission that investigated the assassination of Lincoln. Cyrus B. Comstock had a daughter. Her name was Elizabeth.

Meticulous construction: Two licensed pieces of music decry us as unfortunate, or at least, as not fortunate. In "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," it's "Oh mother dear, we're not the fortunate ones." And of course, in CCR's "Fortunate Son," it's "It ain't me; it ain't me; I'm not the fortunate one." Both songs are sung by youths against authority, parental and societal, one by a young woman, one by a young man.

A potential reading: The finale of the story seems meant both to chide the player and fight ludonarrative dissonance, indicating that all of his moment to moment choices in the shooter game play are meaningless, that they all lead him to the same place in the end. This felt too pat to me; but the idea that I was seeing every other player's experience in that moment of infinite lighthouses and infinite pairs of DeWitts and Elizabeths was appealing.

A potential reading: Is it possible that all of this story is in Booker DeWitt's head? That it all occurs in the moment of his death, that his fevered brain drowning in the river spontaneously constructs a complete story in which he rescues the daughter he abandoned, in the same way some suggest our Universe may have been formed, as something out of nothing? Is it just possible that the "real story" of Anna DeWitt is potentially of white slavery, and thus the themes of slavery in Columbia? Was she taken by criminals, and not this fantastic story of floating cities? Is DeWitt really drowning in a bottle somewhere? This seems echoed in the fact that the people who occupy this space are no more interactive than the statues... they are only illusions of depth.

Meticulous construction: The first gateway the player faces, the first transition from one world to the next, is to enter a cage at the top of the lighthouse. The second is a rebirth into a world of light.

The shock: "When you see a skull on the enemy, you can hold Y to finish them!" These are the goriest of kills, close-up and personal. Kill 20 enemies this way for an Achievement called "Industrial Accident." Once was enough.

The shock: For a character who abhors violence, at least initially, Elizabeth does a lot to support me. She will flip me a coin dozens of times. Every time, the coin will turn up facing the same direction... just as it does when I speak to the Luteces.

The shock: It seems so weird to me to use Elizabeth's ability to 'tear' holes in the Universe that I choose not to, again and again. In theory this makes the game more difficult but I rarely notice. It seems like a small rebellion against the tyranny of being forced to use her in this way; still the story forces to me at different points, so I can't escape entirely.

Every time you visit this page, these notes will be in a different order. Every time, you'll start at the same place and end at the same place, but your path may be a little different. The order doesn't matter, like so many of the choices in Infinite.

¹This was non-trivial to discover but I did track down their names on the Internet.