Another Look at Bioshock: Infinite

I was disappointed in Bioshock: Infinite in the end. The game started out like gangbusters, with an incredible world, solid action, and the same kind of set-up that allowed designer Ken Levine to explore complex issues in such depth with the original Bioshock.

Then all of it ran aground on the shoals bad ideas, all of them linked to the festering problem at the core of the game: nihilism. The thin silver strand of hope and moral seriousness that made the grim world of the original bearable is almost completely repudiated in the sequel. It’s odd: the world of Bioshock: Infinite is more bright and beautiful than the world of the original, but the world of the original was less morally oppressive.

The worst thing Levine did with the sequel was to twist the best character–Elizabeth–into a force for evil. I kept expecting him to pull back and offer redemption, but nope: he just kept doubling down right through an ending that mocked baptism and the very notion of freewill, and DLC that made her character even worse.

Catholic writer Paul Schumann has posted an interesting review that provides some good perspective on the game:

Levine has said he doesn’t set out to write a story for any particular agenda. Levine deserves credit for writing characters who are interesting rather than seeking to please whichever interest groups are in vogue. He certainly achieves that — there’s no question that the Lutece twins, Booker, and Elizabeth are beloved by fans. But what is BioShock: Infinite trying to say if choice is meaningless? Through Infinite’s tale of amnesia, madness, death, and despair, the player learns that attempting to do good is folly. Death for the protagonist is the only way peace can be secured; you can’t see Booker and Elizabeth ride off into the sunset. I almost wonder if Infinite’s nihilistic ending is a sly statement about the huge amounts of time gamers spend with their favorite pastime. In a way, the only way to stop the madness of Infinite is to stop playing the game. As much as “player choice” may be a tired or poorly executed game mechanic, the fact does not change that we are human beings who can and must choose.

At best, Infinite warns the player not to be Booker. According to Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law can be discerned by reason, so one’s path shouldn’t be regarded as entirely a result of chance, environment, or fate. If anyone is doomed, it is the person living an unexamined life. Booker DeWitt would seem to fit the bill. He’s not concerned with good or bad — he’s the guy with the gun. In light of that, the takeaway from BioShock: Infinite is simple (forget trying to explain the rabbit holes of different dimensions). Booker’s unexamined life makes him a slave to his passions, and refusing to face his faults leads him to use religion as yet another excuse for his bad behavior.

Read it all.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.