Bioshock Infinite: Over Analysis Does Not A Great Game Make (SPOILERS)

I’m going to say this up front, just to get it out of the way.

I didn’t PLAY Bioshock Infinite.

I watched a three and a half hour YouTube video of the story cutscenes and voxophones (audio logs) instead. While many would argue that I missed out on the “full experience” of the game, I would counter that all that I missed was the same, repetitive Bioshock combat that was present in the first two games. It’s not that I’m not a fan of it, but I’ve already played a recent title with those same mechanics in place: Dishonored. And to be honest, I like the setting and story of that game far more than that found in the new Bioshock. Columbia just doesn’t appeal to me aesthetically, and neither does the story (or at least it’s ending certainly doesn’t).

I’ve read reviews. I watched the excellent, extensive and informative Giant Bomb spoilercast. I understand that Infinite is a good game, but I would argue that it’s not really a great one. If the best part of your game are the parts that happen between actually playing it (the story far outshines the combat), then maybe it shouldn’t be put on top of the Game of the Year list quite so fast. Likewise, while I certainly think the story in Infinite is compelling, it left me with a very familiar and unsatisfying feeling.

Experiencing Infinite was a lot like experiencing the television show Lost.

Concluding the story of Booker was like concluding the story of Jack. Both of them end up making choices that end of torturing them later in life, and both long for redemption. But I’m not here to over analyze Infinite. It’s being done to death already. And that’s the main thing it has in common with Lost. Ken Levine is the J.J. Abrams of video games. He litters infinite with the mysterious, the odd and the unexplained, and as you get deeper into his world you are led to believe that all will be revealed. Only it never is. Time travel, multiple universes, paradoxes… Levine doesn’t really answer the biggest questions Infinite asks. Instead, just like Abrams, he simply poses the questions and lets his audience argue over the outcome.

Booker is Comstock. The only way for Comstock to never exist is to kill Booker at the baptism after Wounded Knee.

Okay. But wait a minute.

Wouldn’t that also prevent Elizabeth from existing? How did that simple baptismal choice create such a vastly different persona? How do these different characters even resemble one another? What is Comstock’s motivation to destroy the world below? How did Elizabeth even gain her powers? Can anyone just leave a finger behind in another universe and become a Time Lord? Why is it that Booker is the only one in the entire game who can use powers that anyone can gain simply by drinking  glowing jugs of magical moonshine? (Dishonored at least explains how its protagonist gained his abilities in a convincing way, and then defined why he was one of the few to ever have them.) If there really are infinite universes, why isn’t everyone walking around with nosebleeds? Infinite possibilities would mean everyone is dead in at least one of them. Infinite possibilities also means Booker never fought in Wounded Knee in some of them, making his drowning completely unnecessary. And even if you buy into it all, doesn’t hitting that reset button invalidate the entire story we just played through?

But there I go again, falling into the cleverly laid trap that Levine and his team at Irrational have laid for us.

They let players ask these questions and come up with all of these wild and complex theories, and we as gamers exalt the game as a masterpiece of storytelling in the process. But the truth is that there are no real answers. Like Abrams, the questions are left there intentionally because these theories we propose and argue over are much more engaging than any truth ever could be. That’s the real magic of Infinite, just as it was in Lost. It’s a trick. It’s a fade to black. It’s the spinning top at the end of Inception.

There are no answers.

Some people will enjoy having this little trick played on them. Others will feel a bit cheated.

 

I love Inception. I enjoyed Lost until the final season. Fringe is one of my favorite Sci-Fi shows. I like mysteries and complexity as much as the next person. But I like it most when it proves how clever it is. What I don’t like is being dropped in a narrative maze without any real solution.

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7 responses to “Bioshock Infinite: Over Analysis Does Not A Great Game Make (SPOILERS)

  1. I agree with some points Jason.

    I’m not going to lie, seeing a article about a game with the foreward basically saying “look I didn’t actually play this” is a tad disingenuous. If I posted a review of “Skyfall” and talked about it’s merits without actually seeing it, I would be likely ripped apart and rightly so. I’m not claiming that away from the cut scenes or whatever else you reviewed there is a TON of story content, but there is some, and in the end I feel like you need to experience a work of art (at least to some extent) to have a leg to stand on in talking about it.

    To the point at hand, obviously there is a lot of interpretation to be had, and even the things you mentioned above (Inception especially) can fall apart quickly if you start looking very closely. To me, the Infinite thing I didn’t take quite so literally, I watered down the plot mostly to “in order to stop Booker/Comstock he had to die before that all took place”. Just like Inception leaving us with the spinning top at the end… does it fall over? does it keep spinning? We are left with a bunch of Elizabeth’s fading away (since of course without Booker/Comstock alive they don’t exist) but before we see “our” Elizabeth/Anna fade away the scene ends. In my interpretation she disappears because it doesn’t make any sense if she doesn’t.

    Anyways, I appreciated that it provoked more thought than 95% of the other games I play and while there are plot holes, just about every other “mindfuck” type game/movie I enjoy has them as well (Memento, Inception, etc”.

    • I get your point, but I was able to experience the story, only as a movie instead of a game. It’s not like I just read some spoilers and drew my conclusions from that. In some ways I may have even experienced it in a more cohesive and attentive manner than someone who played through it. I think I can at least make a case for it, as I experienced it without large spans of combat time between story beats, and without having to worry about controlling the character. All of my undivided attention was on the story, without pause or interruption.

      I think Infinite brought up a lot of interesting points and has a good story, but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed in it. I think Levine (like J.J.) intentionally leaves these paradoxes and questions spinning around in the minds of his audience for various reasons. Maybe it’s because he thinks the truth would never live up to our own theories. Or perhaps it’s because he knows that the mind recoils at puzzles without solutions, and that we’ll all fill in those blanks for him (or try to). Why write the entire story when you can leave bits and pieces out, allow your audience do the work for you, creating controversy and buzz in the process. It’s brilliant in a sense, but it still feels like a manipulation to me.

      It’s the difference between Inception’s spinning top and finding out exactly who Keyser Soze is at the end of The Usual Suspects. I just happen to prefer the latter.

      • Some of that is fair, but there are some story elements talked about as you move around with Elizabeth and a lot of commentary especially in the wounded knee areas, etc (you may have seen those).

        I think the story is very much both things you mentioned, I think he probably started with “omg what if you were both simultaenously the protagonist and the antagonist at the same time!” and worked out the rest from there.

        I think I like both “devices” as they were in story telling, take songs for example, some artists definitely take the approach to be more general so people can draw parallels with their own life/experiences and fill in holes with details that fit them (Dave Matthews does this quite a bit), or do you prefer something like Coheed and Cambria that take a very literal/story approach that draws on certain characters and excludes a persons own story (not saying the listener can’t relate, but you get my point).

        I think I like a world with both!

  2. I agree with some points Jason.

    I’m not going to lie, seeing a article about a game with the foreward basically saying “look I didn’t actually play this” is a tad disingenuous. If I posted a review of “Skyfall” and talked about it’s merits without actually seeing it, I would be likely ripped apart and rightly so. I’m not claiming that away from the cut scenes or whatever else you reviewed there is a TON of story content, but there is some, and in the end I feel like you need to experience a work of art (at least to some extent) to have a leg to stand on in talking about it.

    To the point at hand, obviously there is a lot of interpretation to be had, and even the things you mentioned above (Inception especially) can fall apart quickly if you start looking very closely. To me, the Infinite thing I didn’t take quite so literally, I watered down the plot mostly to “in order to stop Booker/Comstock he had to die before that all took place”. Just like Inception leaving us with the spinning top at the end… does it fall over? does it keep spinning? We are left with a bunch of Elizabeth’s fading away (since of course without Booker/Comstock alive they don’t exist) but before we see “our” Elizabeth/Anna fade away the scene ends. In my interpretation she disappears because it doesn’t make any sense if she doesn’t.

    Anyways, I appreciated that it provoked more thought than 95% of the other games I play and while there are plot holes, just about every other “mindfuck” type game/movie I enjoy has them as well (Memento, Inception, etc”)

  3. I played the game and mostly agree.

    In terms of story, it was a very solid start. What really bothered me was how the racial themes mostly died down and seemed rushed in the middle/end. This game could have done a lot more with it, as one could see from previews in 2010, but that’s just one urk.

    Another urk of mine is that somehow this game has an original thought or original ending… anyone who has been overexposed to time travel/parallel world stories will agree it was VERY predictable. The reveal that Comstock = Booker was evident the moment Booker freaked out and murdered Comstock. I just think the game is alright, but its not rewriting the way game stories are told like a lot of people in the gaming industry seem to be insinuating.

    Bioshock 1 had excellent story and ambiance. Bioshock Infinite has an okay story with an ambiance that just kind of gives up halfway through.

    • I feel like adding that the WHOLE game Elizabeth and Booker have a weird feel to them. It was during the Vox Rebellion that I looked at my boyfriend and said “They don’t seem like a romantic couple at all.” This is kind of big since a lot of games that have a female lead with a male lead = romance… He replied, “Yeah, I get a daughter-father vibe from how they interact.” We lol’d when it became more and more evident that our thoughts were correct.

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