“Bioshock Infinite” became interesting to me about three hours in. Well, the game was always interesting, from the first moment I was baptized (Yes. Baptized) to enter the city to the moment where I had to choose between throwing a ball at an interracial couple being persecuted or the man persecuting them. But the game became super-interesting when I walked into a meeting of Klansman, with the Head-Klans man preaching about the polluting of the white race and the destruction of America. As soon as I got the chance, I killed all of them. Then, after it was all done, I walked over one of the dead enemy characters and thought to myself: I’ve never killed a KKK member before in a video game. Huh.
“Bioshock Infinite” is a weird game. But it’s pretty good. I’ll talk about the good and then I’ll talk about the weird. Spoilers ahead.
I’ve never played a game with such high production value or competency. And I’ve played tons of games. “Bioshock Infinite” feels like the type of video game that you could give to a person and say, “Here, this is why I play these so much.” The graphics are superb, the motion is fluid. You walk through the world and you want to touch every wall, move every crate, open every gate. The narrative helps with this. You’re a hired gun sent to a floating city to steal a young woman locked in a tower. You bring Elizabeth back to New York and your debt, all the money you owe, will be paid in full. At least, that’s what the game wants you to think. Of course it’s far more complex and emotional than that. The emotion and the narrative providing that emotion is so solid that you keep moving forward, battling all in your way.
The city of Columbia helps with this, too. It’s a floating city, with airships and lines that you can zip on to get to place to place. It’s a city built during a time when America and Americans thought it and they could do anything. Just like the real America, Columbia is nasty underneath the shiny chrome. Racism is accepted and promoted. People work like slaves to justify their existence. Women are secondary to the ambitions to the men and there is a scary, terrifying worshipping of the Founding Fathers. The religion built around Washington, Jefferson and the rest made me look at the Tea Party movement in a different light, actually, questioning if the current political situation is more religious than ideological.
But whatever. It’s a video game. It’s a very, very violent video game. Yeah, there are some high themes and some stuff to think about. But, in-between that, there was me shooting people, sniping their heads and watching them explode, using my genetic modifications to burn people alive, cool stuff like that. Elizabeth helps with this. She has the ability to shift time, giving you weapons and advantages you shouldn’t have. She changes the world for you, causing the game play to become fresh and inventive Even as pretty and thoughtful as “Bioshock Infinite” is, it’s still mostly about me looking for loot and fighting people that are in my way.
That’s what makes “Bioshock Infinite” so weird. The last half hour of the game stops the “video game” part and pushes you into a strange place of moral depression. The main character that you were playing as the entire game is as bad or worst than the villainous Tyrant of Columbia. The main character made a choice, a choice he pushed out of his head. He gave his baby to the architects of Columbia in exchange for his debts being cleared. There’s a moment where you go back in time, thanks to Elizabeth. She was a character that you helped escape, fell in love with and tried to help get to Paris. But actually she’s your daughter. She’s the grown version of the little baby you traded to clear your debts away.
The video game allows you to pick the baby out the crib and give her to a man. Your character implies you won’t do it. But Elizabeth is stark and bold, telling you that you can wait for as long as you want. You don’t leave the room until you give the baby away.
It’s strange that a game makes you absolutely disgusted with yourself. It’s also weird and wonderful and a form of artwork that you can proudly tell people about and use as a justification for the medium.
That’s what makes “Bioshock Infinite” so strange for me. I don’t really want to play the game again. I do, sort of. I more want to experience the game again. I want to watch the game unfold, and enjoy the thoughts that the game forces me to initiate.
“Bioshock Infinite” is probably the best video game ever made. Of course that’s arguable. It’s art. Arguing about it is sort of the point.