Listening to: Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Reading: Eh, things.
Watching: Beer and Board Games
Playing: Bioshock Infinite
Drinking: Milk, yum
~This is written with no holding back in regards to spoilers for either Bioshock or Bioshock Infinite. Feel free to read it anyway, though.~
This is something that I would put in a blog if I had one. I stumbled across the Bioshock series mostly by accident. Skimming around Best Buy several years ago, I saw the original Bioshock sitting on a shelf. I had heard that it was supposed to be really good. Like, really good. So, having no idea what it was even about and going strictly on the good faith of internet opinions and reviews, I bought the game. Unfortunately it wouldn't run on the old computer I had, being a piece of crap and all. It wasn't until another year later that I got a new computer and finally sat down to play this game that had been collecting dust uselessly in my old bag full of computery things.
Lo and behold it because one of my most favorite games. Not just because it was good, because it seriously was, but also because it helped me understand what exactly I like in a game, or a movie or a book.
I enjoy great characters and awesome stories. Mostly great characters.
And Bioshock had them. It had them all. The random characters we met in our romp through the underwater city of Rapture were some of the most captivating and interesting characters I had ever encountered. Dr. Steinman especially stood out to me, personally. Anyways, ever since I played that game, I've been conscious of what exactly makes any form of entertainment appeal to me, which helps me pick and choose my media with mostly successful results.
I wasn't too keen on the idea of another installment to the Bioshock universe when I first heard about Bioshock Infinite (Bioshock II? What are you talking about, what Bioshock II?). I deplored the American-themed logo, and thought the idea of a city in the clouds to compliment such a marvel as Rapture was tacky and gimmicky.
"Hey guys I totally have an idea for another Bioshock game. Instead of putting it underwater, let's put it...in the sky. Ehh? Ehhhh??"
No, hypothetical game designer, no. I appreciate the effort it would require to make a new Bioshock game, but how long did it take you to think of this? Three minutes? Get your head in the game. After playing Bioshock Infinite, though, I gladly sat down to a big heaping plate of my own words.
Spoilers for Bioshock Infinite follow, right down to the end:
It's 1912 and Bioshock Infinite follows the story of a drunk, gambling asshole 30-something by the name of Booker DeWitt. (As a side note, Bioshock characters always have the best names.) After being ported off to a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean by a pair of witty bantering British twins, he's promptly left completely alone with no instruction other than to, "Find the girl and wipe away your debt." Through what probably felt like a complete accident to Booker, he gets blasted off in a rocket chair from the lighthouse, up high above the clouds to the city I had made fun of earlier, the counterpart to Rapture called Columbia. Even though I knew that a sweeping view of the city through the porthole of some sort of personal transportation device was inevitable, I was still in awe of how breathtaking the scene revealing Columbia was. I'm sure everyone who played the game knows that feeling.
Unfortunately that's all the detailed backstory I care to recount, so suffice the rest of the plot to say: Elizabeth is the girl Booker's looking for, the daughter of the Christian "prophet" who founded the city, Comstock. Comstock used to be in the army in his younger days, but after the war he was baptized and reborn as a Christian. His city of Columbia floats because the atoms are in a quantum state where they are suspended above the ground at a fixed height, the technology for which was discovered by Rosalind Lutece, one of the British twins. Comstock believes the angels told him that his child was destined to lead Columbia to destroy the sinful world of man below, with Columbia acting as a sort of ark to save the righteous man. Comstock, however, is unable to father a child of his own, and uses Rosalind's quantum manipulation technology to open a tear into another reality where, in the past, he refused to become baptized and remained his old sinful self, Booker DeWitt. That's right, the twist of this Bioshock is that Booker DeWitt is Comstock from a different universe. In a quantum mechanical portrayal of the world, Booker could either choose or choose not to be baptized. The moment he makes his choice, reality is split into two separate worlds, one where he agreed and one where he refused. The splitting of reality at the point of decision results in a million million million worlds existing simultaneously, all of which are similar, yet different, depending on the decisions people make. Comstock uses the tear into Booker's reality to take his daughter Annabelle, since genetically, she is also Comstock's daughter. In exchange for the girl, Comstock pays off Booker's crippling gambling debt. Comstock renames the girl Elizabeth and passes her off as his miracle holy child who's meant to follow in his footsteps. The Rosalind from Booker's reality was actually born a boy, Robert Lutece, so the British "twins" are actually also the same person from different realities. The two feel guilty about facilitating Comstock's plan and helping him take Elizabeth, and so they help Booker by taking him into Comstock's reality where they act as an unseen hand as they try to help Booker get his daughter back.
In the end, the destruction caused by Comstock grew so great that the only way to prevent it would be to stop the man from being born in the first place. Booker goes back to the point where he made the decision about the baptism, and drowns himself before he has the chance to make it, effectively preventing any of his futures, either as Booker DeWitt or as Comstock, from ever existing in the first place.
Yeah, I tried to keep that short, but I've realized now that you can't really do that with the Bioshock games.
Anyway, if you're still here, I'd like to thank you.
But I haven't yet gotten to the thing I wanted to talk about yet.
Comstock does some awful things in his life. He kidnaps Elizabeth, keeps her locked away all alone, runs a city where rampant nationalism and racism are freely practiced (Oh yeah, the city's also deeply, painfully racist), and plans on committing genocide against anyone who doesn't live in his city and worship him.
Honestly that sounds really bad. It sounds like Hitler. But what the game doesn't address is whether or not Comstock was really visited by angels. It discusses nothing about the existence of God, it merely uses it as a set piece. I honestly think that was a good opportunity lost.
We're introduced to this city and the prophet as though they could legitimately be the work of God. Instead of exploring those consequences, it's instead pushed to the side for a cynical, well-of-COURSE-he-wasn't-really-visited-by-angels attitude. Not only this, but they expect the player to know this and think this way too, so they don't explain it. I was left confused. Was I supposed to have sympathy for the faithful men of Comstock's police force as they laid down their weapons at his command in the middle of a battle, putting themselves at the mercy of a madman like Booker? Or was I supposed to yell "Sheeple!" to their faces as they were bowed in prayer and shoot them for believing in something that was so obviously false? Honestly, I had sympathy, and I felt like I was a bit punished for it. Booker and Elizabeth treat the entire religious theme as a joke, the product of a man whose sole purpose is trying to seize power, whereas I was first going to take is seriously. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, and Comstock was a very effective "villain", I was just left wanting more commentary on the subject. I'm also not super religious, and don't mean to make this a discussion about religion. My main point is, what if Comstock actually WAS a prophet? What if God's plan WAS to have Comstock destroy everything below, leaving just Columbia? If that were the case, would it be ok for Booker and Elizabeth to try and stop it? This is assuming God existed. Would it really be ok for them to do this? I would have liked more commentary about this in the story.
It could be said that perhaps they had no right to interfere with God's work, hence their ultimate punishment at the very end.
That leads into the second thing I wanted to talk about; the fact that Booker and Elizabeth themselves end up committing the mass genocide anyway. Oh, not in the traditional sense, of course. They don't go around killing all of "them" and leaving just "us". In my opinion, they do something much worse.
They prevent a million million worlds from ever existing in the first place.
By killing Booker, all of the worlds where he was Booker and all of the worlds where he was Comstock never existed. That's a million million lives that will never be lived. That's a million million lives that will never be lived, in the hopes that the other million million realities where Booker never existed turned out any better than the ones where he did. Isn't it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? Who would chose non-existence over a life and an eventual death? By preventing all these worlds, they did not prevent the existence of racism, they did not prevent the existence of famine or war or chaos; they completely erased a million million worlds and a million million innocent people for no reason other than to prevent some bad things from happening in those realities. It did nothing to prevent bad things from happening anywhere else. It would be like completely wiping Japan off of the map because they have earthquakes sometimes. Sure, it prevents the suffering of those people, but it also prevents their happiness, and does nothing to prevent earthquakes in California. In the end, nothing is better. There's just a huge, gaping hole in the Earth.
Though I don't personally agree with what those characters did, I understand why they did it. I don't want to say it was absolutely 100% wrong, and that there's no moral grey area. Of course there's grey area. It's open for discussion and interpretation, but this is just my opinion.
No game makes me think so much as Bioshock does.