Bioshock: Infinite, Choice And The State Of Storytelling In Games

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Or, so it would seem. Tread no further, ye of little stomach for spoilers, because we’re going to have to dive deep into Bioshock: Infinite’s secrets to really have this conversation. For the vast majority of other games, books, movies –you name it-, story analysis is not intrinsically tied to an ending, but Bioshock: Infinite makes for a rare exception. The jaw slackening, head scratch-inducing final minutes are inseparable from the rest of the plot, because the events leading up to the finale aren’t what you thought they were once the game lays its last card on the table. Hard to believe as it is, critic claims that “you’ll want to replay it immediately” aren’t just flashy back-of-the-box quotes: the second sampling is, arguably, when the real Infinite experience begins.

Frankly, any explanation I give of the endgame revelations will likely be more convoluted and lengthy than the game’s Wikipedia article, so let’s move forward assuming we’re all on the same page: Booker=Comstock, Elizabeth=Anna, Songbird=Big Daddy, Bioshock=Bioshock: Infinite=Bioshock N+1. There’s so much to unpack in the game’s final twenty minutes that the ultimate moment of immersion might be Booker and the player simultaneously getting nosebleeds from confusion, but the big takeaway is that the Bioshock: Infinite we experience as Booker is but one of countless worlds in the “Shock” universe.

Though it’s introduced early, the few rules we learn about Bioshock’s multiverse in the moments before the credit roll make you sense a million little lightbulbs going off in your head, like an endless cascade of lighthouses. Booker always picks heads as a coin flip, and doesn’t row during the intro, because those choices are constants across universes! The dead guy in the lighthouse was an assassin placed by Comstock! The Luteces aren’t a Twin Peaks-ian take on Rosencrantz & Gildenstern: they’re the same person from parallel universes, and are using their omniscient powers to help you close a paradox spanning the entirety of creation. Of course!  Playing the game a second time gives off a powerful, “blind, but now I see,” sensation, as the foreshadowing of things to come is dense throughout, with much of the game’s ambiguity and quirk simply being code you lacked the cipher for.

You could probably measure a bump in the stock prices of corkboard, pushpins, and coloured twine following the game’s March 26th release. Head over to any major gaming site with a Bioshock: Infinite thread, and you’ll find people pouring over the details of Booker DeWitt’s death like it were the Warren Commission. Every detail, and piece of dialogue is up for scrutiny by fans, who have come up with insightful, insane, and thoroughly entertaining readings on what everything in the game means. Infinite has gotten its hooks into gamers in some truly inspiring ways; people have gone down the rabbit hole for this game, and many seem keen to keep digging that hole deeper. Ken Levine and Irrational Games have crafted a game that has people talking about not moments, or sequences, but narrative, structure, and theme. On this count, Bioshock: Infiinte stands as an achievement for the shooter genre, and the medium as a whole…

…. But I still find myself of two minds about it. I’m torn, so to speak, between one world, where Bioshock: Infiinite is a triumphant celebration of what an interactive medium can accomplish, and another, where the game’s virtuoso finale just shines a light on how far behind most gaming is as a means of storytelling, Infinite included. The “twist” pulls the rug, the floorboards –pretty much any solid footing- out from under the player, not just in terms of the game’s story, but all story in games. Infinite boldly challenges the player to pick it to pieces, confident that all the I-s and T-s of its plot are dotted and crossed. On this, it’s hard to disagree: Levine and company have built themselves a plot airtight enough to soar on. But by inviting us to engage with that plot on a deeper level, to take it seriously, and throw out the old excuse of “it’s just a videogame,” Infinite starts punching above its weight class.

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