Why I Love Bioshock Infinite Part Two: Will The Circle Be Unbroken


"Are you ready to have your past erased? Are you ready to have your sins cleansed? Are you ready to be born again?"
 
As I already mentioned in Part One, redemption is a major theme in Bioshock Infinite. This is first seen the very opening of the game when you are encouraged to wash away your sins. As he does many times through the game, Booker laughs at the possibility of redeeming oneself through religion. "Good luck with that, pal," he sardonically offers. 


I have mentioned that Bioshock Infinite offers the players a chance at redemption but I have not explained how that happens, so let me expand. Infinite is the story of Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth. It is not, as the original Bioshock was, a story designed specifically to comment on video games as an artform. (That doesn't mean that it has nothing to say about video games, as we shall soon see.) It is also not something that wants to get to the heart of the many issues it covers, namely racism, civil war or quantum physics. That it doesn't cover these things may at first seem like a negative but once you get wrapped up in the personal story Infinite is telling, these things have little bother. It is not attempting to provide a satisfactory "answer" for the racism it depicts, or the violence or the (very, very) loose use of Quantum Physics to bring story ideas to life.

Bioshock Infinite brings personal redemption through a curious, and entirely medium dependent quality. It makes you adopt the sins of the person you're playing as. It does this initially through seemingly making any violence you encounter necessary. You are simply defending yourself after all, so what could possibly be the harm in driving a rotating wheel into somebody's skull? Infinite uses a trick also seen in the brilliant game The Last of Us, which suggests its moral position to these gratuitous kills: Elizabeth screams her disgust at you. These kills are entirely optional in the game and serve no combat purpose other than pleasuring in the death of another. There is considerable carnage in the game and as the stakes ramp up, so does the violence. By the time you reach the closing moments of the game, what seemed gratuitous now seems like a cautionary tale. 



There are few games that make you feel so guilty for committing violent acts as successfully as Bioshock Infinite. It does this through depicting perfect, holy and inspiring visions of the Utopia as a fully functioning ideal. When you rip through Columbia with as much care as a wrecking ball, you have destroyed what you love the most. When the Vox Populi do the same, you can't help but feel guilt at how you have facilitated the destruction of something so beautiful. One of the great twists of the game is when your character fails to make a distinction between Comstock's Founders and Daisy Fitzroy's Vox Populi. Their politics don't matter to Booker DeWitt: he's there to kill whoever stands in his way. Whether they're racist, slave owning shits doesn't matter one bit. Whether they're upright, morally on point fellows doesn't matter either. And they don't matter to the player.  

Redemption comes through the way the game provokes the player into thinking on the morality of their in-game actions and - most importantly - their natural inclinations as players. If you can confront yourself who threw the first ball at that inter-racial couple, or who murdered parents getting their kids ice-creams in Soldier's Field, and killed Slate without a second thought, then you can put your evil deeds behind you. Those who fail to take their complicity in the evil of Bioshock Infinite to heart, are the first who criticize its lack of moral centre. It is not, as some fatuously called it, a Nazi Disneyland. It is a real, honest to goodness chance at salvation. 

Salvation comes through knowledge and acceptance of your wrong doing. When Booker admits his guilt, you should too. To your wife or your husband, to your children, to your friends, to your girlfriends and boyfriends. This gets back to the Noir quality: everyone is guilty, one way or another. If you don't feel guilty in the slightest you are too far gone to bother with. Infinite leads you through the stages of acceptance. At first you fight it. I wouldn't act like Booker. When you do again and again, needing to satisfy your bloodlust, you start to turn. When you realize that you have just as much evil in your heart, it leads you to the question: Who can forgive me? The game can, if you're honest and you're forthright. It does not have to end in suicide, but it does have to end in rebirth. You can cast aside the violent, gun heavy games of your past and take up a peaceful, emotionally complex pursuit of the artform. 

The savage violence of Infinite exists both as a thrilling example of its genre and a complete and final criticism of the failure of the medium to understand anything except views over the top of a gun. Infinite is a call to the Gone Homes of the world, of Her Story, of The Beginner's Guide. It is self-critical in a way that very few have examined. "Only blood can redeem blood." Stop the cycle now. Don't support games that fail to address their essential immorality. Look at yourself when you decry the state of video games. Booker DeWitt is more of a villain than Zachary Comstock ever was, because Booker cannot admit his guilt and Comstock can. Is Comstock more dangerous because of his religious zeal? Probably so. But he is further along the road to salvation because he had that moment where he realized what a terrible human being he was. The player is Booker, forever sure that every one of their desires is pure and righteous. When you realize though that you're not pure and you're not righteous, you can finally address those things that make your heart heavy: why does everything have to end in blood? Why does everything have to end with death? Where are the loving experiences?


The start of Bioshock Infinite is unarguably the most beautiful of any game of its generation, and quite likely any generation to come. The art design is staggering in its ambition and its execution. You are immediately transported to another world, and all problems of racism, violence and civil war aside, it is somewhere you wish you could visit. It is somewhere you want to live and be. Much like Rapture before it, the Utopian ambitions of the city are deliriously appealing, even as your rational brain understands the many, many negatives that come with the attempt. 



Every time I play the game I find something new to appreciate. This is not an empty claim either, every time I have played the game - over twenty times now - I have appreciated the depth of the art design more and more: look at the design on the boxes of cereal or the store shop fronts. They perfectly put you in a place and time and are a big reason why the game feels so damn immersive. 




The first third of the game takes you through the early, blissful and idyllic areas, straight to Monument Island where you meet Elizabeth, and then onto the Battleship Bay resort and Soldier's Field, a propaganda outfit designed to indoctrinate children into military service. There is a good argument to be had in suggesting that this first act is where Infinite shows what it is capable of. The level of detail, the immaculately conceived and delivered story, the raucous and spirited combat. While I don't agree that this is the best the game has to offer - I'll get to that in the next two articles -  it does have many of my favourite moments. Let's talk about a few of them. 



The opening. Hallelujah. 
Now, I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah.

I don't care who you are or where you come from. What's your religion? I don't fucking care. What's your political affiliation? I don't fucking care. What's your gender? I don't fucking care. What's your sexuality? I don't fucking care. THIS is hands down, no disputes allowed the most beautiful opening to any game. It takes your body and mind and transforms it into a pure experience. This is why we have senses: to be one with a game of this level of artistry. 

The opening is interesting for how it pushes the player to find a solution to the problems of Columbia. From that first image, you always want to return to that perfection. And you can't. And that hurts. This is one reason why I feel people prize the opening of the game over what follows. This is however, much like the way it deals with violence, an intentional, directed experience. You are meant to long for that opening environment. You are learning as the character is learning. This is Noir, this is the Memento like realization of personal guilt. You realize as the citizens of Columbia that this perfection is a dangerous illusion that leads its adherents to acts of great immorality. 




Watching Elizabeth dance and discover the wonders of life outside a cage. Irrational heavily front load the things Elizabeth can do and discover. This is not to say that she doesn't discover the world in a way similar to the player later on, but the pure joy of escaping a cage is felt most strongly in the opening steps outside. Watch her dance. Such joy. Don't you wish you could join her? Watch her skip stones. Watch her try to lift a medicine ball. Watch her start her life. Get her cotton candy. This is something that needs to be emphasized, as there are many who get irritated that you can't buy Elizabeth ice-cream and see it as a sign of the game's general lack of joy. Well you can get her cotton candy okay? You can bring her joy. You can bring yourself joy too. Those who don't get that about Infinite, fail to realize the scope of its artistry and the meta-commentary elements of its design.




Are you real? Are you here? The third and final favourite moment from the first act of Bioshock Infinite is freeing Elizabeth from her tower. This is, as if you needed me to tell you, heavily inspired by the exquisite, though flawed TV show Lost. The Hatch was the best thing going and The Hatch is ALL OVER Bioshock Infinite's Monument Island.


You watch her as they did. You study her. You listen to words from Lutece. "The universe does not like its peas mixed with its porridge." It is such a potent set of visuals, immaculately designed audio, such a monumental achivement in video game narrative that it takes some time to digest. Everybody Wants To Rule The World. Of course. The perfect song for the moment. The detail in the environment in which Elizabeth has been kept is so on point, so sublimely realized that it tells you everything you need to know about her character in under a minute. Monument Island, much like The Hatch, is one of the great locations in science-fiction history.

Everything that Infinite does well has been reduced to nothing by certain commentators in the online world. Tiresome admissions, "I mean of course Infinite does a lot of things right..." That world weary, bullshit, phony approach to criticism that cannot in its insularity, in its shocking disregard for major story elements, express the true quality of Bioshock Infinite. Let's try to do better here. The game has its flaws, which we will get into next time. What it does well though, is so damn remarkable that it should make anyone with frivolous snipes think twice about the certainty of the ground beneath their feet. There is so much to love in this game. And if you're willing to accept your own moral complicity you can become a better person, and a better gamer.

"Do you hate your sins?"  "I do." "Do you hate your wickedness?" "Yes."



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