The DigestVideo

Games Of March 2013: BioShock Infinite

Is the much-anticipated sequel a moving personal story or an empty political statement? Or both?

By John Teti • April 16, 2013

A companion piece to this video is now live over at Kotaku. Check it out!

Kotaku editor Evan Narcisse is back on The Digest to talk about BioShock Infinite with me. Evan was on the inaugural edition of The Digest one year ago, so it’s nice to have him back for the “anniversary” episode. We marked the milestone by eating donuts from the Doughnut Plant in Chelsea—specifically, we ate the cashew and orange blossom variety. Donuts are an excellent choice for any occasion, I’ve found.

This is the longest episode of The Digest yet, as our chat went about twice as long as Digest tapings usually last—not surprising given the scale of the game in question. Because we had to concentrate mostly on big-picture debates in the final cut, Evan and I put together a post at Kotaku in which we discuss a few finer details of BioShock Infinite. For further reading, here are links to Evan’s review and my review of Infinite. (We were distracted, to say the least, by news events as we were pulling together the follow-up piece on Monday. Our thoughts are with those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.)

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  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    I will do the Truffle Shuffle if it earns me that Murder of Crows vigor bottle.
    I will gain sufficient weight to maximize Truffle Shuffle hilarity if it earns me that Murder of Crows vigor bottle.

       Also, I’m at the climax (I think) of Infinite right now, and I can say I completely agree with both your takes on the game.  A quirk of quantum physics, I guess.

    • Effigy_Power

      Shuffle that truffle all you want, I will fight you tooth and nail. I don’t even want that bottle, but I do love winning.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Awesome.  You be the Zealot Demagogue, I’ll be the Guerilla rabble-rouser and we’ll take turns pounding each other with Victorian-etched bludgeons until the victor emerges, geegaw in hand.

        • Moonside_Malcontent

           Ahem.  *inserts swazzle*

          “That’s the way to do it!”

        • MathleticDepartment

          You guys can fight over the bottle. My kingdom for Teti’s jacket.

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    One year anniversary: mildly edible candy.
    Five year anniversary: stale snack cakes.
    Ten year anniversary: one (1) Magic: The Gathering card valued at six (6) dollars or less.
    Fifteen year anniversary: one (1) Lego set in a theme of your choice.
    Twenty year anniversary: one (1) plaid jacket in a color not of your choice.
    Twenty-five year anniversary: one (1) mention on Keyboard Geniuses, and one (1) Like from a Gameological editor on the comment of your choice.

    • Effigy_Power

      Magic cards taste horrible.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        Try brushing them with olive oil.

        • Halloween_Jack

          Breaded, deep-fried, on a stick, with hot fudge. Anything is edible that way.

        • SamPlays

          A sprinkle of sea salt goes a long way. You can also sprinkle some finely chopped rosemary if that’s to your taste, too. 

          Chop chop, Gameological! Next Digest we expect to see you eating roasted playing cards with some fine seasonings.

        • PaganPoet

          I douse mine with Sriracha.

        • SamPlays

          @PaganPoet:disqus I’ve been on a sriracha kick lately. I’m putting that shit on everything! 

        • PaganPoet

          @SamPlays:disqus I’ve gotten my Sriracha addiction mostly in check these days, but I still have a nasty habit (i.e. delicious habit!) of just saturating my pho with it when I eat out. I turn the broth bright red.

        • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

          My favourite thing to do with sriracha is to squirt it between two fried eggs.

  • Cloks

    Thoughts:

    One might even say that America is “the great experiment”.

    John (Mr. Teti?) ‘s hair looks a little poofier, perhaps due to humidity.

    I didn’t like Bioshock Infinite but I know entirely too much about it.

    Tipsy Uncle sounds like a plausible sequel to OctoDad.

    Oh, hyper-saturation. One of the few concepts in Chem that suck with me.

    Drew Toal tomorrow? Yay!

    • HobbesMkii

      Yeah, Teti looks a little wild-eyed and unkempt in that intro.

    • Drew Toal

      I’ll just go ahead and assume that’s biting sarcasm.

      • Cloks

        You sell yourself too short Drew.

        • SamPlays

          “I think this is where we might differ… a lot.”

      • Enkidum

        Are you the snack? Hence… wait for it… biting sarcasm? HAHAHAHA – oh god I’m tired.

      • George_Liquor

        Oh doooo give me more Drew, Pleeeeease.

    • Fluka

      I felt an involuntary urge to yell “CUT YOUR HAIR, HIPPIE!”

    • Effigy_Power

      Between John’s hair and John’s jacket I had a hard time focusing on anything else. A modern Amadeus is born.

      • Citric

        My primary thought was it’s a shame he came along too late to host a ’70s game show.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          If I understood BioShock Infinite correctly, there is a universe in which John hosts a ’70s game show.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I’m pretty sure John thinks that every day of his life.

        • http://twitter.com/roundthewheel RTW

          This is exactly what I thought. I was like, “Nobody looks that much like Gene Rayburn without putting a lot of effort into it.”

        • Juan_Carlo

          I hope it wasn’t intentional.  There is no era of fashion more hideous than the 1970s.  So I hope that Teti dressing like some skeevy 1970s porn star attending his nephew’s BArmitzah isn’t a bellweather that hipsters are trying to ironically bring all the worst features of 1970s back.

          If that’s the case, “Fuck you hipsters!”

        • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

          @Merve2:disqus Not just that, but a dystopic 70′s game show, in which the player must mount a mission to rescue the contestants from a byzantine studio complex, which is itself a self-sustained realization of the personal philosophies of Chuck Woolery.

          Let’s call it BioShock: Tournament of Champions.

    • SamPlays

      John’s wavy locks look like they’re enjoying a new conditioner. Humidity could never make hair look that, um… handsome! The hair is classic Richard Dawson and the coat is pure Herb Tarlek. It’s golden, man, pure gold!

      • HobbesMkii

        Shoulda reserved this praise for the Almighty Soupy. Coulda gotten into Keyboard Geniuses this week.

        • SamPlays

          I give credit where and when it’s deserved.

  • HobbesMkii

    There’s an odd dynamic here where, no matter the amount of criticism, the pure joy this game seems to inspire in John and Evan and other critics is quite enticing. Perhaps this’ll be one of those games I pay full price for.

    • Fluka

      Agreed.  If I play this game, it probably won’t be until the 2014 calendar year.  And I’m still skeptical about a lot of the elements, particularly the ones that John mentions.  But it’s been honestly wonderful to hear the conversations that critics have been having about it. The game seems to have inspired a higher level of critical conversation than usual, event to the extent of sounding like literary criticism rather than the usual game reviews.  (Case in point: this is one of the most interesting Digests to date.)

      As a flip side to this, it’s also interesting that this game in particular has inspired a lot of new discussion about violence in games.  While I’ve heard some excellent defenses for the presence of brutal violence in Infinite, it’s still sad that the graphic combat probably will prevent it from reaching certain audiences.  Like I mentioned last week, my mother (a professor) was curious about the narrative structure and moral choice themes of the game after hearing about it on NPR.  But she’d never in a million years be able to play it.  I feel like we need more games that have BioShock’s amazing ambitions, but with more flavors than just “violent first person shooter.”  (BioShock can still be BioShock!  Let’s just have more variety in general!)

      (Edited: “2013″ to “2014″ calendar year. When the crap did it become 2013? What? Three and a half months ago?! Oh god…)

      • feisto

        I agree about the violence possibly alienating a potentially larger audience, but I’d go even further to say it can also prevent audiences who’re not squeamish about graphic violence from fully enjoying the craft that goes into a game’s world and narrative.

        From my own experience playing the first BioShock, I felt like I was introduced to a certain type of game–an FPS with a focus on exploration and discovery–and ended up playing the game the same way I’d done with Doom and Quake all those years ago (I hadn’t played an FPS in a long time): find enemy, kill. I did find the design and narrative elements compelling; but they felt like they were implemented to stay out of the way of the combat, which I DIDN’T find compelling (except for the wrench; boy, did I enjoy way too many visceral thrills from swinging that thing around).

        In the end, it felt like a game that sacrificed too much of what could have made it interesting for game play that quickly became repetitious and boring. And I couldn’t help but think, “You know? It didn’t have to be like this.”

        Having said all this, I still want to play Infinite, if only to see whether the balance has improved; because if it has, I might really enjoy it quite a bit.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I felt a similar dissonance between the game’s setting/story and gameplay. They give you this kind of interesting, fairly narratively rich, inventive space to explore, but then use a gameplay mechanic where the only verb you have at your disposal is “shoot.” It felt a bit like if someone had made a new Zork or Myst game, and inexplicably decided to make it an FPS.

          The fact that the gameplay style chosen was one that I find particularly not-compelling, and the setting/story wasn’t ultimately great enough for me to get over the gameplay, I wound up quitting the game out of boredom after about 2 levels.

        • feisto

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus, that’s not a bad analogy, except I was more-or-less expecting it to be an FPS…just not something so conventional. Going with your analogy, I guess for me it was like playing a new Zork game and finding out it’s basically a sequence of Tower of Hanoi variations.

        • Halloween_Jack

          That was pretty much my experience with the first Bioshock; I started thinking, “You know, if it’s going to be shooting, inventory management, fetch quests, and the occasional minigame to unlock something, I might as well be playing Mass Effect.” Which is what I did. (Bonus: ME1 actually has a Towers of Hanoi minigame, which ends up being lampshaded in the recent Citadel DLC.) 

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus  – Remember when, a few years back, there was an announcement for a multiplayer Shadowrun game (HOORAY!) and they decided to release it as a deathmatch only tournament style game (…the fuck?)?

        • SamPlays

          Violence is generally fascinating to consumers – it’s arguably the cornerstone of pop culture let alone the entirety of human advancement! Maybe the younger crowd is growing up more sensitive and empathetic? (I certainly hope so.)

        • GaryX

          I have a lot more to say about Infinite, but I still feel like the most rote conversation possible is the “violence is keeping this from a wider audience.”

          I don’t think that’s even necessary (because stories can be as violent as they want to be; McCarthy, Lynch, Croenenberg, Tarantino, etc etc illustrate that), but I don’t even think it’s the case. Yeah, maybe it keeps some people from playing it, but most giant entertainments that are widely successful are pretty fucking violent.

        • TaumpyTearrs

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus  Somebody around here directed me to the Shadowrun Kickstarters, they are making both a single player RPG in the style of the SNES/Genesis games AND an online multiplayers game (both from isometric perspectives, no first or 3rd person)!

          Up until I bought Hotline Miami last year, I have never purchased a PC game, but I might have to see if my laptop can handle these games when they come out. I LOVE the Shadowrun world.

    • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

      Pirate it on my behalf. I pre-ordered and paid full price, somehow forgetting how much I hated the first Bioshock, and hated this even more. Finishing it was a slog and the story felt like it was a carefully engineered attempt to infuriate me. I’ve never regretted paying for something so much in my life.

      • Other Chris

        Rare and refreshing. Thank you for your service.

        • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

          Two things that really get on my tits in game stories are 1. lack of player agency and 2. lampshading/handwaving elements that the “game” aspects force on the story.

          So when the entire finale basically consists of having one’s face rubbed in one’s complete lack of ability to affect proceedings in any way whatsoever. accompanied by a side of draping embroidery and tinsel over the fact that the whole game is basically a minor variation on the first entry in the series.. you can consider my tits thoroughly gotten on.

          Add multiple instances of *literally* “press F to do something you don’t want to, or quit the game” and it feels remarkably similar to being held down and spat on. I feel personally offended by this game and wish Ken Levine harm.

        • SamPlays

          @twitter-16826090:disqus So do you like the game or not?

        • GaryX

          @twitter-16826090:disqus I mean, isn’t that kind of the point? The illusion of choice? 

          If that’s how you feel about a game, I can’t imagine how you must feel reading philosophy that argues against free will.

        • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

          Well, exactly. It’s a game whose entire point is to underline and put in all-caps 144pt extra bold the one thing I like least about games (except that, of course, some games do offer some degree of agency to the player). I felt violated. It’s up there with Dancer in the Dark in the otherwise mostly abandoned category of “media I would pay good money to un-consume or have wiped from my memory”.

          Funnily enough, outside of video games, I’m pretty chill about the inarguable fact that free will is an illusion and we’re all just deterministic mechanisms ticking away on our preset paths, across hostile territory under enemy fire and finally into an open grave. I just don’t like being reminded of it in my escapist entertainment, I guess.

          EDIT: Also I thought it was pretty crappy and boring as first person shooters go.

    • DrFlimFlam

      As I’ve said before, this is the first game I’ve picked up at launch since what I believe is 2010. And it’s been so worth it to be able to participate in and read the discussion surrounding it.

    • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

      It’s a fascinating mix of potential, strong storytelling (if you just focus on Elizabeth and Booker and ignore preeeeeetty much everything else), and deep-rooted flaws (everything else). The FPS design, whatever its problems, makes for an extremely playable game–even when the combat is chaos, which is often, it’s usually quick and brutal enough to be addictive in that kind of “dammit, I was so close, just gotta shoot that last guy in the face” way. So you can burn through it quickly, which always helps conversations; add that to the mishmash of clunky political satire (if you’re gonna have a black woman leading a fight against her white oppressors turn out to be morally corrupt, you really need to earn that shit)(yeah, yeah, French Revolution, etc, but Daisy barely exists; she’s just a symbol Levine uses to make his “Everything’s the same” point, which is questionable to say the least) and the cultural status of the first Bioshock, and the game is, well, a lightning rod for this kind of discussion. It’s endlessly fun to talk about, even if it in and of itself is not endlessly fun.

      Speaking of the first Bioshock, I played through it last week, finally beating the damn game for the first time, and it really highlights what’s so fundamentally messy about BI. Yes, the ludo-narrative problems makes it so the final act is a bit of a dud, but while the big twist of Bio was what got all the attention, that twist was never the primary point of the game’s appeal. What makes it a great game is that the all the little pieces add together to make something bigger than themselves, from the combat design (claustrophobic, frequently terrifying, everyone’s out for him or her self), to the powers, to the look, to the story. Yes, there’s a bit of the sort of “Oops, your original objective is blocked, time for another detour” plotting that drives games, and would look like horrible padding in most other mediums (imagine if Indiana Jones located the Well of Souls, but found out the door had a special kind of lock put on it by some power hungry local, tracked the guy down, found out the guy needed him to go get a certain plant, and then mix the planet into a potion, and then bring the potion to someone else, who had actually been kidnapped by…); it’s not a perfect game. But it’s cohesive in a way that BI never really is, not even with that game’s really solid final twist. (Alternate name for Bioshock Infinite: Lampshade Hanging.) Bio has a single, unified goal. BI tries for that, but aims too big, and gets muddled by a lot of disparate, tangled ideas in the process. Still fun to pick at, though.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        You never played any of the Indiana Jones adventure games, did you?  ;)

        • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

          Good lord no.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        You should definitely play “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis”. Don’t worry, the puzzles aren’t nearly as recursive as your Well of Souls scenario.

      • George_Liquor

        Speaking of which, I wish adventure gaming wasn’t dead to mainstream developers. Rapture and Columbia are both places that screamed to be explored in an adventure game setting. Columbia in particular needed to be populated with characters you could interact with, gain information from, and only occasionally shoot. Like this Digest mentions, the Luteces dish out juicy plot tidbits in a delightfully quirky way, but when their scripted sequences are finished, they just stand around & eyeball you. I wanted more quirk, dammit! Even if was a response to something like “How ’bout them Mets?”

        Elizabeth was the biggest missed opportunity, though. A whole lot of effort was put into making her movements and body language seem lifelike, but you can never directly interact with her outside of a scripted sequence. Conversations and the ability to choose my responses make characters much more interesting to me, whether it has an affect on the plot or not. Without the ability to yak at her, I didn’t get any more emotionally invested in Elizabeth’s character than I did Jack The Gears Of War Door Opening Robot’s.

    • His_Space_Holiness

      I’m torn. On the one hand, I love the premise and the setting, but I really don’t want to slaughter my way across that setting. If this game was in nearly any form other than FPS, I’d probably pick it up, but I just don’t feel like a beautiful world is worth a massacre.

      Then again, I’ll gleefully murder my way across Skyrim, which is all gray and depressing and filled with assholes. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.

      • Effigy_Power

        That’s pretty much how I feel about Bioshock Infinite.
        I think it’s a setting so gloriously beautiful and stunning to look at, wasted on a game that makes you shoot at people who have health bars over their heads.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        “I purchased the inventory pack upgrade, it can now contain multitudes.”

      • Swampgas_Man

        It’s the “Everybody but Elizabeth is an asshole and deserves to die” premise I found objectionable.  Let me actually interact, not just gawp, w/ the Luteces.  Let me stop Daisy by some other means than killing her.  Hell, even Booker was an asshole, and the game killed him.

        Yeah, that’s what it felt like: “The game killed him, not me.”  If someone has to die, I want to have the agency to kill him, not some script.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

    It’s been a week and i’m sill thinking about the ending and how affecting it was.

    Go figure.

    PS: Heads.

    • Effigy_Power

      Stop it, Guldenstern.

      • His_Space_Holiness

        Statement!

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    Some thoughts on the video and BioShock Infinite:
    - The Lutece “siblings” were also one of my favourite parts of the game. At first I thought I thought that they were merely Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-esque figures whose purpose was to comment on the aciton, but I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out that they had a major role in the plot. I also didn’t recognize Jennifer Hale’s voice as Rosalind; I didn’t realize she was so versatile. Best Lutece moment: when Robert turns around to reveal 110 heads marked on the blackboard he’s wearing.

    - I didn’t have a problem with Elizabeth’s lack of reflection over her imprisonment. At first, her utter lack of reflection on the subject is indicative of her Disney-princess-like naïveté and her enthusiasm for finally being free. Later, when she sees the ugly side of Columbia and her personality hardens, her joy turns into a grim, singular determination to leave the city. It was clear that she wanted to leave Columbia behind, so I was fine with her not saying much about her time in the tower.

    - Columbia really is beautiful. I have 330 screenshots to prove it.

    - I very much enjoyed BioShock Infinite, but I didn’t adore it. Part of the reason for that is what Evan pointed out: it glances off a lot of the topics with which it deals. While I feel it deals with those topics in an intelligent manner, it still feels like an exercise in drive-by intellectualism. I wonder if the results would have been better if Irrational had chosen to make a more focused game – not a shorter one, necessarily – but one that fully engaged with either metaphysical or political subjects.

    - At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’m so glad to see that John and Evan have made thoughtful critiques of the game without knocking it for supposedly trying and failing to achieve the status of “high art.” There’s been an odd backlash against the game in the blogosphere recently, much of it focused on Infinite’s artistic merit and its relevance to the medium, as if the game were aiming for some specific status in the gaming canon and had failed to achieve that lofty goal. It seems as if some people wanted Infinite to be that game – the one that proves to the masses that games are art. In my view, that attitude speaks to a fundamental insecurity that a lot of people in the gaming community have about the validity of their hobby. Here’s some advice: if you think that gaming matters, then talk about it as if it matters. Dissect and discuss games with the same level of scrutiny that you would apply to a creative work in any other medium, like John and Evan did here. Don’t bemoan a game’s failure to reach some standard it never intended to achieve. That’s like looking at a chair, treating it as a table, and criticizing it for being a bad table.

    • Effigy_Power

      “That’s like looking at a chair, treating it as a table, and criticizing it for being a bad table.”

      So… stool?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        “So… stool?”

        I’ll never understand this fecal fixation of yours. :P

        • Effigy_Power

          Hey, you described it. I just had the guts to spell it out. No need to treat me like dung because you don’t agree with my mental excretions.

    • Nacho_Matrimony

      Agreed. To harp on notions of high art in regards to this game is silly. Infinite is still wholly a game and does exciting and poignant things with the medium. To disregard it’s inability to become high art overlooks the nature of creativity, especially in a society where the power to do as much is becoming increasingly democratized. 

      • Swampgas_Man

        Agreed.  Gamers never got over Ebert’s rejection of games as High Art, and are still fighting w/ a dead man.

    • ProfessorFarnsworth

      I completely agree.  Many of the “films” that started were certainly not trying to be ‘art’.  If people talk about games with a critical eye and discuss them with ‘art’ in mind, they should become more artistic.

      • Tiako

        Like what? Most of the films that survived the test of time had very explicitly artistic goals. The French New Wave’s modus operandi was combining high art with Hollywood, so was noir twenty years prior, as well as all of TEH GRATIST FILMS EVAR like Godfather, Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, Seven Samurai, Seventh Seal, 8 1/2, etc. I don’t really see where you are coming from with that statement.

        • ProfessorFarnsworth

          I remember seeing films like ‘Nosferatu’ and other films from that era.  They were made for entertainment and are now considered as a beginning for the medium.

        • Tiako

          @google-979f29be811e215c373f4d2c43ad540c:disqus 

          Nosferatu was a hallmark of German Expressionism, which was all about finding a new artistic style for cinema. I have no idea what definition of “art” you are using but you simply can’t call it just meant for entertainment. It was absolutely artistic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

       IMO i don’t really see Bioshock Infinite as art even despite being a fucking amazing game.

      I just couldn’t see lumping the game with actual games that are considered art like Ico, Heavy Rain and Portal.

      HOWEVER, i will consider Bioshock Infinite to be one of the best written games next to Grim Fandago and Heavy Rain. That is a certainty.

      • Czar

        Heavy Rain? Art?

        SHAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWN!

        • PaganPoet

          Accent wasn’t French enough.

        • bludgeon

           JAY-SUN!

      • GaryX

        Heavy Rain is art in the way that a shitty episode of CSI can be art.

        • George_Liquor

          You mean there aren’t shitty episodes of CSI?

        • GaryX

          @George_Liquor:disqus Just that some episodes are shittier than others.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      Considering I only signed up for Disqus specifically to comment on this site, the day before Teti’s review of Infinite, it feels like I’ve been using the comments section to do nothing but talk about Bioshock since.

      Believe me, I’d be greedy if I asked for anything more!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      “Dissect and discuss games with the same level of scrutiny that you would apply to a creative work in any other medium”

      But I would say that the concept of “art” is precisely the framework in which one could apply that sort of pan-medium scrutiny. While the question of whether or not something is “art” (or “high art”) is fairly useless, I think assessing a game or film or TV show or installation or painting as “good” or “bad” art, or more specifically, as having different types of artistic merit, is useful.

      This does require a fairly supple/broad conception of artistic merit, though. A simplistic metric like “does it make me cry” obviously doesn’t work in this case (and of course doesn’t work for most works or art ever made, ever). A subjective acknowledgement of the game’s seeming goals and how they are or aren’t achieved is necessary.

      I think the harping on this game’s status as ‘art’ is maybe mostly a failure of semantics. The game feints in the direction of conceptual depth and social relevance, both indicators of ‘high art’ for armchair critics, so when it doesn’t actually engage in any conceptual depth or emotional relevance, it’s framed as having “failed at being art” rather than (maybe) “failing to succeed on its own (artistic?) terms.”

      What that terminology fails to acknowledge is that something like Mario Galaxy is a successful work of art “despite” having no broader conceptual or social relevance – its triumphs are largely formal. There isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all metric in something as broad and mercurial as ‘art’, except perhaps for the meta- rule of thumb that “there isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all metric.”

      • PaganPoet

        While the question of whether or not something is “art” (or “high art”) is fairly useless, I think assessing a game or film or TV show or installation or painting as “good” or “bad” art, or more specifically, as having different types of artistic merit, is useful.

        I could kiss you for this statement. I mean, I won’t, but…unless you would like that?

        I had so many pretentious, drunken conversations with my friends over the very definition of art (and music, by extension…I’m a musician myself and much less experienced with visual or performance art); In my opinion, the telephone sitting on my office desk is art; it may not be particularly aesthetically pleasing, and it may value function more than form, but somebody designed and created it, right? It’s an “artificial” construct, yes?

        • Logoboros

          But by that definition one might say “This phonebook is just as much a work of art as this novel!” In which case it seems you’d still need a new term to define what makes a novel different from a phonebook.

        • PaganPoet

          @Logoboros:disqus Fair enough, but I guess to me, it’s less about a distinction between “design” and “art.” I consider it more of a continuum. A phone book would lie on one extreme end being all about function and practicality than it is about aesthetics.

          And as silly as this may sound, somebody did design the layout of the phone book, right? Somebody found that particular design to be the most efficient, most helpful, most clear, etc. I would never consider a phone book to be a great piece of art, but I also don’t think it’s right to say that there was no artistic thought put into it.

          EDIT: Errr, I mean…what’s a phone book??

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @Logoboros:disqus About 100 years ago, a very important artist declared that “This urinal is just as much a work of art as this painting or sculpture!” We’ve been in the process of refining our way of talking about art (“defining new terms” to use your phrasing) continuously in the century or so since.

          Can a phone book be art? Unquestionably. (And isn’t that a boring binary question?) Can it be good art? There’s an intersting question! It probably depends on the rubric we’re assessing it on. Does it tell a great story? Does it (or did it)’s design fulfill a utilitarian function in an inventive way? Does the phone company’s sadistic insistence on delivering increasingly useless and environmentally unconscionable phone books on my doorstep each year qualify as some kind of perverse performance art or provocation?

        • GaryX

          @Logoboros:disqus @paraclete_pizza:disqus @PaganPoet:disqus I think where I lose track of this conversation is when artists still use it as a point of reference. Contextually, Duchamp calling the Fountain art was powerful, aggressive and a hell of a paradigmatic shift. Today, it’s fucking boring. 

          Which I suppose is to say, that I agree with you guys that the phone could be art, but merely point that out definitely does not no longer make it good art.

      • Logoboros

        Although I think Roger Ebert hijacked his own point about “video games aren’t art” with a lot of weak and suspect claims (harping on the mercenary motivations behind the industry seemed especially off-point), I think one of his original core points is quite powerful and few people seem to really address it. And that is that rulesets (or game mechanics) are not artworks. Chess pieces may be works of are, a chess board may be a work of art, but the “game of chess” is not (if it is, then the “game of football” is a work of art, which is certainly stretching the conventional definition). If you acknowledge the distinction between “art” and “design,” then mechanics are firmly in the “design” camp. They have a specified function that they have to perform effectively (and one definition of high art is that it is that it’s only central function/purpose is aesthetic).

        I think games are in bind that’s similar to fashion, in that they have two functions that can easily be at odds with each other. In the fashion example, we normally expect clothes to do two things: to pragmatically serve as body covering and to aesthetically look good. What’s the traditional knock against high fashion? It fails to serve as practical body covering — it’s not really “wearable.” It really exists only to serve the aesthetic function, and that’s more or less what gives it its admission into the temple of “high art.” The aesthetic is privileged over all other considerations.

        Games don’t have a pragmatic function, per se, but they do have (to steal a term that Zack just reminded me of above) a ludic function — they must provide a kind of “sporting” experience. I think part of the big confusion in the games-as-art debate is that many assume that the ludic function IS an aesthetic function. It’s a vehicle for “entertainment” and thence pleasure, and isn’t that what aesthetics are?

        I’m inclined to see a difference, but I must confess I’m not prepared to articulate precisely what it is right now.

        Anyway, the point is a game that went the high-fashion route and supplanted the ludic with the purely aesthetic would probably end up being deemed “not a game” (your game sucks! there’s no scoring system or means of measuring progress! there’s no way to win it!), much like how a lot of conceptual high fashion garments would be deemed by the man or woman on the street as “not really clothing.”

        Of course, the biggest counterargument here is that functions are not a zero-sum game, and something can actually be simultaneously practical clothing and profoundly aesthetically powerful (or both playable and beautiful), but I think there is a kind of tension with the proposition that “art has no purpose other than itself” — which can certainly be argued with, but nonetheless has a relatively long tradition behind it (at least for post-Enlightenment art).

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Rulesets are unquestionably artworks. Fluxus, with their boxed ‘games,’ performative ‘events,’ and written ‘scores,’ were making sets of instructions that functioned as works of art almost before video games even existed (I think Tennis for Two predates Fluxus, but I’m not sure).

          Since then, there have been new media artists who exhibit their uncompiled code as a work alongside the compiled/running piece, there have been artists, like Brenda Braithwaite, who have used the board game, and and its ruleset, as an expressive artistic medium.

          Fluxus’s use of the word ‘score’ also provokes a question – if instructions can’t be art, then is written music (essentially instructions for playing an instrument) not art? When Beethoven was scribbling down his notes, was he not making art? Did his music not “turn into” art until it was performed? (And in his case, since he was deaf, does this mean that he created fantastic art without ever encountering it as ‘art’?)

          Mechanics (which I would distinguish from rulesets) are the formal qualities of games, and art can be made that emphasizes those qualities, just as forms of Minimalist or other Modernist painting and sculpture  emphasized the formal qualities of their media (material, shape, color, etc.) over content. Tetris is a highly formal piece of interactive artwork.

          I would say football is an artform – it’s an improvised performance dictated by an imposed ruleset. Its rules and win-state are more explicit than an overtly performative sporting event like ice-dancing, but I would suggest that that’s a difference of degree.

        • Logoboros

          I would disagree. I think the thing does have to be instantiated before it is an artwork. (It may be an artFORM, but then it’s a “form” — practically in the platonic sense — and not object or “work.”) A language is not an art — how can it be perceived? — but a poem is. There must be an act of perception. A ruleset is still, essentially, an abstract. It has to be perceived through some kind of instantiation — even if that instantiation is simulated in one’s imagination. A text that goes unread is not an artwork (though it might be a physical artwork as a book-object or arrangement of ink on a page). And yes, I would say sheet music is not a work of art in and of itself other than as a purely visual set of shapes on a page. It must be performed. But it *can* be performed on imaginary instruments in one’s head.

          Where it gets especially iffy is if my sheet music just says, essentially “And now improvise on your guitar for ten minutes.” That divorces the encoding of the art even further from its instantiation — divorcing the intent of the person producing the encoding even further from the resulting performance/perception of the art. I would say in that case (and I would argue this is the case with a lot of performance art, too), what the “artist” has created is an opportunity for the production of art, they have created a tool for arts production, but they are not creating the art itself.

          And artists can disagree about this, of course. You cite artists putting their code up alongside the product; I was at a lecture by an artist who had made a painting computer (I do not recall his name), who insisted that while the paintings the computer/robot produced were art (it physically moved a brush on canvas), the program itself was not. It was a means to the production of the art, but it had no aesthetic value in and of itself. Interestingly, at the time I disagreed with him — and still do, to an extent, which is to say, I don’t totally disagree with you, either — but I do think there is a difference between designating an abstraction — a procedural function or ruleset — from a product. And maybe the happy compromise is to embrace the coexistence of artforms and artworks. The form of the sonnet is not itself a work of art, though any individual sonnet is (or can be, depending on how you define aesthetics), but the rules of the sonnet are an artform (through which artworks are produced).

        • GaryX

          All I’ll say is that I agree with @paraclete_pizza:disqus here, and that if you think rulesets aren’t art, you’re just going to be in for a very angry future.
          Shit is particularly all the rage in generative art and architecture (for obvious reasons).

        • PaganPoet

          @Logoboros:disqus What is your opinion the the infamous John Cage piece 4’33″? (If you’re unfamiliar with it, just give a glance to its wiki page) Leaving your thoughts of whether or not you believe it’s good or worthwhile aside, is it a work of music? If not, then how do you define music? Does it need meter? Pitch? Rhythm? Harmony? Melody? Or is music simply any collection of organized sound, however strict or loose?

          Going back to visual or textual arts, I think the phone book is a rather one sided example. I don’t think many people would argue that it’s a significant piece of art. But how about something like, I dunno, a really stylishly designed telephone that’s both functional AND aesthetically pleasing?

        • Logoboros

          @GaryX:disqus It doesn’t make me angry that rulesets are called art. And I don’t necessarily disagree that they can be art. But I think the key point I would make is that the kind of art (or artform if I want to try to stick with my own half-hearted schema) they are is cannot appropriately be evaluated with the conventions of art criticism as it stands. There is a fundamental, categorical difference in the nature of whatever aesthetic attaches to procedural art (if you want to go with that label) and traditional textual art (including physical clay, fabric, paint, etc. as textual). It requires very different criteria to comprehend how it marries beauty with truth (to cite another modern standard for high art).

          To me, the real question is “Is this art that can be talked about in direct relation to novels and theatrical/filmic drama and painting, etc.?” And if one says — as I have seen a number of games-as-art defenders assert — that in fact it’s not appropriate to try to compare games to those things, that games need to be taken on their own terms, then that’s basically saying games are in a different category than everything else that we normally treat (and criticize/analyze) as high art. But if you say they can be compared, then I’m very interested in the discussion about how you bridge some of the fairly enormous differences, especially the ones that challenge core assumptions about art (such as, to name jut one, the idea that an artwork must have some fundamental stability to its text, and not be constantly in flux, which was one of Ebert’s points — if we both see two completely different things [and not just differently perceived -- though that's the crack in the armor for opening traditional art into the same space as procedural and interactive art], then how can we talk about them with each other as a single object of analysis?).

        • boardgameguy

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus thanks for making me aware of Brenda Braithewaite. i’ve long been intrigued by the idea of how mechanics or rules can be an expressive medium of its own and had never heard of her. her work takes it to interesting places.

        • Swampgas_Man

          Games HAVE a function: To work properly according to their rules.  When I push the Jump button, I expect my onscreen avatar to jump.  I’ve played a LOT of games that didn’t meet this expectation.  That’s one definition of a “Bad Game”.  And yes, it comes under the heading of “Design” rather than “Art”.

        • Logoboros

           @PaganPoet:disqus Cage is an interesting example, which deserves more comment than I have time to give it right now. I’d pose two questions: can/does one interpret 4’33 the same way one interprets/analyzes other music? Can you use the same critical tools to express what the beauty/truth of 4’33 is? I’m going to say, probably not, really. It isn’t music — it’s meta-music. It’s a deliberate edge-case that challenges what our notions of music (and, more specifically, musical performance — I really don’t think 4’33 as a silent track on a CD is conceptually the same experience as watching a performer sit silently at a piano — which defines what 4’33 is to me, artistically: performance art more than “music” per se).

          The second comment follows from that, which is if one assumes the answer to the question “Is 4’33 music/art?” is unequivocally “yes,” then in a way the piece has failed, because (like with Duchamp), the conceptual and fundamentally aesthetic power of the piece lies in its provocation to the boundary lines of art (and I also think that the intention of both of those avant garde pieces was not to extend the boundary line of art, but rather to throw it into sharp relief and make people aware of their assumptions about art).

          With the phonebook example, the I idea I would try to advance (not as an absolutist defender of the principle, but merely as one inclined that direction) is that the art lies in the aesthetic function. The other functions of the object are therefore incidental to its artistic/aesthetic value. In other words, the phone book may be aesthetically beautiful, and it may function as a phonebook, but the former is not dependent upon the latter. Which is akin to the fashion example — high fashion can be perfectly functional and wearable, but it doesn’t *matter* if it is or not. Haute cuisine may be nutritious, but it doesn’t matter for our aesthetic evaluation of it how nutritious it is or isn’t. And, by this logic, a game could be art regardless of how well it “plays” — which brings us back to the idea that a game could be good art and but a bad game, implying that its gameplay elements are non-essential, and I doubt that’s going to satisfy anyone who takes games seriously.

          Now, the complication — and it’s a position that on a different day I could well be arguing myself — is there is an aesthetics of function. There can beauty in how something works. And I think there’s a powerful case to be made there. But I also think that in the end, though there is a kind of sublimity to the experience of watching something *working* beautifully — whether it’s a smoothly running engine, an perfectly organized reference book, or a nicely scripted bit of code — there is something different about that appreciation than the sensory experience of traditional aesthetics. It is intellectualized and abstract in a different way than perception of beauty as it’s traditionally defined, although I do think it can *feel* very much the same. And as I said, catch me on a different day and I may decide that the difference is much more negligible than it seems to me right now in the light of this discussion.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          You’re response to the notion of a musical score seems to have created a weird semantic situation where, in your schema, the person writing the score isn’t an artist, but the person performing it is, which (giving musical performers their due as artists, of course) seems like a pretty radical inversion of convention.

          I think you create a false dichotomy when you say people don’t want games to be assessed in the same way as “novels and theatrical/filmic drama and painting, etc.”  Who really lumps all those artforms (and their cetera) together? People don’t want games to be judged the same way films are for the same reason people don’t want paintings to be judged the same way films are. Different media have different formal properties warranting different critical approaches. And even within a medium, different disciplines, intentions, etc. might merit different approaches. Procedural/interactive/new media art isn’t asking to be in a class of its own – if anything, it’s asking to be treated as an artform like other artforms, with its particular aesthetic properties and challenges recognized, etc. by the critical and institutional art establishments.

          While, as I said, the high/low art question is fallacious and problematic, I would venture it’s the only way one could venture to say games are not are. Arguing that procedural or interactive systems aren’t art just seems like a losing, myopic tactic, refuted by the procedural and interactive systems that are regularly exhibited in museums and elsewhere. More reasonable (though still wrongheaded, in my opinion) would be the contention that AAA videos games aren’t high art in the way procedural gallery pieces are, in the same way a Thomas Kincade painting isn’t high art in the way, say, a Kehinde Wiley painting or whatever is. That argument requires adherence to a faulty, long-dispensed-with cultural hierarchy, but it’s probably a more meaningful distinction than just flat out saying a particular medium isn’t art.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I don’t think I explained myself entirely well, so allow me to clarify. If the criticism were simply based on a semantic failure of confusing “fails at being high art” with “fails on its own artistic terms,” then I wouldn’t be so bothered. However, the criticism takes as its premise that the game aspires to a certain status within the medium and then faults it for not achieving said status. Hence the chair-table analogy. If I can look at X and say it’s supposed to be Y, then I’m right in saying that it fails to be Y by default. It’s a vacuous line of critique.

        And I’m not just saying this because I enjoyed BioShock Infinite. I’ve seen the same sort of critique applied to works in other media that I didn’t enjoy as well. Take, for example, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which is, in my view, a pretty awful show. It was criticized for not being enough of an “HBO” show, whatever that’s supposed to mean.* I suppose that’s a valid point to make in the context of analyzing network programming decisions, but what does that have to do with the show’s artistic merit? Absolutely nothing. It’s an external standard that has no bearing on the show’s artistic goals.

        *If I had to guess, I think that means there wasn’t enough nudity, violence, and moral relativism.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I think people are confusing the setting of BioShock with the story. The story that’s there, and the themes therein, are not about racism or exceptionalism or religious zealotry. Though all of these things show up as part of Columbia, they are window dressing, part of the setting. What the story is about is much more self-contained and, in its own way, an extension of what the first BioShock was about (I have not played the System Shock games so I cannot apply them here). There are shortcomings in the window dressing, but they’re not part of the foundation of the story being told, which is about fate, choice (and the falsity of it in games), redemption, and how to engage the player.

      My favorite piece on the game is easily Alex Navarro’s on Giant Bomb. I feel like he got the game in the way I did.

      I have loved most all of the critical discussions about this game, and I love that a game has spurred this much talk and thought. As I’ve said before (including in this thread), I jumped in at launch for the first time in years, since I realized I could game for 1-2 years off of Black Friday sales, and it has paid off handsomely. I can’t wait to see what the DLC consist of.

      • Czar

        Yeah, this is the feeling I’ve been getting all week. People are getting way too hung up on the racism and turn of the century setting. Part of that reason is I think people unconsciously think of Gangs of New York when playing this game.

      • neodocT

         I agree with you, while also thinking that the game could have used something else as the “window dressing”. I mean, racism is a big deal! If you decide your story is going to talk about it, talk about it!

        I liked the game, but I felt this was a problem. Aside from the sci-fi metacommentary on gaming (which I really enjoyed), the game didn’t have nearly as much to say about most of the other topics it broached.

        • DrFlimFlam

          One piece of window dressing that just flew by was martyr Booker. That was over almost before it started and was the one element that I felt was given short shrift but deserved more attention.

        • neodocT

           @drflimflam:disqus Hum, I had actually forgotten about that. Considering the big christian theme in the game, it seems like martyrdom would have a terrific thematic meaning, but I can’t figure out how it fits in.

          Another mostly out of place element is the Songbird, I think. It’s barely even in the game, and aside from being an alterna-Big Daddy, what was the point?

        • GaryX

          I wouldn’t be surprised to see the martyred Booker in one of the DLC’s. Though I think I’d rather them be totally separate stories.

        • Swampgas_Man

          Gary X–This brings us to another problem: Since the DLC’s have yet to come out, can we really say the game’s narrative is finished?  What if something comes out that radically changes your thoughts and feelings about the Songbird, or even about the End of the game?

      • Curmudgahideen

        I honestly thought the personal and the ‘world’ stories dovetailed very nicely, if you look at both stories as being about the false promise of redemption and the false histories we create to justify ourselves.

        - Booker begins the game by getting baptised, believing that he can simply find the girl and wipe away all his debts – by the end of the game (no spoilers) this has been revealed as a very incomplete understanding of his situation.

        -Comstock’s Columbia itself is an embodiment of America’s promise as a New World, but is built on a history of massacre and exploitation which is either repressed (the Vox) or falsely glorified (the Hall of Heroes). In every case, these false histories collapse and the repressed returns to bite Booker/Columbia on the ass. It’s a theme that’s everywhere once you start looking for it. Seriously, I can see why this game inspires wall-o’-text posts, but I think I’ll leave it there. 

        • Swampgas_Man

          Booker begins the game (and repeats it in a later scene) by REFUSING baptism, saying it can’t wash his sins away.  He gets baptized and nearly drowned, to get into Columbia, and baptized and drowned at the end.

      • GaryX

        Have you been reading the other Guns of Navarro articles? That dude has been killing it with the long form articles lately.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      We discussed this a bit last week, and the imperfect analogy I keep coming back to in my mind is the reaction to Kubrick’s The Shining.  An auteur director who was derided for making a schlock horror movie.
         It’s not directly comparable, but it does make me think of the rift between expectation and execution. 

    • Halloween_Jack

      I also didn’t recognize Jennifer Hale’s voice as Rosalind; I didn’t realize she was so versatile.

      Even after finding out that Hale did Leah in Diablo III, I have a hard time believing that that’s the same actress who played FemShep in Mass Effect.

      • DrFlimFlam

        Yeah, I’m doing my first legitimate FemShep run and I literally started it a day or two after BioShock Infinite without making the connection. She certainly sounded familiar, but I was thinking more like Elizabeth Hurley.

    • GaryX

      It seems as if some people wanted Infinite to be that game – the one that proves to the masses that games are art.

      What’s interesting is that a lot of people seem to be saying that while saying it failed to meet this largely because it’s a shooter or because it’s violent. I don’t understand this point of view at all, and I don’t even particularly like shooters.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I can understand that some people view the game as so violent that the violence takes centre stage and undermines whatever message the game has. It’s not an opinion I agree with, but I acknowledge its validity.

        What I don’t agree with is the idea that a game with ultraviolence is precluded from making any sort of profound artistic statement not directly related to said ultraviolence. It’s that sort of narrow-minded thinking that really grinds my gears.

        The former point of view analyzes the role of violence in the game and comes to a conclusion about it. The latter refuses to perform such analysis or even acknowledge that it’s possible.

    • Tiako

      >Here’s some advice: if you think that gaming matters, then talk about it as if it matters. Dissect and discuss games with the same level of scrutiny that you would apply to a creative work in any other medium, like John and Evan did here.

      But this is what we are doing. I and many other people feel that this game set out to make Big Statements, by tackling such Big Topics as American exceptionalism, racism, and industrial poverty. You simply cannot state without being extremely disingenuous that the game does not make a play for relevance, and you also cannot say without vapidity that it fails.

      The simple fact that so much of the game works–such as the setting, the personal dynamic between Elizabeth and Booker, and the grace with which it handles what threatened to become a kudzu plot–does not excuse it. I like the game a great deal, but I also criticize it.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        The question I’d ask then is, what is meant by “relevance”? If you mean relevance to the issues it presents, then I agree. Heck, that’s a criticism I’ve made myself. But if by relevance you mean “status within the medium,” then see my reply to @paraclete_pizza:disqus above.

        • Tiako

          The former is what I meant, which I think relates to the latter. That is, the game clearly aspired to be a standard bearer for the medium as a whole by tackling issues of social relevance and also creating new standards of character interaction. It succeeded in the latter, but you can’t blame those of us who, like me, think of gaming as an embryonic art form for being bitterly disappointed that it failed at the former.

    • Histamiini

      You know, I’m not familiar with the discussion around the game, but I can’t help but ask a very stupid question: are there really people who worry about proving to the masses that games are art? In a sense the game itself sets the standards. There are things it seeks to achieve and we can determine whether or not it succeeds. Not all games aim so high. I think accusations of pretentiousness arise when people feel that a work aims so high that it can’t possibly give its ideas substance.

      I like the game. The world is beautiful and Elizabeth is lovely, but at the same time the gameplay was boring at times. Advancing through the maps was rarely a joy. There wasn’t enough narrative momentum in the middle part of the game, and the shooting and scavenging seemed meaningless at times.

      Teti’s objection of false moral equivalence is correct in my view. It’s so typical and lily-livered to take the stance that ultimately “they’re all the same.” Even if power corrupts, even if we accept the fact of post-revolutionary violence, it’s still lazy and cowardly to simply have your characters say that they’re all bastards in the end. It glosses over the concrete facts with a cheap moral generalisation, and the concrete facts and conditions are everything when you treat subjects like this. You just don’t get to shrug your shoulders and say “they’re all the same.” You would regard a real person making that statement in that situation with deep suspicion. In addition, there was strong sense that after the revolution Levine took full control over Fitzroy and without regard to questions of actual motivations had her perform the actions that drove home his point, and they had to be absolutely horrible no matter how nonsensical. She went from a revolutionary to a psychotic.

      I would also say that the way the enemies aggroed created a silly general effect. The streets had two discrete states, the sunny everyday life and then the fights. During the fights everyone with a gun turns into a crazed animal. They’re absolutely insane and they all act the same way. You put down hundreds of them like mad dogs. If you look at the substance of the gameplay, a quarter of it is a scavenging simulator and two quarters of it you’re cleaning the streets of ultraviolent madmen. And then there’s the story, the characters, the moral core. It’s a little weird.

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch

         Actually, Fitzroy was always a psychotic.  The early audiovox you find from her, before your first time-jump, indicate that she is just a pent-up ball of bloodthirsty rage and violent retribution.  Vox Populi is a means to her end, not a cause she’s specifically championing.

        • WCOG

           True that. Every single thing she says and does indicates that her sole motivation is vengeance rather than any kind of class consciousness or whatever.

    • bleeperz

      lol INFINITE wants to be that game.  Its trying SO hard to impress you.  Its like the Paris Hilton of pretentious artsy bs.  All it is is Call of Duty with a random ass setting and no multiplayer or facial animation.

  • Nacho_Matrimony

    I don’t think the Quantum Physics element of Infinite’s story makes anything pointless — I find that view of the narrative to be too cynical. I’m not sure if Infinite ever wanted to make grand comments on racism or capitalism. Games like Infinite are at their smartest when they stimulate player intuition through world-building, and I found no issue with such concepts being used as “touchstones,” as Evan put it. I don’t think Rapture was any more nuanced than Columbia — both delivered a loaded, wildly enchanting world where we experienced what went wrong and — more importantly — why we were caught up in it all. I do think Infinite wanted to tell a personal story first and foremost, and you care at the end of it because you don’t know if what you did counted for anything, and that’s kind of terrifying (especially if you remember what happened beforehand). Doing that while making a meta-narrative that elaborates on purpose in the pretty little game worlds developers like Irrational slave over makes Infinite all the more exciting to grapple with. Infinite’s got meat on its bones, basically, and to overlook as much because all those interesting pieces sometimes feel at odds with its gameplay isn’t particularly reasonable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

      I think that the political message of the game is part of the whole story as a whole.

      *SPOILER ALERT!* (for both Bioshock Infinite and Looper)

      Comstock is the personification of the racial slavery and xenophobia that still happens within a post-Civil War society. And by removing Comstock from time, you are removing a part of racism that still exists even after the Civil War.

      Decisions that you make in life affects society as a whole. Booker reborn as Comstock turns him into a conservative religious man who correlates American superiority with race, and that turns an entire society known as Columbia into a land of racist xenophobes.

      I think that’s the same message they gave with Looper. By removing Joe from his own current timeline, he then won’t be able to create a dark future run by a telekinetic terrorist.

      That’s how i see it.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I saw Comstock as doubling down on his own repressed guilt and shame more than anything else. He wasn’t actually convinced of his own superiority; he was terrified he wasn’t, and he hid it in plain sight- his grand vision.

        • Drew Toal

          Yeah that’s what I thought, too. He overcompensated at Wounded Knee, and then REALLY overcompensated on Columbia.

        • WinterFritz

          I agree, sort of, but I think it was more Comstock took his religious conversion as basically a sign that what he had done at Wounded Knee was God’s work. Once he became a Christian he bought into the whole American Exceptionalism deal because it allowed him to justify all his actions

          Edit: So basically what Raging Bear says right below this. I should really read down first

      • Raging Bear

        ALSO SPOILERS

        I found it interesting that every negative thing about Comstock was tied directly to his baptism. I took the whole affair this way: since Booker internalized his guilt and anger, all directed at himself, he ended up as kind a self-hating, boozy PI, whereas Comstock was “baptized” and absolved of all that. The anger and guilt were all still there, but clearly none of it was his fault, so he projected it all externally; hence, scapegoating, blaming everyone but himself for what he did at Wounded Knee, racism, xenophobia.

        I also felt things like the racism were sort of glanced upon, but that makes a bit more sense if you take them as characterizing details in what’s ultimately the story of one badly broken man rather than ideologies to explore in their own rights. (Although I do wish they were explored more anyway).

        • http://www.facebook.com/deejaytaufiq Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi

          You nailed it pretty well, @Raging_Bear:disqus 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Dudes, this discussion is almost making me want to play a Bioshock game. CUT IT OUT WITH THE ERUDITION!

        • GaryX

          Exactly this. His sins at Wounded Knee were no longer sins but internalized as acts necitated by God.

        • Nacho_Matrimony

          Agreed. I found pacing to become an issue as you progressed through the game. I think some of the lightening quick delivery works rather intuitively in the beginning of the game, but as Infinite deals you more fighting to contend with it’s a little easier to lose your way.

          That being said, I don’t really think anyone needs BioShock, or any video game for that matter, to make a statement that’d most likely amount to ”Hey guys, racism is bad.” That being said, I think it fared well enough with its take on capitalism. Fink may have been less important to the story than some critics were expecting, but his fantastical gilded, super-capitalist sector kind of perfectly fits the larger-than-life feelings and ideals people often associate with American enterprise. Finkton’s sort of like a subverted propaganda piece: The engine of capitalism winds up turning society into the laborious nation-state it’s been supposedly protecting us from becoming. That might not be a new comment on Irrational’s part, but what medium ever let us explore that idea like Infinite did? 

          Infinite deserves most of the criticism it gets, but I feel like certain journalists are loosing sight of how it functions as a game with those ideas, and why it even choosing to be a game matters.

      • Czar

        I think the story stops and ends at Booker, Elizabeth, and the Lutece’s. Comstock may as well be Godot from Waiting for Godot.

        • Moonside_Malcontent

          Robert and Rosalind Lutece ARE Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ARE Vladimir and Estragon.

        • neodocT

          Oh, I thought you meant Godot from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations.

      • Nacho_Matrimony

        I hear you on all that. That Infinite can convey as much in a way that makes one care is part of its success, I think.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      I’m fine with the idea of an ambiguous, bittersweet ending; I’d say it’s my favorite kind. I think the reason I have difficulty investing in the “infinite worlds” quantum mechanics of the setting is not the idea that anything could have happened, but the idea that everything did happen.

      If I’m invested in a world, I’m invested in comparing what could have happened to what did and speculating on how known characters would react to such a shift. If all of those possibilities exist “equally” then both success and failure, or hero and villain, can be boiled down to a matter of possibility: if it could have been, it was. Not all of the narratives are actually equal, since there was only one that we, as players, could follow to a fruitful conclusion, but if we’re meant to reflect on what the rules of the setting mean for itself, the narrative is asking us to comprehend the idea of infinite worlds while at the same time investing in one world in particular.

      I really like the touches that Bioshock Infinite brought on choice and agency, of “constants and variables”. I found these kinds of touches in the coin flip that was always the same, the minor changes due to the player’s split-second decisions, and the contrast of Booker as everyman, martyr, and villain, but once I understood the mechanics behind it the ending of the game felt more akin to cognitive dissonance than an epiphany.

      • Nacho_Matrimony

        Yeah, I received no epiphany at the end of Infinite. Just dreadful hope. That the game was able to give me countless Bookers and Elizabeths, essentially ripping itself apart at the seams, but still make me care about one pair of them hopefully counts for something.

  • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

    Urrghh, the video won’t work again. The third digest video last month worked, but we’re back to the same problems. Looks like the Onion technical team doesn’t even read technical problems emailed in by a Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle. Discrimination!

    *opens tear, finds that the video won’t work in other dimension either*

    Bahhh. I’ll be disappointed if the digest menu item was anything other than rotten bananas found in a trash can.

    • Future_Garage_Band

      Srsly, I tried three different browsers, and the video just stops  working in under a minute, or doesn’t work at all. NOW I HAVE TO WAIT FOR THEM TO PUT IT ON YOUTUBE 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Maybe I imagined it, but I think I remember that it was easier to find fresh food and supplies in trash cans in the rich part of Columbia than in Shantytown. That was a nice touch. Rich Columbians waste their food and drink; the poor throw out only what’s inedible.

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

    It was interesting hearing how the game is much more effective when looked at from the point of view of character themes rather than political themes. 

    I’ve that experience recently. When I was a teenager, I tended to judge sci fi stories based on their socio-political themes: war, technology, hatred, the environment, etc. Vanilla fiction didn’t interest me much at the time, as it rarely had these kinds of themes. 

    Now, I’ve grown to appreciate more character-based themes: love, dreams, despair, etc. This new approach has led me to appreciate a lot of stories that I didn’t care for the first time around. For some reason, I started re-playing Final Fantasy VIII recently. When I first played the game in high school, I was underwhelmed by a story which seemed dull and incomprehensible, and characters that were either bland or annoying. Looking at it now, though, I can see that it’s a story about the gulf between youth and maturity, and the difficulties in straddling the two. The world-wide threat hasn’t really kicked in yet (I’ll have more to say the more I play), and that’s fine. It’s not really the point. I’m less judgmental towards Squall; the reason he’s such an ass is because he’s a kid who grew up in a sheltered environment. 

    • DrFlimFlam

      He’s also not unlike most young people; he sees himself first and the world second. He has to see what’s worth fighting for, what’s worth protecting, what’s worth putting above his own interests, to grow as a person.

  • TeflonicusPercepticus

    Always fun to watch liberals claim to be open-minded while cluck-clucking that a videogame is insufficiently leftist. Hint—the turn-of-the-century trade unionists were largely thugs and Communists. If you had any knowledge of history—or any standards—you’d realize Bioshock’s condemnation of the Vox reflects reality.

  • JokersNuts

    SPOILERS

    Just beat the game last night. A little disappointed I have to admit. You never get to fight the giant big daddy bird that chases you throughout the game. The combat was always a bit confusing for me, and the enemies a bit boring. There was nothing in this game that was like fighting a big daddy in the original. The magic abilities in this game didn’t seem as cool or useful as the old ones, I rarely used anything but shock to stun guys and then shoot them. The story kind of lost me at times too, but I think I got the gist of it in the end. I kept expecting to find out that Elizabeth was a Little Sister or something, but I guess there is a Bioshock Multiverse? That seemed interesting, maybe we’ll find out more about that in the next game.
    Anyway, overall a very decent game and I had fun with it, but I probably won’t be playing it again.

    • GaryX

      I thought having you not fight the Songbird was one of the smartest things the game did.

      • George_Liquor

        Me too. I like that there was no Big Bad to fight at all at the game’s conclusion. My biggest problem with Bioshock was that everything following the Andrew Ryan reveal, particularly the fight with Fontaine, seemed anticlimactic.

        • Everlasting_Godstabber

          (Assuming I am remembering correctly) I like in Bioshock when you are about to meet Andrew Ryan, first they send you through a room filled with ammo/health/etc and making you think: this is it…this is the big end-of-game boss fight. I don’t feel strongly either way about what comes after, but I appreciate how they (temporarily) play on your expectations.

      • JokersNuts

        There was no enemy in this game that was quite like the exhilerating Big Daddy fights of the original. 
        The Songbird was teased throughout the game, chasing you and your companion.  It doesn’t seem smart to introduce such a compelling adversary and then never give you the chance to confront them.  Instead the end of the game was a big melee with the same tired enemy types I had just been mowing down for the past X amount of hours. 

    • The_Juggernaut_Bitch

       Realize that the events of Infinite pre-date the events of the earlier Bioshock games by 30-40years, so the science to create Big Daddies and Little Sisters hasn’t come around yet.  Fink is using the tears in reality to spy on the future and get the ideas for the Vigors.

  • The_Misanthrope

    On an impulse, I picked this up last weekend.  I’m probably about halfway through it…or at least I think I am.

    Truthfully, I can’t really tell (I just broke Elizabeth out of the asylum), because if there’s one tradition that persists in the Bioshock series, it’s the continual spawning of new objectives and sub-objectives until your original goal seems a dim memory.  I can live with the somewhat thematically inconsistent Vigors and I can live with the surface-deep analysis of the “ism”s (I feel like it makes up for that a bit in the details), but the running back and forth through Columbia as every “simple” objective fragments into several sub-tasks.

    Mind you, it’s not as bad as Bioshock was about it, wherein every time I would receive a task that seemed to promise to put an end to my labors, I would mutter to myself, “Yeah right, I’m going to get there and the  lever I have to pull won’t work or the passage will be closed off or I’ll betrayed.”  When Infinite is really firing on all cylinders, it’s a breathless roller-coaster experience.  But when the roller-coaster is stalled, that’s when you start to notice the pointless busywork. The section where  you had to find Chen Lin was probably the most noticeable;  Backtracking is still backtracking, even if it is across alternate universe versions of the same scenery.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Yeah, that whole gunsmith section felt like treading water. I won’t comment on how far along you are because it is personally gratifying to withhold that information.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Finkton and Shantytown felt a little slow, but the only part where the pacing was really, really terrible for me was Emporia. [SPOILERS] Mainly because of that fucking ghost boss.

        • The_Misanthrope

           God damn I hated that damn ghost.  Quit screaming at me, lady!

        • http://www.facebook.com/james.slone James Slone

          The quantum ghost shit really took me out of it. I was like, “When did this become Ghostbusters: the Video Game?”

          • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

            Yeah, and since when could you harm ghosts with bullets? I was half-expecting Booker to go all Luigi’s Mansion and pull out a vacuum cleaner.

    • GaryX

      I’ll agree with @drflimflam:disqus and say that you’re in the Polar Bear cages part of the game, but what comes later is fantastic.

      • The_Misanthrope

         It turns out I was far closer than I suspected.  I just finished it, if only because I was getting sick of steering clear of all the spoiler-laden articles about it.  After that tower defense section, it just piles on the ending.  I figured they might have meted out those revelations bit by bit, but they just go full tilt. 

        All in all, all the racism/classism/whatever-ism stuff seems more of a backdrop to the greater mindfuck narrative. 

        • GaryX

          Agreed. I think they put too much in the ending, but I can understand why as they felt with the first Bioshock that they put it to soon in the game. Maybe their next game (whatever it is) will strike the better balance.

    • Nacho_Matrimony

      Yeah, by the time I hit Finkton in search of Chen Lin I was shooter fatigued and wanted to just explore new things. That’s one of those points where gameplay sometimes got in the way of storytelling.

  • duwease

    Dag nabbit, I’m going to have to start playing games when they actually come out so that I can get in on these discussions now.  It’s going to be no fun to want to talk about Bioshock Infinite when everyone’s moved on to Grand Theft Auto V.

    • boardgameguy

      or will it? people are still talking about Mass Effects 2 and 3 with regularity.

      • Thats_A_Paddlin

        I don’t think the Bioshock trilogy compares at all.  Not that I didn’t enjoy them, it’s just…not the same.

    • DrFlimFlam

      It’s hard to know, really. People still talk about ME3 and the trilogy at large, but I doubt BioShock Infinite will be echoing this loudly a year from now, even with additional content, the way this generation is giving way to the next.

      I have learned that maybe once in a while, it’s okay to get a game at launch. Get something out of it, like MS points or an Amazon credit or what have you, but sometimes being part of the discussion is half the fun.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I know my wallet is crying in agony, but I’ve been buying more games at launch recently. It’s been fun to participate in the discussion about them when they’re still fresh in everyone’s minds. It’s also interesting to see that as the medium evolves, my game-playing evolves along with it.

        • Thats_A_Paddlin

          Games have been on an awesome streak lately. I too have been shelling out the dough, normally I’d wait till a game was a Greatest Hit price.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Yeah, that’s my endless problem with both games and TV shows…I end up playing or watching a year after they come out, with rare exceptions.  Movies I sometimes see at release.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I think the “What Are You Playing This Weekend”s are a good place to discuss that stuff, because it gives you a chance to bring up the old game you’re playing (because you’ll be playing it this weekend) without seeming like you’re forcing the conversation, and gives others the opportunity to reply and talk about it again, if they want. I almost never play new stuff (except the odd console game if I own a console), yet I’ve had some good conversations here about Silent Hill 2, Mass Effect, LA Noire, and GTA IV years after they were valid watercooler games.

        I suspect in a year or two when I finally give Dark Souls a try, there’ll be folks around here that will be happy to resume bloviating on that game, as it was so well loved here for so long.

        • GaryX

          I need to play Demon Souls. Apparently it’s free on PSN. 

        • Tom Jackson

          I’ll gladly talk about Dark Souls or Demon Souls to anyone ’til the cows come home.
          It’s nice how much discussion you can draw from those games.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      I’d still talk about it!

      I’m not big on Grand Theft Auto anyway.

    • Citric

      I hated GTAIV so much I don’t think I am willing to give GTAV a chance. I’ll also probably take a while to play Infinite because I still haven’t finished the first one.

  • ferrarimanf355

    I really need to finish Infinite. I got to Soldier’s Field ( Da Bears! ) befire getting distracted by work, school and Real Racing 3.

    • DrFlimFlam

      That’s all I could think the entire time. “You named the place after a future football stadium?”

    • RyanTheBold

      The Bears’ stadium is called “Soldier Field.”  

      • DrFlimFlam

        It’s very similar.

  • RyanTheBold

    Agreed that the Luteces are the most engaging character(s) in the game. I played through twice just because I couldn’t get enough of those delightful ginger-haired weirdos. There’s a narcissism-driven incestuousness about them that I find more insightful than anything else in the story.

  • Moonside_Malcontent

    I finished the game last night and will say that, some well-grounded criticisms reserved, I thoroughly enjoyed the game.  One stroke in its favor that has been I think a little under-discussed was its attitude towards redemption and morality.  Naturally, this is a Ken Levine game, and his philosophical stance is shades of grey in the extreme.  All the same, I think he does make an interesting point towards the end where (spoilers ye be warned) the Booker who rejects the absolution of baptism lives the much more moral life than the Comstock who accepts it.  Even if only comparatively.

    My appreciation of that having been said, I want DLC where you carry on the class war.  Daisy Fitzroy hears your voice, Columbia!  Take arms against the Founders and their running dogs!

    (Stray observation I don’t know where to fit elsewhere: The Elizabeth who vanishes last/fails to vanish at all isn’t wearing the pin you chose for her in Columbia.  I’m sure this is metaphysically relevant somehow but I can’t quite fathom how.)

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      Any word from the developers on what kind of content they actually have planned for DLC? Given how they wrapped up the story, the safe bet is they set it before the main story (e.g. during the backstories for Comstock and Fitzroy) as people close to the main characters in the game proper. I’d appreciate it if they tried taking things into weird directions, though.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I would love a take as Booker the Martyr, and maybe something involving Songbird.

        • Histamiini

          Spoilers!

          During gameplay, I was more moved by Songbird than the fate of the main characters.

          Although I have to say it was a good choice to make Booker’s final moments something that happened before he fully realised what was going on or during the moment of realisation. It was Elizabeth’s choice more than anything. I often hate when characters go into their deaths serenely, and to make it happen quickly in a moment of confusion was much more powerful than having Booker make a calm heroic conscious choice. And maybe it could not have been his choice to make it work?

          Again, it was well executed and the thought behind it is beautiful, but I’m not quite convinced that it makes perfect sense when you step outside the scene. Ideally the game would have provided the ground for the player to stand on well before that moment without revealing its intentions. To get the full effect, you don’t want the player to be wondering about the rules of the universe then and there.

        • DrFlimFlam

          I was so sad when Songbird died. I guess Levine has related it to an abusive boyfriend, at least as inspiration, but there’s a real bond there, a protective streak and iron-clad loyalty that makes it all the more tragic when it finds itself at the bottom of the sea. When the eye breaks, I mean wow, that’s just awful.

        • GaryX

          @Histamiini:disqus I actually didn’t have any trouble accepting the Booker/Comstock thing, though that’s probably partially because it was spoiled for me ahead of time. In that way, I had sort of already pieced together a lot of the little hints about the world at large. In a weird way, it might have been preferable because I found myself being less “What the fuck” and more gutted about how the whole ending played out.

        • Histamiini

          @GaryX:disqus I didn’t mean to imply that I object to the basic notion of Booker/Comstock, not at all. What I see as potentially problematic is the specifics of how Elizabeth solved the issue. See my post below. I would even say that what the “issue” was exactly was left somewhat unclear, although I guess it’s because Elizabeth will end up raining fire down on the people below.

          Incidentally the Booker/Comstock identity was spoiled for me too before I started playing. That’s one of the parts that doesn’t require much piecing together in any case. It’s not an unusual notion in these types of stories – you go back in time or to another reality to solve some issue, and often there’s some identity thing going on. What interests me is specifically the scene where the Elizabeths drown Booker. It works in one sense but it’s not really properly grounded by the player’s knowledge of how the universe works. Like I said, I liked the pacing of the scene, that it doesn’t stop to give Booker time to reflect.

          I don’t know what the usual criticisms have been and my experience with the ME3 discussion leads me to avoid that stuff anyway. The game didn’t really move me that much but I think it’s good. I don’t want to imply that I have some super heavy objections to the ending.

        • Nacho_Matrimony

          @Histamiini:disqus I think since certain Elizabeths can see multiple realities unfolding at the same time, some of them saw the particular reality unfolding with your Booker and Elizabeth and traveled to them accordingly. It might be a stretch, but our Elizabeth does have the gift of interdimensional intervention (or so we think) and if it meant saving one of herselves (and her corresponding father and world) from tragedy, she could do it.

          I’m not sure if this holds up, but playable Booker’s dimension might be some sort of keystone reality that Comstock keeps kidnapping the same type of Elizabeth from. That’s why all of those Elizabeths had the power to show up. It’s also why we’re not sure if this time around is actually different, breaking the cycle — what a horrifying feeling that is, huh?

    • GaryX

      I’m still not sure on that point, either, because there at the end, Booker turns to look at Elizabeth and says “Wait a minute… you’re not… who are you?”

      • DrFlimFlam

        It’s those little threads that are just crazy and I really hope we get some explanation.

    • Histamiini

      Spoilers!

      I too finished the game just recently and therefore missed the discussions that have taken place before.

      What I’d like to focus on and clarify is the crucial moment that you refer to, Booker’s baptism, and more specifically the way Elizabeth changes things by drowning Booker before he makes the choice of either accepting it (and becoming Comstock) or rejecting it. I sense that there is beautiful thought behind it, but the moment itself has a slight skyhook feel to it. I mean that I sort of get it but if I think about it more concretely, it appears to hang in the air.

      Why that moment? I suppose it makes sense because it’s the very last moment before the possibility of Comstock appears. But how does it work exactly? How does she do it? All I can say is that Elizabeth is special and she chooses that moment. Choice is what creates branches in the universe – as the Twins show, heads or tails will always give the same result, but when Booker chooses between the cage and the bird jewellery, the results aren’t predictable. So Elizabeth kills her father before he makes the choice of accepting the baptism. Does her choice create a branching timeline? If she can intervene in such a way, why is that the best choice and not some other moment or some other action?

      It’s of course problematic to treat choices simply as momentary actions like that. That’s usually not really how people arrive at choices or deal with the ones they’ve made. In this case, what is important is that one Booker believes he received a new life and one doesn’t. You have to show good faith towards the game to accept the convention that everything hinges on that one scene. But it’s here where I think it’s a little messy, because it confuses symbolism (which is understandable) with actual concrete events (whose implications seem to hang in the air).

      I suspect that these questions may sound dumb, but it’s on that dumb concrete level that the scene doesn’t appear to be fully justified.

      • Xtracurlyfries

        The answer to all your questions is the same as the answer to all questions raised by the game: “Because magic, that’s why.”

        • Histamiini

          You don’t have to call it magic anymore thought. You just say “quantum something something…”

          Even with magic, it always better to set the rules so as not to make the universe of possibilities so vast as to make any concrete artistic choice seem arbitrary. If you can do anything, why have the character do this instead of that? The answer is that one action is better dramatically but you have to disguise that in the narrative and make it seem like the natural choice.

          In Bioshock Infinite, I think Levine may have had this nice idea for a scene beforehand but unfortunately it depends on set of world rules that gives an infinite number of possibilities. So he’s trying to condense everything to a single powerful moment but he finds it hard to make it believable that it has to be that moment and that action instead of any other. It works symbolically, but it becomes like a symbolic death before the symbolic death and rebirth of baptism. It lacks the sense of concrete inevitability that it needs. Because you like the game, you go with it, but there’s this hint of doubt in the back of your mind that it actually makes sense.

          Reminds me of the Harry Potter movies and their changing rules of magic, introducing powerful magics that have to be forgotten later so as not to ruin the dramatic nature of the story. In Rifftrax they ask things like, “Well why don’t you just teleport now?” and they always have Dumbledore answer, “Voldermort made it so I couldn’t.” That’s the risky part of magics and quantum magics.

      • GaryX

        The way I’ve come to interpret it is as follows:

        Because of Elizabeth’s pinkie in the other timelines, the tears start to happen around her/because of her as a way of the multiverse course correcting itself. This makes her a transdimensional being and, for whatever reason, her abilities magnify after her first period. At the end of the game when she has realized her full power, she is not much different from the Luteces in that she is able to see all outcomes and all probabilities. 

        She explains that, in the Bioshock universe, there are variables and constants. What you choose for the coin flip is a variable; what the coin flip is is a constant. The baptism, then, is a variable. Booker can choose to be baptised or not, but the general outcome of those is always the same. This is the branching point from which multiple universes stem but they always have two similar qualities: the one in which he refuses he remains as Booker and the one where he affirms it Booker becomes Comstock. Elizabeth takes you back to that point immediately before the branch and drowns you thus turning the baptism from a variable that was a choice to a constant and essentially erasing those two timelines and any that would come from it.

        The only thing of which I am uncertain is the multiple Elizabeths and the lack of the one from the game at the end scene.

        • Histamiini

          Okay, but that’s not really what I was talking about. That’s an explanation on a general level, but on a concrete level it hangs in the air. If Elizabeth can change the multiverse, why is the solution that particular action at that particular moment? It makes sense in a way – if look at it without getting into any specifics, she intervenes right before Comstock becomes a possibility – but not necessarily in real world terms. It’s an infinite multiverse and in principle there should be many ways for her to fix an outcome. Although the scene is nice, it’s somewhat gimmicky in the way that it focuses on one particular moment. It creates a dramatic scene without fully justifying its necessity. Same goes for the presence of many Elizabeths.

      • GaryX

        I fail to see what you mean then. We’re told that’s the divergent point, and much like the coin when flipped will always land heads, the Booker that’s baptized will result in a Comstock that will create Columbia and do all this nonsense. An infinite number of variations can originate from that point (and perhaps some of those Comstocks aren’t crazy evil, though we’re given no indication of that), but that’s constant from which those infinite variables are produced. There isn’t another point later at which Elizabeth could stop it because it would then always leave another timeline in existence where Comstock does build Columbia. Yeah, we have to take that as the divergent point at facevalue (though I think it makes thematic sense which is justification enough), but we also have to take just about everything else involving the nature of Columbia at face value as well.

        The multiverse in which Bioshock exists is one that’s infinite but does still seem to have some structure (“he doesn’t row;” the plaques before Comstock’s chamber that show the previous events of the game). This is what allows the Lutece’s to continually run an experiment in which they see what changes and what doesn’t as they send the multiple Bookers through the tears.

        • Histamiini

          Okay I have energy for a couple of points. First of all, building Columbia isn’t the ultimate evil they’re trying to stop, right? Second, there are many moments before the baptism that should work just as well or better. The questions why that moment and why that way are still in the air. Why isn’t it just like any other node in time? Why does everything converge there? Is Elizabeth outside the system at that point in that her choice doesn’t create a branching timeline?

          I don’t know how to explain this. It’s problematic in itself that there is a focus on singular moments, points in time, that change everything. It’s even more problematic to treat the moment of baptism as such a moment, since baptism is a symbolic moment, not a literal moment of transformation. It’s not really about whether or not one receives a baptism but how one relates to the idea itself, and that’s not a matter of momentary choice. That’s something that develops over time, so again, why is the last possible moment before the symbolic confirmation of one’s believes the correct time and place? To make the final moment happen right before the baptism serves a dramatic purpose but is arbitrary from the world point of view. And it’s not clear, in the end, why it’s necessary to perform that particular action and not some other action that could change things.

          So we have one symbolic moment treated too literally in the baptism and later the final moment which works symbolically but seems arbitrary from a concrete world point of view. I sense that these two levels gets mixed somehow in the way that the issue is solved.

          I can sort of accept that it’s simply the moment Elizabeth chose. It’s just the scene where they ended up when she was done showing things to Booker. But even so I still have to confess that the mechanism by which drowning him then and there erases a specific set of possibilities from the multiverse remains opaque to me – other than symbolically. It looks neat but it’s anything but. I don’t see how anything can be so neat, how there can even be such clean cuts in a universe based on the principles that are presented, let alone why it converges in that particular moment.

      • sciont

        I have to disagree about the justification. To me it just adds to the magic of Bioshock Infinite and it’s story. What exactly can Elizabeth do? Why can Chen Lin be saved and Booker be killed, while Elizabeth will always be given away and Comstock will always build his horrible city? These questions fascinate me more than any other questions in any other video game I have played. 

        It seems to me Elizabeth can open any tears and be a passive observer and would need to bring in multiple versions of herself in all timelines to create permanent change. The question of when to me seems to be, to complicate things further, a question of brain chemistry and it’s affects on multiple Universes. There are just decisions where a person’s desire is just too strong to effect the outcome making any small changes in brain chemistry and experience negligible. But other decisions are tougher on a person more borderline, these are places where Universes split based on minor differences in nature and nurture. In one Universe Booker is that much more cynical to turn away from the Baptism while the other is a slightly more hopeful. This is just my theory. The game never outright answers if timelines can be changed or not. Even the Luteces do not agree on this topic of changing Universes but they are also not exactly the same person.

        The game gets into a Midi-Chlorian/the force problem that I think it gets mostly right, but I could have used more of an explanation on Elizabeth’s powers.  

        • Histamiini

          I can understand appreciating the mystery. But it illustrates the skyhook feel of the scene that one has to reach for additional concepts that ultimately don’t explain anything – desire, brain chemistry, toughness of the choice, etc. It seems like dramatic trickery in that it makes general thematic sense but in world terms appears to hang in the air.

          A scene like that depends on dramatic momentum and a sense of inevitability, but it’s unclear why that moment is the moment of intervention and not any other other arbitrary node in time. Why not go back to before Booker committed the actions that made him feel guilty, for example? And what exactly is that real world nature of the action of drowning Booker there? It’s like a staged symbolic act outside of time but at the same that’s a real Booker in a real situation. Again, it works thematically, but from another perspective we’re just asked to accept that it’s necessary and makes sense. There’s an interplay of inevitability of certain outcomes and infinitely branching timelines that is opaque.

          I feel that the player just has to accept a lot and that’s potentially problematic when it’s a crucial emotional scene like that. It feels like there are rules at play that only Elizabeth understands and the player is put into Booker’s situation where he not only lacks agency but also understanding of the situation. To an extent that’s something one can live with but it’s also something that takes away from the scene because of the nagging doubt that it only has a dramatic justification and not a narrative one.

    • http://twitter.com/occono Anthony O’ Brien

      Yeah, I felt unsatisfied by how much the Vox and Daisy really mattered. She shows up all of twice and the second time I felt her actions were more about developing Elizabeth. 

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch

         That’s all she’s there for.  This is not a story about Columbia, it’s a story about Elizabeth and Booker.

  • rvb1023

    The way I look at it, Bioshock Infinite is overrated and incredibly pretentious, but it is also the most important game to be released in years. Not because it’s the best (And I personally loved the game), but because no game in recent memory has engendered this much discussion within the video game community at large. Most importantly, almost all of the discussion is about the game itself. Just good, old-fashioned critical analysis that I wish were applied to more games, which is really what I am looking for as video games slowly transition into a more thoughtful stage.

    • GaryX

      Eh, I don’t think it’s pretentious at all. The game gets a little nerdy at the end, but it never really carries a pretentiousness about it. There are plenty of games that do that, but I don’t think Bioshock was one of them.

      • rvb1023

         It was mostly just the ending for me, I felt they were trying really hard to be more clever than it actually was.

        • GaryX

          I dunno. I can see that, but it’s pretty much all there before it happens. It’s not like ME3 which I feel pulled it’s shit out of nowhere (unless you count their after-release DLC that then ended stuff about it) in order to try to give itself a more “meaningful” ending that would provoke conversation.

    • Thats_A_Paddlin

      I liked Bioshock Infinite, but Journey is a much more important game IMO and has pages and pages of discussion – even dudes crying on YouTube after finishing!

      • rvb1023

         I loved Journey but there was not nearly this level of discussion about it and it received far more universal acclaim. Overall it was a less polarizing game.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

       I just read an article on Kotaku about a gamer who requested his money back due to not wanting to participate in Booker’s false baptism at the beginning of the game.  He felt it was blasphemous.
       So we can now throw that particular piece of kindling on the bonfire of discussion revolving around the political/cultural/artistic/interpersonal/gameplay/worldbuilding nature of the game. 

    • DrFlimFlam

      I would have thought that if anyone would be upset about the baptism it would be people who do not subscribe to the Christian faith but were “forced” to be baptized. I felt like it was part of the story of this character, not an act that blasphemed the religion or attempted to convert the player. I also felt that people who pointed to Comstock as an example of anti-religious bias missed the boat on that plot point as well.

      Whether or not you subscribe to the belief system, a baptism is a powerful. I am no longer religious at all but clearly remember by own baptismal.

      Unfortunately, I have yet to run into dimension-hopping parallel  universe twins. On the upside, I also haven’t created a racist, classist Main Street, USA.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

           And let me be the first to tell you we’re all very disappointed in you that you haven’t.
           But I’m kind of surprised that anyone, believer and non-believer alike would take umbrage at that scene.
           I read the scene, not as Booker being baptized, but being subdued by the priest under the guise of baptism to be marked as the false shepherd.  Hunted down as he was, it’s hard to imagine anyone of the bazooka-toting Myrmidons populating that town really thought he was purified in the eyes of god.
           And as a believer, would you really feel the corrupted priest of a scheming false prophet was actually capable of delivering sacrament?
           I certainly believe you that a baptismal would have lasting resonance.  It’s the kind of powerful symbolism that makes it easy (maybe too easy?) to incorporate into a game such as this.  

        • DrFlimFlam

          Saw this question on Twitter: Would the offended party have played the game if there was no baptism but the same amount of visceral violence?

          It’s a rhetorical question. Of course they would have. Murdering people isn’t as bad as digital baptism.

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          I’m quibbling on details here, but Booker had the mark of the False Sheppard before coming to Columbia. Also, I think the priest was blind.

        • GaryX

          @The_Helmaroc_King:disqus The priest was blind. Otherwise he would’ve noticed that he had already baptized you and you had brought him onto your giant fucking flying city.

          I thought the way they bookended that was nice.

    • GaryX

      That’s dumb, but not at all surprising. Some editor nearly left over an ending scene in the game due to his religion, and I’m almost positive it had to be how the Comstock/Booker thing was originally portrayed.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        That’s what those of us on NeoGAF decided, too (I just watched a friend play it on and off; I’m not interested in it).  As @drflimflam:disqus said, baptism is the de facto liminal ceremony in western culture, such that it’s been overused and abused to the point where Christians should be desensitized to any blasphemous incarnations of it.  That said, if he wasn’t, whatever occurred before the change is extraordinarily offensive if he is the sort of person who gets offended at pretend.

    • The_Misanthrope

      Well, on the other end, this guy gives it the Tea Party stamp of approval:

       http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/03/29/bioshock-infinite-the-video-game-that-lets-you-shoot-robo-george-washington-should-you-be-worried/

  • Tiako

    So I guess bioshock Infinite is officially the “Girls” of videogames.

    • DrFlimFlam

      There is damage coming out of orifices in the main character’s head, yes.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Well, nobody has called Elizabeth “fat” yet, thankfully.

  • Swampgas_Man

    At the end, no matter which path you take to which lighthouse, you wind up in the same “world”.  This isn’t so much a statement on politics as on videogames, as your path is always directed and predicted.  No matter what you do, someone anticipated and devised the game to compensate for it.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I have really enjoyed how Levine likes to dissassemble and pick apart the gaming experience. Both of his games this generation are wrapped in basic gameplay components, more or less, but what they have to say about gaming is amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheDukeofNorway Helge Svierd Bjerck

    I feel like the game would have come off as being too preachy if it had taken a side politically. I mean, both sides were basically just straw men and singling out one of them as the ‘bad’ side would have been stupid.

  • Eco1970

    Any spoilers in this digest?

    And: wasn’t gameological originally supposed to be about games of more varieties than just video games? I note the occasional piece about quiz shows surfaces, but are there ever going to be any pieces on boardgames?

    I guess it’d be difficult if none of the gang play them…

    • Tom Jackson

      There aren’t really spoilers but they delve into a few plot points that you might not want to hear if you want to know as little about the plot as possible (which I definitely recommend).
      Some boardgame reviews would be cool, maybe some card games too?

  • http://sportystream.blogspot.com/ Rauf Arshad

    Bio Shock infinite will be one of the most amazing game i have seen its few trail videos , and looking to get it one my PS3

    http://thesportsclash.blogspot.com/

  • Ingenium21

    I think you guys really missed out on the fact that in the end this was suc a deep and personal story about self destructiveness. How Booker’s self destructive actions lead to comstock and his desire to basically blow up the world, and how comstock’s actions basically lead to booker and his actions to stop him. And the big reveal at the end is so ridiculously brilliant that It basically ties everything together so well.  sure there were some plot holes but just the mere fact that they were even brazen enough to try it gets my thumbs up.

  • Tom Jackson

    Great digest.
    I would’ve loved to hear some in-depth discussion on the ending but I suppose it’s something that definitely shouldn’t be spoilt.
    I think the ending helps to put of a lot of the ‘skimming’ moments into context but even taking the conclusion into account there are several instances where subjects are brought up for basically no reason and are never mentioned again.
    The game sometimes just throws thoughts out into the air like ‘hey remember slavery?’ without really proving much of a point.
    I suppose it’s nice that there’s a blockbuster video game that explores these topics at all but it does feel a little half-baked at times.

    • Histamiini

      Bioshock is a kind of cartoon world of preachers and true believers, powerful ambitious individuals and the sheep that follow them, and lots of violence. Rapture was an isolated place of horror while Columbia brings in more realistic real-world issues that seem to intrude upon the magic land quality of the world. Maybe that’s partly why it seems wrong. It’s like bringing slavery to Disney Land. Maybe it feels like they’re using real historical events to add spice and gravity to their fantasy world.

      Bioshock is a stylized fantasy world. Just because it has horrors and suffering doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to earn the right to use real historical tragedies.

      Having said that, I didn’t find it particularly grating. I don’t expect a game to do justice to any such issue. But I understand the criticism. The game focuses on its own magic which leaves the real issues as background noise for the fairy tale.

      • Tom Jackson

        Oh for sure, I think Infinite earns some brownie points for even including issues like slavery and racism in an AAA video game at all. I guess most of the criticism stems from the fact that the game never really seems to feel comfortable taking a side on these issues, It never declares it’s point of view fully and seems content simply presenting you with these issues instead of taking a stance on them.
        That said the game still blew me away and I loved every minute of it so I’m not really one to complain.

  • japanesebrucewillis

    I gotta admit I’m a bit surprised, John. I feel like you missed the boat here a bit.

    Spoilers ahead.

    I feel like Levine is pretty clear on this: Booker is America. He is it’s many possibilities and many futures. He’s it’s ugliness, it’s horrifying history, it’s disappointment. And equally, he’s it’s potential for redemption, it’s potential for salvation. And all of that depends on how he chooses to frame and respond to his past. In one reality, he faces the past, pays for his sins and allows them to consume him. In another, he re-authors his past and sins and becomes a monster.

    And that future is Elizabeth. As a broken man, his future is stolen from him. As Comstock, it’s constrained, to terrible consequence. So it’s no accident that Booker’s journey through Columbia is a journey into his own past and future, quite literally in both cases.

    How is this not well integrated into the narrative structure of the game?

    • Histamiini

      I would disagree. I think the message is that there is no redemption. He cannot escape his actions or redeem them, and it would be obscene to think that he could given what he has done. He is the problem and he is eliminated to make things right. It was precisely the belief that he had been redemeed and given a new life that led to Comstock.

      It’s also crucial that he doesn’t make the choice of getting killed. He doesn’t have any agency in the end.

      I think what you describe is actually the basic temptation and original sin of the game world. I think the game calls into question the idea of salvation itself.

      • WCOG

        Booker can’t escape his own failures but Elizabeth can because she’s the future/the new generation. There’s definitely an emphasis on life cycles in the game. Notice when you’re going through the labs under Elizabeth’s room, if you read all the signs, notations etc. the increase in her power is inextricably linked to her maturation (especially her sexual maturation and the onset of adulthood, note that the spike in her powers that caused them to build the siphon is labelled “Menarche”, and apparently a sample of her menses is able to rip holes in spacetime). You might link that to a more obvious statement about femininity and magic (how’s that for a tale as old as time?) but I think it’s simpler than that, it’s just meant to emphasize that in the wake of this decrepit and awful regime put in place by an old man there’s still this immensely powerful renewal welling up in the form of the generations of Americans to come. Young Booker has to liberate her from old Booker (weird dueling Boyfriend/Father dynamic for the character)…and also has to liberate young Elizabeth from old Elizabeth. Well…whatever grand unified theory of Bioshock interpretation I’m pointing towards here is still only half-formed in my head but I’m sure there’s something there.

  • Histamiini

    nm

    • DrFlimFlam

      No nm from you. Your comments have fascinated me all thread long. If you have more I want to read it.

  • bleeperz

    Why would I listen to that guy?  There aren’t nearly enough checks on his suit jacket for his talking to be intellectually stimulating.  Truly these two need to learn how to dress like gentlemen before anyone should bother listening to a word they say.