There are some spoilers for Bioshock Infinite in this article.
Yesterday Film Crit Hulk and I both happened to finish Bioshock Infinite within hours of each other. As I took to Twitter to whine about the game, our green-skinned smasher reached out with an idea: let's have a discussion about it on the site. And so here it is, a largely unedited back and forth between myself and Film Crit Hulk, with me taking the con position and he on the pro. I'm the guy talking in lower case.
Bioshock Infinite is a frustrating game. Literally it frustrates with boring, repetitive combat, but it also frustrates with a half-baked story that drops themes at will, that equivocates constantly and that builds up to a grand revelation that is meaningless because it redefines a character who had no definition in the first place.
So you know: I didn’t love the original Bioshock, but I thought that the design and gameplay was creepy and I liked the way the ‘twist’ put basic game mechanics in a new meta light. The critique of Objectivism was cute, but a little ham-handed. I played through Bioshock because I enjoyed the experience, but I didn’t enjoy the experience enough to really care about what was happening in the game.
I played through Bioshock Infinite almost out of spite. At one point I entered a town square with Elizabeth at my side and I saw the familiar flickering of ‘tears’ that would give me skyhooks or cover or automatons or weapons and I groaned. I just groaned. I knew what was coming next - a couple of waves of samey enemies who would come, seemingly, from nowhere. I would have to try and triangulate their location by listening to them screaming “I’ll murder you!” and also by seeing from which direction their bullets hit me. I knew there would be about four or five minutes of repetitive spamming of my triggers, running in circles and spamming the X button to quicksearch corpses and to grab stuff from Elizabeth. And I knew I wanted no part of it anymore.
But I stuck it out because I felt a burning need to write about the game. It was like eating my vegetables. Now I’ve earned my dessert.
What about you, Hulk? I know that you also just finished the game. It’s fresh in both our minds. What did you think of it? Am I a hater on the fringe?
HULK LAUGH. HULK WOULD NEVER CALL YOU A HATER, BUT HULK DID HAVE A REMARKABLY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.
FIRST OFF, HULK’S GONNA DO THE REMARKABLY HULK-ISH THING AND QUALIFY A FEW MORE “SO YOU KNOWS.” IF HULK’S NOT MISTAKEN, YOU AND HULK ARE VERY MUCH ON THE SAME PAGE WITH BOTH WHAT WE VALUE IN GAMES AND WHERE WE THINK THE STATE OF GAMING CULTURE IS TO SOME DEGREE. AS CINEMA FANS WE BOTH RECOGNIZE THE UNBELIEVABLE POWER OF STORYTELLING AND ARGUE THAT THE BEST WAY FOR GAMES TO HARNESS THAT POWER TO THEIR POTENTIAL IS DRIVE STORY THROUGH THE MEANS OF INTERACTIVITY AND CHOICE. GAMES THAT HAVE DONE THAT WONDERFULLY INCLUDE MASS EFFECT, THE ROCKSTAR GAMES, AND APPARENTLY THE WALKING DEAD (WHICH HULK HAS YET TO DIVE INTO). ON THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM ARE GAMES HULK LOVES FOR THEIR “PURE GAMING” FOCUS. HULK’S GOOD FRIEND MATT ARNOLD (CO-CREATOR OF V.G.H.S) ONCE TALKED ABOUT PERFECT GAMES EXISTING IN A STATE OF PURE INTERACTIVITY, DIRECTLY CITING MARIO GALAXY. HE SAID THAT EVERYTHING YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN, DO YOU CAN DO. EVERYTHING YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN INTERACT WITH, YOU CAN INTERACT WITH. THAT’S A PURE GAMING EXPERIENCE SO TO SPEAK AND THE BAREST BONES OF IN-GAME STORY CAN MAKE IT ALL WORK. HULK IS LOVE WITH DARK SOULS AS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE GAMING ITSELF BEING THE POINT, WITH LOTS OF INTRINSIC COMPULSIONS TO PLAY INSTEAD OF EXTRINSIC REWARDS. BUT PERHAPS THE PORTAL GAMES ARE A BETTER POPULAR EXAMPLE OF GROUNDING STORY INTO “A PURE GAMING” EXPERIENCE.
THE POINT OF HULK MENTIONING ALL THIS IS IT PROVIDES THE FRAMEWORK FOR WHAT MIGHT BE WRONG OR RIGHT WITH BIOSHOCK: INFINITE IN OUR ENSUING DISCUSSION. BUT EITHER WAY, HULK SUPPOSES WE CAN AGREE THAT WHAT’S MOST EXCITING IS THAT BOTH GAMES AND GAME CRITICISM ARE ENTERING A REALLY EXCITING PHASE, WHERE IT SEEMS LIKE EVERYONE IS GETTING DAMN SERIOUS ABOUT BOTH SEMIOTICS AND STORY. AND THAT’S LOVELY.
AS FOR BIOSHOCK: INFINITE ITSELF, HULK WILL FIRST AGREE TO A CERTAIN POINT THAT WHEN IT COMES TO THE PURE MECHANICS AND INTRINSIC VALUE OF IN-GAMING MOMENTS, IT FALLS A BIT SHORT OF INCREDIBLE ATMOSPHERIC AFFECTATION OF THE ORIGINAL ENTRY. THE FIRST BIOSHOCK, WITH ALL IT’S TERRIFYING SCENES OF DARKNESS AND JUMP-SCARES. WITH IT’S SHIT-YOUR-PANTS MOOD-PERFECT LIGHTING AND PERFECT DETAILS IT JUST HAD THIS WAY OF TURNING THAT ATMOSPHERE INTO A DIRECT AFFECTATION OF YOUR GAMING EXPERIENCE. AND WHILE COLUMBIA IS OFTEN BREATH-TAKINGLY GORGEOUS (WHEN YOU ACTUALLY TAKE THE TIME TO SIT THERE AND LOOK AT IT), BUT RARELY IS IT DIRECTLY AFFECTING IN THE SAME WAY. MEANING THE EDGES OF THE GAMING AREA RARELY FEEL LIKE “EDGES.” WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE VOYEURISTIC FIRST TWO HOURS OF THE GAME, THE AFFECTATION OF COLUMBIA’S SKY SETTING ON YOUR GAMING IS EXPERIENCE IS NEAR MINIMAL. IT IS OFTEN ABOUT NOTHING MORE THAN BEING PRETTY. AND IF ANYTHING, THE OPENNESS OF THE DESIGN LENDS IT TO THE KIND OF CRAP YOU FIND IN A LOT OF RECENTS SHOOTERS WHERE IT’S JUST BIG WAVES OF BAD GUYS AND IT’S MORE ABOUT “SURVIVING” THEN IT IS KNOW-HOW AND EXECUTION (PARTICULARLY WITH THE ELIZABETH SAVING YOU DEVICE INSTEAD OF CHECKPOINTS). AND THE THINGS THAT HULK THOUGHT WOULD BE IMPORTANT LIKE SKY HOOKS AND FREIGHT HOOK JUMPING DIDN’T REALLY HAVE THE KIND OF PRECEDENCE THAT WOULD MAKE THAT WORLD-OPENNESS FEEL THRILLING AND / OR TERRIFYING. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY HAVE THE DANGEROUS SENSATION THAT YOU COULD CONSTANTLY FALL OFF AT A MOMENTS NOTICE. BUT THE SENSE OF HEIGHT AND /OR FALLING IS RARELY ACHIEVED. WHICH IS A HUGE DEAL CAUSE IT YOU TAKE AWAY THE SKY SETTING AND THE ACTUAL GAMEPLAY COULD HAVE BEEN ANYTOWN U.S.A. THIS MATTERS BECAUSE IT’S REAL SQUANDERED POTENTIAL COMPARED TO THE FUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERICS OF THE ORIGINAL.
THAT BEING SAID, IT WAS NEVER REALLY AN OUTRIGHT PROBLEM FOR HULK. PERHAPS HULK IS JUST TOO USED TO THE MONOTONY OF SHOOTERS? BUT THE LACK OF INVENTIVE BAD GUYS IN THE LAST HALF OF THE GAME IS DEFINITELY FELT.
BUT HULK LOVE OF THE GAME IN TWO AREAS THAT MAY HAVE SEEMED TO FALL SHORT FOR YOU. THEME AND CHARACTER. THEME WAS THE BIG WINNER. DESPITE IT’S SOMETIMES ON-THE-NOSE NATURE HULK CAN THINK OF NOTHING MORE COMPLETE IN ITS SCATHING OF MODERN CONSERVATIVE THOUGHT. THE RACISM, THE CLASS POLITICS, THE GENDER ISSUES, THEY’RE ALL RIGHT THERE AND THEY ARE MOST DEFINITELY COHERENT. AND HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT THE WAY THE FIRST TWO HOURS UNFOLD OF REVEALING THE RACIST NATURE OF THIS NEW EDEN ARE EXECUTED PERFECTLY ON A STORY LEVEL. SAME GOES FOR THE INTRODUCTION OF ELIZABETH. THE WRAPPING UP OF THAT STUFF? WELL, WE’LL GET TO THAT, BUT HULK SAVE FOR SIMPLICITY HULK THOUGHT IT WAS ALL ON POINT. AND WE’RE NOT SO MODERN AS TO THINK THIS CRITICISM MIGHT HAVE A NICE FINGER TO POINT ON A GENERATION OF YOUNG GAMERS YOU AREN’T AFRAID TO DROP N-BOMBS AT A MOMENTS NOTICE ON X-BOX LIFE. THAT BEING SAID, IT ALL DOES FEEL MUCH LESS LIKE A “STORY” THAN THE ORIGINAL DID. AT TIMES IT’S MORE LIKE PEELING BACK THE PROVERBIAL LAYERS.
AND INSTEAD OF CHARACTER, HULK SHOULD MORE SAY “CHARACTERIZATION” ELIZABETH FEELS LIKE A LOT OF THINGS, BUT HULK DEFINITELY THOUGHT THEY WERE ALL HUMAN. HULK FELT LIKE THERE IS A REAL RAPPORT WITH ELIZABETH AND SO OFTEN HER CHARACTER MOVES AROUND DOING HER OWN THING. AND OVERALL, SHE IS ANYTHING BUT A REDUCTION OF CERTAIN GAMING TROPES (SAVE FOR THE NURSE THING) AND HER RELATIONSHIP WITH COMSTOCK CERTAINLY SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT THE CAGING NATURE OF SEXUALITY. NOW, WHEN EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL AT THE END A LOT OF THOSE IDEAS BECOME MUDDLED, THEY STILL BECOME VERY CLEAR IN ANOTHER SENSE: SHE THEN SEEMS TO REPRESENT ALMOST ALL FORMS OF FEMININITY. THIS HULK FELT WAS A HUGE AND PURPOSEFUL POINT TO LUMP THE WHOLE OF THE IDEAS: MOTHER / SISTER / DAUGHTER / LOVER INTO ONE IDENTITY. IT’S LESS ABOUT THE LOGIC AND MORE THE COMMENT ABOUT THE UNIVERSAL WAYS WE REDUCE WOMEN AND AS FOR MEN WE CAN EQUALLY BE RESCUING DEWITTS OR CAGING COMSTOCKS. THAT’S A LEGIT COMMENT IN HULK’S BOOK... ALSO, HULK WOULD ARGUE THE REVEAL OF WHO ELIZABETH / ANNA REALLY IS IS A NICE ATTEMPT BY THE GAME-MAKERS TO PULL AN OLD BOY ON YOU... WHICH IS ADMIRABLE IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT.
BEFORE HULK GOES FURTHER. HULK WILL TURN IT BACK TO YOU - DID THE IDEAS SEEM TRITE? UNAFFECTING? DID THE CHARACTERIZATION NOT LAND? ALSO, HULK IS GOING TO START DRINKING RIGHT NOW SO THE REST OF THIS WILL BE FUN.
It’s really fascinating that you found that complexity in Elizabeth, because I have a huge problem with her purpose in the game. I see where you’re coming from, and I get that all the stuff - the mother/daughter/sister/lover complexity - is there on paper. I don’t feel like it’s there in the game. In the game, in the sheer mechanics of the game, she’s a woman who needs to be rescued by a man. She’s a woman who cannot hold her own, who does not use a weapon, who cowers during every firefight except when she’s aiding the man. This is a game where a floating city has a barbershop quartet singing a Beach Boys song fifty years before it was written, but having a strong, active female character was out of the question? Scifi and anachronisms are more believable to the game designers than a woman who can handle herself.
My problem with the political themes of the game is a little complicated. For one thing, I think the political stuff is utterly without resonance, especially for younger/more naive gamers. Part of that problem is the simple fact that turn of the 20th century racist caricatures, upon which the game leans heavily, are funny. They’re weirdly, quaintly funny. The game needs to get beyond the Yellow Peril image of the Chinese or the Drunken Potato Farmer image of the Irish to explain why these are bad. It needs human characters to illustrate this, and no, that couple at the raffle does not count. As it stands, the racial stuff is a mix of standard afterschool special tut-tutting and the ironic weirdness of Little Black Sambo books.
Further, the American exceptionalism critiques rely on behaviors and verbiage so big and broad that they also seem silly and not reflective of the modern era. One of the biggest problems we face today is a false sense that things aren’t as bad as they used to be- nobody’s running around saying ‘nigger’ in the Senate, and we’ve pretty much stopped lynching black men, so we’re obviously doing pretty well. The reality is that institutional racism has become more insidious, better hidden and more willing to be subtle. And that our current prison-industrial complex has turned lynching into incarceration.
There are times when the game threatens to touch on interesting, confrontational issues, but the execution is again screwed. The best example is when Booker DeWitt reveals that he was involved in the Wounded Knee Massacre... which is never properly explained and is only dramatized as a silly spook house scenario. Is this Irrational Games making a commentary on the attempt to include serious issues in games, that no matter how hard you try, you’re reducing them to cut-outs bobbing up and down in the background? I doubt it, and I doubt that gamers unfamiliar with Wounded Knee walked away from Bioshock Infinite with any sense of what that tragedy was. What’s worse, it’s contrasted with a made-up historical atrocity, the Columbia bombing of the Boxer Rebellion, further watering down any educational/political meanings of the spook house sequence. This is one of those times when creating a wholly allegorical world would have probably paid off the political messaging more clearly.
But wait! There’s more! The game spends a lot of time establishing that the theocratic capitalist society of Columbia is rotten, and that there’s a resistance fighting to overthrow it. But wouldn’t you just know it - the freedom fighters are just as bad as the Founders. This kind of bullshit false equivalency drives me nuts. Yes, revolution is a messy and violent business. Yes, the French Revolution went off the rails. But not every revolution must devolve into the Reign of Terror - as the American revolution proves.
Once Daisy Fitzroy became a villain I wanted out of the game. Here’s the honest truth: even a temporary massacre, as horrible as it is, isn’t as bad as GENERATIONS OF INSTITUTIONALIZED ABUSE, SUBJUGATION AND DEHUMANIZATION. At this point saying that the revolutionaries are as bad as the regime they’re overthrowing isn’t just false, it’s really boring. So many fictions have taken this above-the-fray middle ground over the years - it’s a way that the system protects itself. The main political message of Bioshock Infinite ends up being ‘Yeah, it’s pretty bad now but it’ll be even worse if anybody tries to change anything.’ This makes Bioshock Infinite a powerful tool for exactly the kind of people you think it’s poking at, because it’s convincing you there’s no point in trying to get rid of those people.
FOR THE FIRST HALF OF WHAT YOU’RE SAYING HERE RE: ELIZABETH, HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT THERE ARE TWO LENSES THAT KIND OF ALTER THAT “CAN’T HANDLE HERSELF” CHARACTERIZATION. THE FIRST IS THAT WE ARE SORT OF DEALING WITH NOT ONLY THE HISTORICAL ANACHRONISM OF 1912, BUT SO MUCH OF THE POINT OF HER CHARACTER IS GROUNDED IN THE FACT THAT SHE IS 100% A “VICTIM” OF MALE-CENTRIC OVER-PROTECTIVE VICTORIAN-ISH VALUES. COMSTOCK HAS QUITE LITERALLY CAGED HER AND SO MUCH OF HER STORY IS GROUNDED IN BEING A REFLECTION OF THE MALE IDIOCY OF HER TIMES (THE WINDOWS INTO HER CAGE BEING A PARTICULAR OFFENSE), BUT IT EVEN BECOMES ABOUT HOW BOOKER VIEWS HER. THAT BEING SAID, THIS GETS INTO THE ISSUE OF HER FEMINITY MOSTLY BEING DEFINED BY MALENESS (WHICH IS PROBLEMATIC OF COURSE), BUT HULK STILL ABSOLUTELY THOUGHT SHE WAS STILL A STRONG, ACTIVE FEMALE CHARACTER. SHE’S RESILIENT. SHE’S INTELLIGENT. SHE USES THAT INTELLIGENCE TO “BREAK FREE” CONSTANTLY INTO THE WINDOWS OF THE WORLD. BUT SHE’S ALSO CLEAR-HEADED, HEARTSTRONG, MORAL AND ROUNDED, EVEN AS SHE HUMANELY TRIES TO MAKE SENSE OF THE CHAOS AROUND HER (HULK ADORED THE FACT THAT SHE DIDN’T JUST ADMONISH BOOKERS GOOD AND BAD CHOICES). SURE, FOR MOST OF THE GAME SHE DOESN’T NECESSARILY HAVE THE TRADITIONAL “MALE” TRAITS OF FIGHTING, BUT THAT’S OKAY. HEROISM DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A CASE OF BEING SUPERMAN WITH BOOBS. MORE TO THE POINT, THE ENDING IS REALLY ABOUT REVERSING SO MANY IDEAS ABOUT WHO REALLY IS BEING RESCUED HERE. SO ULTIMATELY, ALL THAT DAMSEL-NESS HAS A REAL POINT TO IT IN GETTING TO THAT REVERSAL AND BEING A REFLECTION OF THE GAMER THEMSELVES. AND ONE GETS THE SENSE THAT LEVINE WAS HUGELY INFLUENCED BY FLOWER HERE AND HULK THINKS THAT’S A VERY GOOD THING. WHEN ONE GETS TO THE END OF THIS GAME THE IDEA OF “RESCUING” HAS BEEN TURNED ON ITS HEAD.
AS TO YOUR ON-POINT PROBLEM WITH WHAT HAPPENS WITH DAISY, YOU’RE RIGHT, BUT IT FEELS MORE LIKE A MISCALCULATION. THE REFERENCE THEY’RE GOING FOR IS MOST DEFINITELY THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, WHEREIN THE VIOLENCE GOT SO OUT OF CONTROL AS TO LOSE A GREAT DEAL OF MEANING, BUT GROUNDING THAT ANALOGY IN AMERICA’S RACE ISSUE IS DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC FOR ALL THE REASONS YOU SAY (THERE’S A REASON WE LOOK AT DJANGO AS A FUCKING HERO). AND LORDY KNOWS THAT HULK IS SICK OF THE SAME KIND OF DISCUSSION OF “IT IS ALL RELATIVE!” THAT SEEMS TO CROP UP SO MUCH IN THE SOPHOMORIC UNDERSTANDING OF POLITICS THESE DAYS. BUT HULK REALLY DOESN’T HAVE AN ANSWER FOR ALL THIS EXCEPT TO SAY “THE GOOD THINGS THE GAME DOES OUTWEIGHS THESE NEGATIVES.”
REALLY WHAT HULK THINGS THIS GETS INTO THE QUESTION: “HOW MUCH DO WE REWARD ARTISTIC AMBITION?” EVEN THOUGH HULK LOVES VIDEO GAMES, THE MEDIUM IS IN AN AWKWARD PLACE WHERE IT BOTH NEEDS TO STRETCH ITS WINGS TO EMBRACE REAL ARTISTIC AMBITION AND YET IT ALSO NEEDS TO PROVE IT HAS A CONSISTENT UNDERSTANDING OF NARRATIVE. WE BOTH APPLAUDED MASS EFFECT’S ENDING, BUT IT WAS A GAME THAT ABSOLUTELY PUNISHED BY AUDIENCES FOR HAVING ARTISTIC AMBITION WITH ITS ENDING. BIOSHOCK: INFINITE FOR ALL THE WAYS IT MAY NOT BE FUNCTIONAL AS A NARRATIVE (AND FOR ALL THE WAYS IT FAILS AS A STATEMENT LIKE YOU POINTED OUT WITH DAISY), STILL GETS INTO THE KIND OF THEMATIC TERRITORY WHERE IT’S TRYING TO TAKE ON THE WORLD AT LARGE AND THAT’S VALID. AND HULK ARGUES THAT IT VERY MUCH TACKLES GENDER ISSUES WITH A LOT OF CAREFUL FORETHOUGHT AND INTROSPECTION. HULK DOES NOT WANT TO SAY THAT IT DESERVES TO BE APPLAUDED “FOR A VIDEO GAME,” BUT HULK WILL ABSOLUTELY EMBRACE THE FACT THAT A TRIPLE-A TITLE WAS GOING FOR THE MOTHER / DAUGHTER / SISTER / LOVER DYNAMIC AND ACTUALLY SUCCEEDED. AGAIN, THAT SOUNDS LIKE HULK IS REWARDING THE MEDIUM FOR JUST PLAYING BALL, BUT... WELL... THAT’S THE STATE OF WHERE GAMES ARE AT NOW. HULK THINKS THAT A BIG GAME GOING FOR THESE KINDS OF STATEMENTS IS REALLY IMPORTANT.
BUT IS HULK GIVING TOO MUCH CREDIT HERE? IS HULK OVERVALUING A POSSIBLE GENDER STATEMENT BEING MADE? IS HULK’S READING OF THE ENDING AS POINTING THE FINGER AT THE PLAYER OUT OF BOUNDS? IS THIS THE STATE OF VIDEO GAMING RIGHT NOW AND IS THAT FAIR?
I see where you’re coming from, and I agree - we should be encouraging games (especially big AAA) games to have depth and meaning and to make an effort at being more than a shoot-em-up. But when do we stop treating the effort as good enough? Isn’t there a point where the ‘everybody’s a winner for trying’ mentality leads us to an eternally middle-of-the-road place? I know I sound a bit like Andrew Ryan or Mr. Incredible here, espousing semi-Randian points of view, but at a certain stage in anybody’s development you’re only holding them back by always saying “Well, you tried, and that’s something.” You need to push them to not just try but to succeed.
Video games have been around for decades - pretty much our entire lifetime. And games as storytelling devices predate us by millenia. Yes, the digital nature of it all is new(ish), but I think games have been around long enough (there’s a Bioshock Infinite mode called 1999 mode, which celebrates the 1999 release of System Shock 2, a high point in game evolution. That was 14 years ago. Think how far the Beatles went in 10 years) that we owe it to them to stop saying ‘This is pretty impressive for a video game!’ Especially because there are many games that have been pushing boundaries in storytelling and emotional engagement.
Maybe if Bioshock Infinite wasn’t Bioshock Infinite - ie, the most hyped, well reviewed game of the year so far - I wouldn’t be so critical. My position is that if this is the game we’re going to hold up as a pinnacle of the medium, it should deserve that. And I don’t think it does - from gameplay (remember when plasmids made sense in Bioshock? Why does Columbia have vigors, except ‘because it’s a sequel to Bioshock’?) to thematic elements to character stuff to even the big scifi ending, which I found kind of trite and 10th grade (and I hate to keep getting on tangents, but the ending is even more irritating to me because it comes at the end of a game that allows zero actual choice - hell, it barely even offers any surface customization), Bioshock Infinite comes up short. I think the best way that I can respect the medium of video gaming is to demand more than just effort from game developers.
Man, my responses are feeling Hulk-sized! I certainly have more to say, but I think I’ve touched on a lot of my basic points. I do wish I liked the game as much as everybody else; I think that if I found the gameplay more satisfying I’d be happier with the game in general. As it stands the on-rails nature of the game turned every combat encounter into an irritating halt in forward momentum. I’d also love to talk more in the future about the ending, because while I understand the basic concepts at work there I haven’t quite figured out the mechanics of it (aren’t there an infinite number of Booker DeWitts making that choice, not just the one?) and I feel super removed from the emotion of it.
ANYWAY. That’s how I feel. Closing arguments, Mr. Hulk?
MR. HULK WAS HULK’S FATHER’S NAME. IT’S JUST HULK.
THE ON-THE-RAILS DISCUSSION IS A PERTINENT ONE, BUT HULK IS GOING TO ARGUE THAT IT’S NOT SAYING THE CHOICES WE MAKE IN THE GAMES ARE MEANINGLESS, BUT MORE TAPPING INTO THAT AGE OLD STORY ABOUT THE DANGERS OF TRYING TO UNDO THE PAST AND ALL THE FURY WITH WHICH WE DO SO BEING A DETRIMENT. WE SEE THIS SORT OF THING IN TIME-TRAVEL MOVIES ALL THE TIME WHERE IT’S LESS ABOUT FATALISM AND MORE THE CONSEQUENCES OF TRYING TO DISSOLVE OUR PAST MISDEEDS. AND THAT THINKING IS ALLLLLLL OVER BIOSHOCK: INFINITE. THE BAPTISM ANALOGIES. THE NOTION OF CREATING OUR WORST FEARS AND DEMONS BY IGNORING THEM. THE CONNECTING OF RAGE TO OUTSIDE ENTITIES. THE CONSTANT, CONSTANT, CONSTANT DISPLACEMENT. ONE OF THE THINGS HULK ADORES ABOUT THE WHOLE ISSUE IS THAT ULTIMATELY IT’S ALL PSYCHOLOGICALLY DELVED INTO, NOT POLITICALLY (THIS CAN BE ARGUED FOR THE BOXER REBELLION / WOUNDED KNEE STUFF TOO). THE CONTEXT IS WEIRDLY PERSONAL AND IT’S ALL ULTIMATELY LEADING TO THE DEWITT / COMSTOCK DUALITY. THAT’S NOT TO SAY IT’S PERFECTLY EXPRESSED, BUT THE RAILS / MISDEEDS / LACK OF CHOICE / IS ALL IN THERE AND IT ALL HAS PURPOSE. AND TRUTHFULLY THAT’S MORE THAN HULK CAN SAY FOR A LOT OF SUMMER TENTPOLE MOVIES (WHICH DO ADMITTEDLY HAVE WAY MORE COHERENT STORYTELLING THOUGH).
BUT YOUR ENDING THOUGHTS GET INTO THE ETERNAL QUESTION OF NATURE VS. NURTURE WITH THE GAMING INDUSTRY. IN THE “NATURAL ENVIRONMENT” AS IT EXISTS TODAY GAMING COMPANIES ARE TAUGHT THAT LACK OF STORY COHERENCE DOESN’T MATTER IF THE GAMEPLAY WORKS. THEY ARE TAUGHT THAT ARTISTIC AMBITION FALLS FLAT ON ITS FACE AND THE SAFE ROUTE COPYING CHOICES PAY OFF. THEY ARE TAUGHT THAT STORY JUST HAVE TO RESEMBLE MOVIE AESTHETICS AND THEY GET A PASS (COUGH COUGH MAX PAYNE 3, WHICH PROBABLY HAS ONE OF THE MOST ROTE, REPETITIVE “STORIES” HULK HAS EVER SEEN). SURE, THE BEST OF THE BEST BREAKS THROUGH. BUT THE LESSONS OF INNOVATION AREN’T CONNECTING AND IT’S ALL A PART AND PARCEL OF GAMING CULTURE ITSELF. IT MAY BE TERRIBLY UNFAIR, BUT GAMING CULTURE AT LARGE FALLS RIGHT DOWN INTO THE “ALL OR NOTHING” DYNAMIC OF FANBOY CULTURE. THE NEGATIVE QUALITIES OF A GAME ARE ALWAYS IRREFUTABLY BAD. THE POSITIVE QUALITIES OF GAMES ARE BEYOND REPROACH (A SYMPTOM OF OVER NURTURING WITHIN THE COMMUNITY AND A GENUINE HISTORY OF GREATER CULTURE NOT UNDERSTANDING GAMES FOR THE LONGEST TIME. BUT NOW THEY DO SO IT’S GOT TO STOP). YOU COULD SAY IT’S NO DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER FANBOYISM CULTURE, WHICH IS TRUE BUT ONLY TO A POINT. HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT WE BOTH INTERACT PRETTY REGULARLY WITH A GOOD SAMPLE SIZE OF BOTH MOVIE AND GAMER CULTURE AND THERE IS NO DOUBTING THAT GAMING CULTURE IS FAR MORE RIGID ON THE WHOLE. IT’S CHANGING RAPIDLY, BUT IT’S STILL A PRONOUNCED, REAL PROBLEM.
AND AS CONSUMERS AND CRITICS WE SHOULD BE ACTIVELY TRYING TO CHANGE THE CULTURE ITSELF, WHICH IS PROBABLY BEST REFLECTED BY HOW WE TALK ABOUT IT. THAT MEANS TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CULTURE ITSELF TOO. GAMES CAN’T BE BEYOND CRITICISM. IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT “BAD” OR “GOOD,” BUT MORE ABOUT CONTEXTUALIZING PURPOSE. AND NOT TO PAT OURSELVES ON THE BACK FOR HAVING THE TINIEST MODICUM OF CIVILITY HERE, BUT HULK’S PROUD OF THE FACT THAT WE WERE ABLE TO GO BACK AND FORTH ON THIS, BECAUSE 9 TIMES OUT OF 10 HULK SEES THE CONVERSATION DEVOLVE INTO HYSTERIA... WHICH HULK CAN BE JUST AS GUILTY OF BY THE WAY. WHEN HULK FINALLY SAW THE MASS EFFECT OUTRAGE, HULK WENT INTO AN UN-HULK-LIKE FREE FALL AT FIRST AND WAS JUST AS MUCH A PART OF THE “ALL OR NOTHING” PROBLEM OF DISCUSSION. AND HULK HAS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THAT.
BUT GETTING BACK TO THE GAME AT HAND, SURE, HULK IS PERHAPS JUST “OVERVALUING” THE THEMATIC RESONANCE OF THE ELIZABETH CHARACTER AND BEING “UNDER-ANNOYED” BY THE GAMEPLAY, BUT THOSE TWO FACTORS PROVIDE A CONTEXT IN WHICH HULK THINKS THIS IS A SOLID GAMING EXPERIENCE. IT’S LIKE THE WHOLE ANALOGY OF A PIECE OF ART JUST HAVING THE GOAL OF BEING ABLE ‘TO SAY ONE TRUE THING.” AND TO HULK, BIOSHOCK: INFINITE IS A FLAWED GAME THAT SWINGS FOR THE FENCES AND IN ONE WAY IT CONNECTS BIG TIME IN A THOROUGHLY COHERENT AND COMPELLING WAY FOR HULK.
BUT NO GAME SHOULD EVER BE BEYOND APPROACH.
THANKS DEVIN. A PLEASURE AS ALWAYS.