Wednesday, January 8, 2014

3 days of...Bioshock Infinite!

Who's story is this anyway?

(No spoilers, I promise)

Bioshock Infinite, by developer Irrational Games is by far one of the most engrossing experiences I had in 2013. The narrative, philosophical implications, character and level design, voice acting, and setting were all top-notch. This game delivers a seamless world, that drives a consistent feeling of immersion to a whole new level. Bringing so many elements together so precisely, and excellently, seemingly makes this more than a game. It transforms my computer screen into a window to a new world that speaks back to me through it.

Moments like this show me exactly what games are capable of.
Now as I'm sure if you're reading this you've probably read other reviews, I don't want to delve into what is be a minefield of opinion on what may be the best or worst features of this game and why it deserves shelf space on my list of top games of 2013. The mechanics and topics in this game have been talked half to death, but there was something that caught my attention on my second play through (and giving credit where it is due, was pointed out by my wife in an offhanded comment.)

Then character you play, Booker Dewitt, is NOT the protagonist.

There, I said it. Now you can finish the article to see what I mean. You can shatter your illusions of the game, or walk away and completely ignore my opinion and observations. That's fine, I respect that. I think though, that this element of the plot that most people ignore, enhances points made later on in the story.

By protagonist, I don't mean that Dewitt is generally a bad person, and is an anti-hero. He's not really the best role model for your children, but he's trying to save a girl, and there's some honor in that. The epiphany comes when you realize that he's a main character but not THE main character.

The story of Bioshock is a story of Rebirth. Everything is driven by this theme over and over again. Redemption, escape, rebirth, and renewal are all themes that powerfully drive the story of Bioshock. They are plastered on the walls, and delivered to our faces in obvious ways.

The problem playing the game at this point is that Booker refuses the rebirth at his first opportunity. He operates on a sole mantra of "Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt". Booker has a roguish history, and we see a glimmer of that as the story progresses, but as a character Booker Dewitt never progresses himself.

First impressions are always so important, don't you think? 
How as a main character, can he have no character development? Or growth? Prior to the last hour of the game, he moves and shoots on this simple ideal. One rule that determines every decision that he makes. We essentially play a robot, and our prime directive is to drive the plot. Dewitt is a plot device.

The center of this plot of course is Elizabeth. She is the protagonist. The child of rebirth, from her escape to her eventual return to glory, and growth to new power. She develops new personality quirks, and we see her face age and grow wise with time as she witnesses and assists this unnatural force that you embody while playing. She can see the destruction that she has aided in, and it makes her change.

I wish I had reception like that. 
The story is not yours. You don't even see your face. There is barely a broken up reflection of you in a pool of water in the game. The personal revelations that we learn about Bookers past only explain his skill with weapons and fighting. There is absolutely nothing about his character to identify with besides killing endless waves of minions as your personal puppet. The true glory of this story is to watch Elizabeth's transformation through his eyes.

This has implications with the story that when revealed change things slightly. The entire episode is a machination by a duo of personalities, and you become their tool to meet a grand objective. As a matter of fact, Booker Dewitt is used by practically every other protagonist or antagonist as a tool to meet an end. Unwittingly and unknowingly, when you begin this game, every possible iteration of your character will meet the same end. Every action you take is practically pre-determined, and you are nothing more than a carefully cared for and calibrated wrench used to turn the final bolt in a long awaited machine. You are a plot driver, carefully twisting the last screw into place so that the protagonist can become whole.
Those eyes have seen horrible things.
Elizabeth stole this story from the very beginning. When we first saw her through that window, catching us with roses (in the official trailer released in 2012) we know she was special. When we saw her for the first time, missing a pinkie, and holding a book on theoretical physics, we knew she would make everything different. This isn't because she makes the perfect escort partner, it's because we are telling her story through the eyes of a machine, that was created to perfectly tell her tale.

The tale of a girl, and her man-machine, and saving the world.

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