It's All Been Done Before: Bioshock's Infinity

Posted by Daneian (1228 posts) -

NOTE: Franchise Spoilers

Two lighthouses stand tall. In both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, walking through their front doors is the first step in your adventure in two cities that share more in common than their architecture would lead you to believe. In Bioshock proper, the door leads to a bathysphere that takes you to the cold blackness of the underwater city of Rapture, deep below the sea. In Infinite, it contains the rocket that will launch you to the sun washed floating city of Columbia, high above the clouds. You only need to play the first five minutes of both these games to observe the duality at their heart- one is a descent into Hell, the other the ascension to Heaven.

1960. Rapture lies in ruin. When Jack’s bathysphere docks, the shattered lights, the broken walls and the streaks of blood all tell us that something very bad has happened here. Much of the game has us scavenging among the wreckage for whatever goods we can use to help us survive, rooting through ransacked shops and looting their dead patrons. Over the course of the game, we learn the history of a place that was once much grander, a city whose culture, politics and people were twisted and disfigured until the people turned on each other in a violent rebellion. As much as Rapture feels like it was once a place, it was also a character.

It’s ironic watching two titans fighting over the burned out husk of the city. The war between founder Andrew Ryan and the conman masquerading as social reformist Frank Fontaine had destroyed Rapture and left them in a tenuous cold war with a pile of rubble at stake. When Jack gets there, he is ushered along by the disembodied voice of Atlus, a man who guides you through the halls and to Andrew Ryan’s office with three simple words and a question mark. ‘Would you kindly?’

Those words would come to carry a great deal of weight. When Jack finally meets Ryan in person, the capitalist says ‘A man chooses. A slave obeys.’ When Jack bashes Ryan’s brains out with his own golf club because he’s been programmed to follow the orders accompanied by ‘Would you kindly’, you realize that just as he didn’t have any control over his task, you didn’t have true freedom over the actions that led you to that moment. You could have used different weapons to kill your enemies or discover some areas of the city and not others, but the only choice you make that affects the outcome of the main plot is the decision to play, or not to play. The nightmare at Rapture was a means to analyze the nature of freedom and agency expressed through the unique abilities of videogames. Until that moment, both Fontaine as Atlus and the designers had manipulated you from objective to objective. A man chooses. A slave obeys.

1912. Columbia is alive and friendly. When Booker’s rocket lands, we find a bright day casting light over beautiful, clean streets. He’d been sent there to retrieve a mark- a young woman named Elizabeth. The shops are full and the people are happily listening along to barber shop quartets as a parade floats by. It seems perfect. But when you go to the raffle and discover that the prize is the right to throw the first pitch at an interracial couple who had the audacity to fall in love, you get see that below the smiles and sunshine is something sinister.

Elizabeth is caged in a large tower within the city, the mythical princess to Columbia’s prophetic leader Zachary Hale Comstock. As he makes his way to her, Booker discovers the truth about Columbia- under the pleasant surface is a city built on oppression and socially sanctioned racism. An underground resistance has formed calling themselves the Vox Populi led by the freedom fighter Daisy Fitzroy who is tired of the unfair treatment and unequal justice. When he gets to the tower, Booker finds that Elizabeth possesses strange powers that let her open tears in the fabric of reality and move objects through.

Getting out of the city requires that Booker aid Fitzroy in arming her people. With Elizabeth’s powers, he jumps into new dimensions, places that are similar to his but with a few key differences, and procures a vast weapons cache that finally lets the Peoples Voice be heard. The uprising begun, the population is locked in a civil war, the two general’s armies clashing in the streets. When Columbia lies in ruin, you realize that this is how Rapture had fallen and that you’ve initiated a line of events in Infinite that you had only discovered after they’d happened in Bioshock. Soon after you beat Comstock’s head in and drowned him in his holy water, Elizabeth opens one last tear. And you find yourself in the halls of Rapture.

This is the defining moment in Bioshock. We learn that the series takes place over a million million separate realities, places that seem similar to ours but have minute differences. An ocean of lighthouses with the same constants but different variables. Of course, if Bioshock was an examination on choice, Infinite says that everyone believes that they’re making the right choices, even if it’s the difference between being the story’s hero and being its villain. Because every choice that can be made, has already been made. Every bullet you shot, every bullet you took was one possible outcome in a chain of events that led you to that moment. The only way to break the chain is to remove one of its links.

At the same time, the revelation that Bioshock and Infinite are intrinsically the same story could be a tacit admission that it’s themes have been regularly used by the medium in one form or another since Super Mario Bros. Look at the relationships between the heroes and villains of the Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear Solid and Halo- the characters are different, but the quest has largely stayed the same. There are constants and there are variables.

That’s interesting considering its part of an industry built on franchise IP, content to crank out sequels rather than develop new ideas once they’ve found a workable blueprint to exploit. It’s even more interesting when you consider that Bioshock was a victim of this same trend when its publisher made a sequel that was considered-perhaps unfairly-an unnecessary attempt to cash in on the originals success. Maybe that’s another reason why Bioshock Infinite doesn’t have a number at the end- it’s claiming ownership over every entry that has been and will be and preemptively calling out any sequel that tries to tell its story again. Maybe Infinite is a challenge to the medium: do something new rather than recycle the same thing over and over.

Really, it’s on the cycle of human history that Bioshock’s lighthouse focuses its spotlight. The uprisings that took place on Rapture and Columbia are similar to the real life Boxer Rebellion or The Wounded Knee Massacre that you’ll find in Infinites ‘Hall of Heroes’ war memorial- it’s only the skin color under the uniform that has changed. With them, Bioshock has asked a question. If throughout human history, we keep reliving the same tales of social reform over and over, when are we going to wise up and stop? Thankfully, it’s given us a way to answer that question in the compounding resolution of its two stories: we have the power to decide our actions and change our world, we just need to know where in our story to make the right choices.

#1 Posted by Ares42 (2617 posts) -

Just gonna say that it's great to finally see people talking about this stuff. Been frustrating to watch people fixate on the internal story-details, as if that was the big thing to take away from the game.

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#2 Posted by Daneian (1228 posts) -
@ares42 said:

Just gonna say that it's great to finally see people talking about this stuff. Been frustrating to watch people fixate on the internal story-details, as if that was the big thing to take away from the game.

I completely agree. While I think it was fun trying to unravel the multiverse puzzle, it's really only a means to make other comments on society, history and videogames. This is the stuff that interests me.

#3 Posted by cexantus (131 posts) -

Well said. While it's fun to wonder what everything means in-game, I do believe that Bioshock: Infinite is meant to be a critique on the state of the gaming industry; that every game has to be some type of power-fantasy where you're treated as a hero--despite the fact that your involvement has probably led to scores of people dying. By casting the main character as both the hero and the villain, Bioshock basically say that everything that happens is your fault, and the only way to truly fix anything is to kill yourself.

#4 Posted by awesomeusername (4173 posts) -

Bioshock's Infinity...

I think you got the games name wrong.

#5 Posted by Daneian (1228 posts) -

@awesomeusername said:

Bioshock's Infinity...

I think you got the games name wrong.

Can't help but laugh for thinking I could get away with the word play.

#6 Posted by awesomeusername (4173 posts) -

@daneian said:

@awesomeusername said:

Bioshock's Infinity...

I think you got the games name wrong.

Can't help but laugh for thinking I could get away with the word play.

Oh wow. I didn't even notice that. HA! Good one though. Just doubt anyone will see that.

#7 Edited by 9cupsoftea (654 posts) -

I genuinely expected the game to be a literal loop, ending up on that boat heading towards a lighthouse again, only this time with everything making sense.

Big spoiler:

I was a bit disappointed with 'you are the comstock' after all the hype.

#8 Posted by Colourful_Hippie (4337 posts) -

I genuinely expected the game to be a literal loop, ending up on that boat heading towards a lighthouse again, only this time with everything making sense.

Big spoiler:

I was a bit disappointed with 'you are the comstock' after all the hype.

Ehh, those are just small details which I'll admit hit me by surprise but the big picture stuff that is mentioned in the OP is the real takeaway from this game.

#9 Edited by thetenthdoctor (291 posts) -

I think you're giving the writers too much credit. Between this and Spec Ops: The Line, everyone has their head up their ass lately about games supposedly critiquing the medium and having these super deep meanings, but that's a stretch. Infinite was a cool sci-fi story about choice and repercussions, and Spec Ops was a neat twist on war shooters by making you play as the crazy guy without realizing it, but that's it.

It is amusing watching everyone play junior psychologist and literary critic, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a story is just a story.

#10 Posted by Daneian (1228 posts) -

@thetenthdoctor said:

I think you're giving the writers too much credit. Between this and Spec Ops: The Line, everyone has their head up their ass lately about games supposedly critiquing the medium and having these super deep meanings, but that's a stretch. Infinite was a cool sci-fi story about choice and repercussions, and Spec Ops was a neat twist on war shooters by making you play as the crazy guy without realizing it, but that's it.

It is amusing warching everyone play junior paychologist and literary critic, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a story is just a story.

I think looking for meaning where no meaning was intended is always a concern, especially with more abstract storytelling devices, but even if the designers didn't create these metaphors on purpose, it doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't there. Hearing that Ken Levine has always thought people were focusing on the wrong parts of Bioshock makes me really curious to find out what he did mean, if anything. I find it an interesting thought, nonetheless.

#11 Edited by thetenthdoctor (291 posts) -

It's definitely interesting, and I meant no disrespect to the OP. It just seems to me lately everyone is looking for some super deep meaning in stories instead of just enjoying the twists and turns the authors wrote.

#12 Posted by Ares42 (2617 posts) -

@thetenthdoctor: While I tend to agree with you one of the things that made me question the intent of Infinites story is how there's so much being presented to you that's completely unnecessary to tell the story. You could ofc just attribute it to bad story-telling (and hey, let's be honest 80% of the story is told in the last 30 minutes of the game), but at some point you have to ask yourself if they're really doing all this stuff just because they think it's cool.

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#13 Posted by Daneian (1228 posts) -

@ares42: This is exactly where I'm coming at it from. Look at the Hall of Heroes. It wasn't exactly crucial to the immediate plot, so why was it there? When I tried to figure it out, I realized that they were events that were implemented to have something to compare Columbia's uprising against. You could say something similar to the gun cache sequences. Their primary story-telling function was to practically show how the multiverse threads worked.

#14 Edited by thetenthdoctor (291 posts) -

The Hall of Heroes was there to show how dangerous it is to assume your personal mission is justified and above reproach. The forces at Wounded Knee thought thy were doing the right thing when they killed the Native Americans, Comstock thinks he's doing good by segregating the races, and Fitzroy thinks she's justified in murdering Fink and his son, but they're all wrong.

The Hall of Heroes is Comstock's monument to what he thinks were heroes, but to the player it's a physical representation of how every faction in Columbia has reached the point where they feel justified committing atrocities by assuming they have the moral high ground. It's there to drive home the point that one side's heroic victory is the other side's brutal massacre, not represent the multiverse.

#15 Edited by Daneian (1228 posts) -

@thetenthdoctor said:

It's there to drive home the point that one side's heroic victory is the other side's brutal massacre, not represent the multiverse.

That's actually what I was trying to say, but the way I said it was a little confusing. I tried to then add that the sequences procuring the guns for Fitzroy doubled as a practical means to represent the constants and variables of the multiverse to the player. If I had broken my two points up into separate paragraphs it would have been clearer. Sorry about that.

#16 Edited by Turambar (6733 posts) -

The Hall of Heroes was there to show how dangerous it is to assume your personal mission is justified and above reproach. The forces at Wounded Knee thought thy were doing the right thing when they killed the Native Americans, Comstock thinks he's doing good by segregating the races, and Fitzroy thinks she's justified in murdering Fink and his son, but they're all wrong.

The Hall of Heroes is Comstock's monument to what he thinks were heroes, but to the player it's a physical representation of how every faction in Columbia has reached the point where they feel justified committing atrocities by assuming they have the moral high ground. It's there to drive home the point that one side's heroic victory is the other side's brutal massacre, not represent the multiverse.

Or it could just be the game's way of filling in back story for DeWitt and showing that he's done some bad shit so as to set things up for the last 15 minutes. Nothing more.

#17 Posted by thetenthdoctor (291 posts) -

@Turambar: That too. There are far more logical and simple reasons for the Hall of Heroes than "multiverse, man", which is a real stretch.

#18 Posted by golguin (3874 posts) -

@turambar said:
@thetenthdoctor said:

The Hall of Heroes was there to show how dangerous it is to assume your personal mission is justified and above reproach. The forces at Wounded Knee thought thy were doing the right thing when they killed the Native Americans, Comstock thinks he's doing good by segregating the races, and Fitzroy thinks she's justified in murdering Fink and his son, but they're all wrong.

The Hall of Heroes is Comstock's monument to what he thinks were heroes, but to the player it's a physical representation of how every faction in Columbia has reached the point where they feel justified committing atrocities by assuming they have the moral high ground. It's there to drive home the point that one side's heroic victory is the other side's brutal massacre, not represent the multiverse.

Or it could just be the game's way of filling in back story for DeWitt and showing that he's done some bad shit so as to set things up for the last 15 minutes. Nothing more.

Or it could show how Booker and Comstock have a shared history and Slate was wrong when he claimed Comstock didn't do all those things.

#19 Posted by Turambar (6733 posts) -

@golguin: Which is what "set up for the last 15 minutes" partly means considering Comstock actually having done said things is not realized until the final reveal.

#20 Edited by golguin (3874 posts) -

@turambar said:

@golguin: Which is what "set up for the last 15 minutes" partly means considering Comstock actually having done said things is not realized until the final reveal.

Ah, I missed that part.

#21 Posted by captain_max707 (489 posts) -

It's definitely interesting, and I meant no disrespect to the OP. It just seems to me lately everyone is looking for some super deep meaning in stories instead of just enjoying the twists and turns the authors wrote.

"Tut tut child! Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

This is the great thing about great stories. They are insightful in regards to life and humanity, and leave room for those that want to delve into the author's perspective to do so. And for those that don't, they still are satisfying as a story on their own.

What do you think constitutes a good story if it doesn't involve exploring the themes that concern humanity?

#23 Posted by thetenthdoctor (291 posts) -

Oh I don't doubt for a moment there's a moral- I just think it's not as deep as everyone thinks, and certainly not a critique on videogames. It's a story about people doing horrific things in the name of what they feel is right, and not noticing they're becoming the new monster in the process. It also touches on choice and how it can drastically alter your future.

Everyone seems to want everything to be a critique or deconstruction of a genre lately, and it's a bit exhausting when they overlook the obvious story being told in an effort to read between the lines and divine some "hidden" meaning.

#24 Posted by Daneian (1228 posts) -
#25 Edited by Ares42 (2617 posts) -

@thetenthdoctor said:

Oh I don't doubt for a moment there's a moral- I just think it's not as deep as everyone thinks, and certainly not a critique on videogames. It's a story about people doing horrific things in the name of what they feel is right, and not noticing they're becoming the new monster in the process. It also touches on choice and how it can drastically alter your future.

Everyone seems to want everything to be a critique or deconstruction of a genre lately, and it's a bit exhausting when they overlook the obvious story being told in an effort to read between the lines and divine some "hidden" meaning.

I dunno.. if you look at these forums there's a 10 page long (and growing) thread dedicated to the internal story of the game, and not a single thread about the deeper meaning that has reached a second page. From what I've seen on other sites as well the vast majority of people are mostly talking about all the multiverse/timeline stuff etc.

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#26 Posted by development (2236 posts) -

All of this has happened before, and it will happen again.

#27 Posted by JasonR86 (9657 posts) -

@daneian:

Sorry, I was being a dick for no good reason. I deleted my comment.

#28 Edited by ripelivejam (3784 posts) -

The Hall of Heroes was there to show how dangerous it is to assume your personal mission is justified and above reproach. The forces at Wounded Knee thought thy were doing the right thing when they killed the Native Americans, Comstock thinks he's doing good by segregating the races, and Fitzroy thinks she's justified in murdering Fink and his son, but they're all wrong.

The Hall of Heroes is Comstock's monument to what he thinks were heroes, but to the player it's a physical representation of how every faction in Columbia has reached the point where they feel justified committing atrocities by assuming they have the moral high ground. It's there to drive home the point that one side's heroic victory is the other side's brutal massacre, not represent the multiverse.

NOW who's overanalyzing??

:D very well put actually. summed up how i felt about the relevance of the hall of heroes part but couldn't put it in so many words myself.

though the OP was referring to the gun cache/the manufacturer and going back and forth between realities/tears part when he was talking about representing the multiverse, not the Hall of Heroes.

Online
#29 Posted by somnomania (1 posts) -

This is fantastic. I was trying to figure out what the connecting theme of Bioshock was from the very beginning of Infinite, now that the story has expanded from Rapture. It was at the point you mentioned, with the raffle and more in-your-face racism than the story had shown thusfar that I think I figured it out. The similarities lie in the utopian cities, fallen or falling into destruction that comes from within, and the heroes who may start the story thinking they're one thing, but end up as something very different at the other end. There are people in both who genuinely felt they were doing the right thing, even as people were dying because of it. There are also families, in all three games, that are revealed to be dysfunctional as hell, complete fabrications, or some combination of the two. I think you compared the games much more elegantly than I, however.

I liked Infinite's story, but not as much as the story of Rapture. Infinite was, appropriately, much more complex and multi-layered, to the point that I wasn't entirely sure what had happened by the end, and had to have some things explained to me by a friend. It was also a longer game, not that that's a bad thing, but there's something satisfying in routinely clearing Bioshock and Bioshock 2 in about 12 hours each. That's the thing about them, too; they have immense replay value. My attention span for games has gotten less and less over the years, and even other fantastic games like some of the Legend of Zelda titles or anything from the Assassin's Creed series can't keep my attention for long during a replay. I do it in fits and starts, sometimes with weeks between sessions. But Bioshock is different. I enjoy it just as much and get just as absorbed in it as I did the first time. Infinite, not so much. I'm actually watching a 3.5 hour long compilation of it on Youtube, of all of the plot and almost none of the gameplay, because I'm hoping a second go-round will allow me to understand it a little more, but the mechanics of the game did make it drag on a bit for me.

To the people commenting about how we're thinking too hard about this stuff, and looking for meaning where there isn't meant to be anything -- I'm pretty sure there's a lot of deeper meaning intended in a game that threw as many story-related curveballs as Infinite did, primarily in the last third of the game. If I feel like I need to have at least a passing knowledge of quantum mechanics to properly process what's just been explained in the game, well. That's a pretty deep story, in my opinion. In something that hits you in the face right off the bat with themes like utopia, self-appointed idols of a religious nature, and racism and prejudice, I'm pretty sure there's a lot to look at there in terms of symbolism and hidden meanings. And all of that is around before the quantum physics, multiple universes, and Schrödinger nonsense.

In the end, Bioshock is a series that makes you think, and is meant to make you think. Period. As with any good story, different people will find different things in it, both simple and complex. These are art games, beautiful to look at and experience, and crafted carefully with that intention.

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