All right, folks, the tale of Bioshock Infinite is nearing an end—Burial at Sea: Part 2 drops today, likely with a twist to throw us for a loop, and that’ll end this piece of this infinite story. In honor of that I’ve got a Bioshock Infinite essay about the DeWitt-Comstock-Elizabeth conflict, through an analogy that Burial at Sea signed and sealed.
Bioshock Infinite deals with some heavy themes, from racism and child abuse to despotism and fate. Not the least among these ideas is the concept of religion as a force for corruption, but in truth no one religion is really focused on. The game’s Christian themes aren’t themselves a source for critique but a foundation on which Columbia’s cultish religion is based, extracting iconic elements such as baptism and the miracle birth without addressing the scriptures themselves. For the most part this approach is fine—it highlights that the issue with religion isn’t faith itself, but the way in which it can be used as a vehicle for manipulation. This idea is relatively consistent with how religion is addressed in other Bioshock games, and the comparison still gives Infinite room to make a clear point about radicalism. Deeper Christian themes, while sometimes enriching to the game’s world, aren’t essential to what Infinite is trying to say.
However, there one exception—one Biblical story that has noticeable parallels in Infinite that enhance the game’s narrative while presenting new and fascinating possibilities for both. That would be the Judgment of Solomon (or “Solomon and the Baby”) in the Old Testament (Kings 3:16 – 3:28).
For those who don’t know the story (which can be read in its entirety here in a variety of translations, though this essay will focus on the King James version), it goes like this:
Is anybody tired of Bioshock yet? If so, you’re probably at the wrong blog—any day now I’ll be installing a giant flickering header that reads Bioshock Thoughts, let me show you them.
With Burial at Sea: Part 1 two weeks since released (and shocking, horrifying, and confusing players all the while), it seems like the new Bioshock installment is creating more questions than it’s answering, and sometimes we’re not sure which is which. In light of that, I’m going to do something a bit different here and throw down a nitty-gritty analysis of this DLC—what we know, what we think we might know, and what we definitely don’t. As a bonus, let’s take a look at how assertions previously made on Oracle Turret regarding Bioshock Infinite stand up to this new addition to the story, and what should terrify us going into Part 2.
During the final two levels of Bioshock, as player character Jack traverses the halls of Point Prometheus and the Proving Grounds, there is a notable shift in the game’s focus: where once it was about destroying the heinous dictator Andrew Ryan, everything suddenly becomes about the Little Sisters. Jack’s journey through Rapture concludes with a series of events that change the little girls from notable side-quest to characters of literally game-changing importance. Saving or killing the Little Sisters—the one decision Jack is truly able to make for himself—comes to define his character, effectively structuring his personality and determining if he is a hero or a villain.
With the release of Bioshock 2 in 2010, and Bioshock Infinite earlier this year, a pattern began to emerge based on Jack’s original journey, with the main protagonist of each game—in all cases an older (or, in Jack’s case, simply larger) male figure—acting as a protector to a younger female character. Perhaps even more interesting, the games’ villains follow a dynamic based on similar principles, though instead of protecting young characters, they harm them for personal gain—an act that, in the otherwise morally grey universe of Bioshock, marks them as irredeemable. Through these patterns, the Bioshock series maintains an underlying current of paternal anxiety, where the hero’s major conflict lies in his ability—and his choice—to protect or harm his female progeny, and the villain becomes irredeemable by harming her.
In the last few months I’ve seen a lot of fascinating discussions about the philosophical and scientific elements of Bioshock Infinite, particularly its application of the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics and the resulting time-travel mainstay which plays a pivotal role in the game’s final hours. The mind-bending explosion of WHAT that was the ending of Infinite left folks like me simultaneously horrified and gleeful at its hairpin execution.
So I beat Bioshock Infinite a couple weeks back, and I will say without a doubt that its one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. The gameplay is fun and multi-faceted, the environments are gorgeous, and the characters work double-time to weasel their way into your heart. I was a little sad that the gameplay was simplified from the 15-minute trailer released in 2011, but that complaint is ultimately small potatoes. The game strikes a good balance between world-building, a compelling storyline, character development, and dynamic gameplay, so even when one element shine brighter than the others, no one ever feels outpaced. Plus, as we have come to expect from Bioshock, there’s a big damn twist in there that will blow your freaking mind.
Another hallmark of the Bioshock series that Infinite loyally incorporates is a bold examination of complex philosophical concepts. The original Bioshock tackled, among other things, economic oppression, fascism, isolationism, Randian theory, and free will, all without skirting or tidying them up. Bioshock 2, arguably the weakest of the series, has something to say about collectivism and social responsibility (not as ambitious or controversial, but eh). BioshockInfinite follows in the footsteps of its predecessors with gusto, tackling religious and political fanaticism, American exceptionalism, political deification, racism, and social stratification. It also talks about a concept that humanity has been mulling over for millennia: redemption.