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    BioShock Infinite: Through The Eyes Of An Angry Black Man

    Social themes we ought not delve to deep into, 'lest we distract you from shooting dudes in the face.


    It’s my fault. All of it. Ultimately, I am the problem.


    I have a few friends that worked on BioShock Infinite and I damn near have a panic attack at the thought of them reading this. It took me two weeks to methodically sift through the fabrics of this game, but it took Irrational Games five years and about 300 people. I’m trying to be mindful, whilst giving early warnings that you may not like what I have to say about this game. That is whether you liked, hated, or helped in its creation.


    As soon as I played Bioshock Infinite, I played knowing people had issues with the narrative and plot. I shut that off. I played knowing the gaming culture and the outlets that represent it, awarded this game a number on metacritic. That number is very high, which is supposed to encourage those who like numbers representing games, “this is the best game you could be playing -- at least right now.”-- Numbers For Games. I shut that off too.

    Contextually, this moment we all remember wouldn't have fit. Elizabeth being this curious and humorous avatar didn't fit her overall mystique, I guess.

    If you’re reading this [please, someone read this], then you probably saw the demo several times of a bright blue female figure trying to help a dying horse. I saw that same figure try something humorous in said demo by putting on a novelty sized Lincoln head. I saw a peek, a glimpse, into what I thought this game could be steering me into. A connection. Then I decided, like most in this current age of social media info-storms. “I don’t want to know anymore.”


    What I got was a game I subconsciously put too much, umm, salt in. I saw a game based in a fantastical world that could never exist in my own head and attempts to address socio-economic issues that do. I planned on digesting this BioShock Infinite like a fine wine. I planned on abstaining from tweeting about the game, making obnoxious facebook posts, and writing about it until I felt “comfortable.” I spent two weeks always forgetting that I was playing this game. “Oh yeah, I should finish that.” Me, subconsciously recognizing that somewhere along the way, this game wasn’t getting its hooks into my daily routine.


    Gone are the Ayn Rand idols personified in the original BioShock’s Rapture. In BioShock Infinite I’m poured into this floating city, surrounded by a late 19th century Christian America motif. Where founding fathers are idolized like gods.


    Surrounded by, white people. Barbershop quartets. Phonographs playing renditions of songs that sound familiar and quirky, some more beautiful than others. All, very beautiful.


    Then, I’m given a choice to throw a baseball at a white man, or a black woman in a circus-like setting. Something is wrong here. My brain after five years still has the choices etched in memory of saving the Little Sisters of Rapture, or harvesting them. I still remember the discussion of the sounds the Little Sisters made if you harvested them. I remember the podcasts discussion, arguments, that opened about implied sexual connotations and the mistreatment of children. Something that could never happened with any other game at the time.


    Something, seemingly not intentional to the games overall direction. It was fun to theorize though.

    Though fairly binary, the decisions in the original BioShock provided the player with varying issues and concepts to think about well after finishing the game.

    The original BioShock, in my opinion, set the bar too high for this console generation. Well, not the shooting -- or mega-boss fight ending. The good parts, not the parts people look at as woeful scars on an imperfect masterpiece. Bioshock set the bar too high for what we would come to expect from games in general. The idea of achievements, multiplayer-mandatory implementation and friendslist are concepts we kinda forget are now accepted forms of game development [for better or worse]. I say this knowing that in a matter of weeks Microsoft will announce it’s new console and the “console wars” will begin anew for a new generation. More money, more advertisements, more from the beasts that just keeps getting bigger.


    Digressions aside, I’m holding an in-game baseball in front of a very white crowd, looking into the eyes of an interracial couple, imprisoned and put on display for amusement. A very video game thing happens, “press L1 to hit the couple, press R1 to hit the host.” I think, I hope, this sets me down a path where it’s important for me to THINK about my actions and their repercussions in this society.


    “It’s nice to want things.”

    The violence didn't offend me, but it did distract me from the many messages BioShock Infinite wanted to have.

    Bloody violence ensued. I’m still not sure how I felt about my decision. The game made it clear that, in the grand scheme of that scenario, that couple’s story doesn’t matter. The story loops back around [two cut scenes later] and mechanically sews together whether you were “good” or “bad” to them and they respond with stock dialogue. It would be unintentional foreshadowing for every story, every branching path and every pseudo-connection made in this world. You’re playing as this guy, Booker Dewitt. A white, straight guy, who shoots a gun ... and doesn’t matter.


    They give you a pistol and a mystical claw-like arm that gives you the ability to travel around small portions of this game. Now this I understand! The last interview and articles I read about BioShock Infinite was that the cover art was focus tested. It tested very well with American fraternity-type males -- whatever that age range happens to be. For some strange reason I thought this only applied to the box art. Boy was I wrong.


    A room with two staircases. Both staircases have, hopefully, a branching path or two, before ultimately funneling you into a much larger room where you shoot more people. You can torture enemies if you’re feeling particularly interested in how BioShock Infinite has laid out the plethora of ways you can kill white people in a large room. Where the original BioShock had EVE-powered plasmids, which is just a fancy way of saying “you’re playing a shooter with rpg-like magics.” However, there are all these other moving pieces covering the fact that you’re just exploding dudes with earthly elements. In the original BioShock you had the veil of hacking safes, machine gun and rocket-armed turrets that, almost became one-dimensional buddies. You didn’t feel alone, because you had an influence in this world inhabited with enemies having conversations, seemingly without you.

    Similar to the crudly, blood-splatter walls of Left 4 Dead. Every poster and monument gives Infinite's world more flavor and personality than the characters do.

    BioShock Infinite has this magic called Vigor powered by “salts,” which is a decent nod to many science fiction literature that vaguely explain why things work. Both games don’t bother explaining why such powers are being sold to any citizen with a few coins in their pocket, or the obvious design omission of why don’t your enemies by them like you. I mean, you raid their bodies after you kill them, you know they have the money to do so. So weird.


    Maybe I’m supposed to assume that this perfect world they live in has clouded an enemy’s judgement that their Comstock’s and Andrew Ryan’s will protect them, and there’s no need to arm yourself past a wrench or gun. I didn’t have to stretch my beliefs that far with Bioshock, but I did in the latter portions of Infinite.


    When you have 300+ people work on a hundred million dollar game, you’re gonna miss something. Apparently BioShock Infinite forgot that it started you off surrounded in a world that hated independant women. Jewish, Irish, Welsh and Chinese immigrants and natives alike all get wack-a-mole-like insults. Native Americans and “Kneegroes,” are also shown to the gamer as Columbia’s less-than-human creatures the floating city worked so hard in keeping under historical boots.


    I say Negroes in that manner, because that’s how it was said, and honestly I’ve always found that manner of spoken degradation to be the most humorous. “Kneegroes.”

    Missed opportunities: We could have gone there and followed through with this revolution centered around human rights, but the "fun" of BioShock Infinite was more important in the end.

    How much more exciting would it have been if Dewitt weren’t a white, straight man? Could that have been pulled off? Would that have focus grouped well? How about a leading woman like Daisy Fitzroy? Wait, that’s right, women on box covers don’t sell -- so the chances of a woman that isn’t Lara Croft starring in a high-budgeted game isn’t even a possibility. Thanks for that reminder.


    I wanted something more. I am the problem. I wanted my decisions to matter. My decisions may have well been paper or plastic. A paper-thin script enveloped by plastic characters. You are narratively implied to look for voxophones, code books, anything that will help you gain something more than the main storyline presented.


    The game instructs you to use more vigors, magic when it feels you’re blowing the brains “smooth out” of the heads of your enemies. The game tells you, “Elizabeth doesn’t need protecting, she can fend for herself.” Yet you are clearly escorting her to a destination. Show me BioShock Infinite. Don’t tell me. It would make a much bigger impact if these characters, much like the game’s predecessor, gave off the impression that life exists without you. Making any decisions you clumsily fumble upon in this world actually relevant.


    Three quarters of the way through this lush cinematic experience, I realize that after a hard days work, I’m not making any progress. I’m sitting down. My back is sore from working at a warehouse. I shove my bills out of the way to make time for a game that isn’t making good use of the time I’m spending with it. Why am I going on fetch quests for mere plot convenience? What happened to this revolution that involved race, women and the impoverished?

    The elevator rides which framed why these towns and sections of Columbia came into being conveyed more than the overarching points of character development in Infinite.

    This game’s strongest suit is that it is forcing me to grow up. I don’t have a lot of time to share with games. I’m 31. I’m single. My life is complicated. So I need this game, to make me want it more. I shouldn’t be thinking about the race issues oddly slapped together and unceremoniously dropped in BioShock Infinite. When I clock out, and I open up my door into my apartment, I see the box cover on my table. I’m reminded that no matter how big games get, there will always be a feeling that, as far as popular culture? I don’t belong.


    And that was the fine thread that kept me “in” BioShock Infinite. I would find that a part of growing up and “putting away childish things,” is my personal sensitivity to spoilers is over. I found that no matter how much I love a media, an art, a vision -- it is all fleeting. The ambition of BioShock Infinite is applaudable. The finished product will leave very faint impressions in my lexicon. As I write this, know that I finished the game yesterday. I felt if I mulled it over longer, I’d forget major themes and aspects. The honest truth is that the game didn’t leave me feeling anything. It was all very numbing. Irony? Yes, I’m writing a 2000+ word essay on me “not feeling feels.”


    Ken Levine is still one of my most favorite people to listen to when it comes to his story and how he sees games. To put the onus of how BioShock Infinite turned out on him isn’t [completely] fair. However, here is where I tell you the part of the game that will have the longest lasting impression on me. It wasn’t Songbird, nor the obvious nod to Rapture. The satisfaction one feels when meticulously searching a room by pressing square over and over and finding all the items. The visual representation of that is still hilarious, by the way. Elizabeth must think you’re an insane person stuffing all that ammo and cotton candy into your pants.

    The best part of BioShock Infinite were the credits. No snark, it’s true. There is a portion of the credits, nearing the end, where Ken Levine is helping the two artists sing one of the game’s major thematic songs. The singing is very technical and beautiful at times, but the idea of the executive producer being so hands-on with his vision, that he’s inside of a studio helping them, the whole thing is too odd for words. There were so many moving pieces to this game that I can’t help but think N’Gai Croal was right, “the true sign of a great director is when they are given a big budget and the result is still a great piece of work.”


    It’s because of the game’s obvious need to cater to the mainstream to attempt making money to cover it’s rumored $200 million dollar budget. The concepts and ideas abandoned in order for us critical thinking gamers [wow, did I just call myself that? Kill me.] needn’t to be “sold” on this version of Rapture. It’s my fault that I didn’t like BioShock Infinite. It’s my fault that I was never a fan of time travel as a narrative device -- I also kinda actively hated Quantum Leap. There’s this part of BioShock Infinite when you travel to the poorer parts of town.


    Finkton, a fitting name, reintroduces a game mechanic that I found flimsy and, at times, a bit wonky.


    Occasionally I’d see prompts telling me that “I should abstain from shooting, because it isn’t always the best option.” My favorite was the nebulous, “stealing has consequences.” In Finktown, a town, much like myself ... poor & disenfranchised. The game, at this point, has trained me to go the opposite direction of the “main story arrow.” I’ve been trained to understand, tears [rips in the fabric or reality] mean that combat is soon to follow. But there I was, staring at penniless people trying to kick open a vending machine, I walk over to inspect and see plenty of money already exposed. I take one piece outside of the feral mass -- nothing happens. I take a coin closer to the mob, BLOOD BATH. I didn’t come to Finkton to kill poor people. These people, though one-dimensional, were the only group, I felt, I understood from the onset.

    Such beautiful imagery of how religious-based cities can ultimately engender a class that thrives off of those they deem beneath them.

    It hits me. The twitter arguments. The backlash. This all. This exposure, it’s all my fault. I read. I watched. I absorb the environment in which I inhabit and now the internet is as much a part of that as my $25,000+ a year plus benefits -- real, boring, life. The story we’ve seen in multiple avenues, or if BioShock Infinite were to tell you -- through several doorways. Doctor Who, Back To The Future, Stargate, Freejack, all works that I can easily recall having some impression on me [yes even Freejack], with the idea that we are all travelling through time and are “trying” to find better stories through a multitude of dimensions. We are all trying to make better decisions.

    But this work, Levine’s work, Will have no more of a lasting impression than a tired version of an M. Night Shyamalan film -- and I’m talking post-Unbreakable. Quick tangent, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce is a work that has been aped by all forms of media. It would seem that the makers of BioShock Infinite forgot the crucial aspect of the short story set around the same time as this multi-geared game. In order to make a connection with the viewer, the player, the reader -- you have to care about how they connect. One death doesn’t matter if all the deaths don’t matter.

    Footnotes and Noteworthy Pieces [way better than the one you just read]:

    Some Christians don’t like the baptism part of Bioshock.

    The game is rife with violence...even when you don’t want to be violent.

    Leigh Alexander’s Feels on BioShock Infinite

    Tim Rogers Two Star Review, now with overly verbose video reading.

    Dan Golding on BioShock Infinite’s “racism as window dressing.”






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