Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bioshock Infinite

I feel like a dick for posting criticism of its writing before I finished it. It was pretty awesome. Once I put it on Medium difficulty I enjoyed it a lot more; I recaptured that lovely Willful Suspension of Disbelief once I stopped dieing every few steps.

The original Bioshock is renowned for its use of "moral choice;" supposedly it was the first game to put some really gnarly choices in the hands of the players and say "you deal with the consequences." It sort of confronts you with "reality is often ugly, and you're going to be asked to play a role in it, so what kind of person are you going to be?" At least thats what I hear, I haven't (yet) played the original.

But the Bioshock Infinite (the third one) deliberately thumbs its nose at the whole notion. I only saw two actual choices in the game, the first a genuine "moral choice" moment, and the second really just a question of how polite you want to be. Outside of that, theres a sense that events are outside of your control, and that no matter what you choose, things are going to be totally fucked up.

Lets talk about those two moments of choice, though. The first one is at the Raffle. You're on a mission in this extremely jigoist (thats old-fashioned for "nationalistic and racist"), insular society. There's apparently a tradition where everyone at the fair picks a baseball with a number on it, baseballs being symbols for good-old-fashioned wholesomeness. You, the character, happen to pick the winning number! What's your prize? You get to Throw The First Ball! At an interracial couple who are guilty of being interracial!

This is the first point where you get to make a decision, both of which involve throwing the ball. The question is: the target. Do you throw it at the couple who the announcer is encouraging you to publicly castigate?  Or do you throw it at the asshole announcer? I'm happy to say that I have no idea what happens if you choose the former option (unlike in Farcry, I chose the actually good options); but if you choose to do the right thing and stand up against the hate crime, well, then, everyone who was looking forward to participating in a hate crime realizes that you're not one of them and starts the "throw Booker Dewitt off the Island" campaign.

The other "choice point" involves whether or not to demand a ticket from a clerk at gunpoint or to shout at him. Sadly I don't know what the former option results in, in this case, but the latter gets you stabbed in the hand because the clerk is an undercover agent preparing a trap for you. Getting stabbed in the hand was pretty unexpectedly cool, I must say, and I appreciate that the bandaged hand stays with you through the rest of the game.

But on to the more significant, existentially bleak shit. The character's whole motivation is "bring us the girl, wash away the debt." Apparently we were a Pinkerton agent, we've done somethings we'd rather forget, and it seems (in retrospect) that we've done a fairly good job of forgetting a lot of it. The girl we need to bring, it seems, is locked in a tower (tropes!) and has the ability to open wormholes (... latter-day tropes!). She's imprisoned by this world's Joseph Smith, guarded by a giant cyborg (I can only assume building on the first Bioshock's tropes), and her captor drains the power out of her without her knowing. Maybe that last bit has some Marxist "alienation of the worker" shit to it? I dunno.

Anyway, our heroine's wormholes are four-dimensional, meaning they can fuck with causality (as I mentioned last time I talked about the game). At some point she's separated from us, the masculine hero, and we're given an abandonment guilt-trip. We were supposed to be protecting her! Her continuing faith on our return is dashed!

An early bit of dialog between hero and heroine is worth mentioning at this point. Elizabeth asks if we're married. "I was," we say, "but she died. In childbirth." Sad stuff. Elizabeth, sensitive conversationalist she is, asks: "Oh, I'm sorry. So you have a child?"  The voice acting is what really makes the next line from the hero have emotional impact: "No..." he says, voice laden with sadness, bitterness, and regret. The impression you get, it must be obvious, is that both mother and child died in childbirth, and this is the reason for our tacturnity.

But how much worse is the truth, as it turns out. Without belaboring all the delightfully depressing details (I've got to wrap this post up because the original Bioshock has been downloading on my PS3 and is almost ready to play), its all your fault. Accepting responsability means undoing yourself.  Bleeeaaaak.

And pretty entertaining.

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