Experienced Points: Explaining BioShock Infinite

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 9, 2013

Filed under: Column 102 comments

MY column this week is a double-sized outline of the plot of BioShock: Infinite that will hopefully smooth out some of the confusion people are having.

I don’t have much else to say. I mean, I liked the game and all, but after an hour-long podcast and this article I’ve pretty much said everything I have to say on the game.

EDIT: And as soon as I posted this, I see that the new Errant Signal is out. I might be out of things to say, but Chris has another twenty minutes of thoughts.

Link (YouTube)


From The Archives:

102 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Explaining BioShock Infinite

  1. paul says:

    “…will hopefully smooth out some of the confusing people are having.”
    Did you perhaps mean, “…will hopefully schmooze out Somme of the confusing people are halving.” ?

    As far as the article goes, I appreciated that you didn’t go into the implications and stuck with “what happens” in the game.
    Are you planning on sharing your own feelings on the implications of the imagery at some point? Was it disjoint enough that it doesn’t have a coherent emotional impact?

    1. Aitch says:

      Speaking of disjointed – do they ever show what happened to Anna’s finger after it was severed? Memorial service? Stylish necklace? Jerky?

      On second thought, what worries me more is the thought of everyone now misinterpreting Everett’s many worlds interpretation to be how it’s modeled in this game.

      Maybe a quantum physicist or cosmologist can help me out on this one, but as I understand it – out of all of the possibilities and many different universes that can manifest with each chance quantum fluctuation / “decision”, only one ever actually occurs. Then upon that occurrence, all of the non-actualized possibilities collapse back to the split’s origin, that way it allows the overall energy of the universe to be conserved instead of divided into oblivion. Right?

      Something like this happening in… is it called phase space?

      Really it’s totally over my head, so if anyone knows I’d appreciate hearing about it either way.

      1. Well, that’s one hypothesis. But I believe that, while not that many people necessarily subscribe to it, there is a hypothesis seriously put forward with math and all that says the many universes actually do exist (well, for some values of “exist”–it’s all some hugemungomagnifico superposed waveform or something, but they exist just as much as ours does).
        I think it’s even been proposed that at a very tiny quantum level there is some sort of communication between them which averages out certain energy levels, and that’s why the vacuum energy is bizarrely close to zero rather than having a large negative or positive value, and that in turn is one reason life is remotely possible, yay!

  2. Neil D says:

    Dammit. This is the downside of waiting for Steam sales… I so want to read/listen to this right now.

    1. Dragomok says:

      I avoided spoilers about Bastion for over a year, just so I could play it, beat it (twice) and watch this Errant Signal.

      Now, thid is somewhat harder, since I’m actively avoiding spoilers for SpecOps: The Line, Antichamber and this. And I already failed at avoiding spoilers for Morrowwind by reading this wonderful, wonderful thing. And Thomas was Alone. A bit. Sort of. (Damn you, Cory Rydell!)

      But if both of us are avoiding spoilers for BioShock Infinite, should we really be reading these comments?

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I’d worry more about Prequel spoiling me if I actually intended to go back and play Morrowwind… unfortunately, never been able to convince myself.

        In the same boat on Bioshock though. I’ve got like 4 different things I’m saving to read because I can’t convince myself to spend $60 on it just now… but it gets more tempting every day.

          1. How can you either like or dislike oblivion? By definition, you can’t experience it and . . . Oh. A game. Carry on.

      2. MadTinkerer says:

        Wait… Antichamber has spoilers other than mechanical spoilers for the puzzles? I beat about half of the puzzles, got stuck and haven’t gotten around to trying again yet. I read the various pictures and captions but there didn’t seem to be a specific narrative happening. Even more so considering the game gates at the different “gun” types but otherwise lets you explore each branch as long as you solve the puzzles, I really didn’t think there was a specific story beyond “here’s some symbolism that’s actually a clever clue to other puzzles or groups of puzzles”.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      I miss the time when all Shamus’s posts were about old games I actually had a chance to play. This “say everything I want to say about a game two weeks after it’s out” thing really sucks. I can’t remember the last time I was actually able to join a (unspoilered) conversation about a video game on this blog…

  3. Ben Finkel says:

    Doesn’t Robert Lutece come through with Anna? I thought that was the incentive for Rosalind Lutece, that by acquiring Anna she’d get to be united with her “brother”.

    Also, it’s not the Lutece office you go to, but rather Booker’s own office, which is why Anna’s crib is there.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yes he does.He is from the same universe with booker who sells the baby.

  4. Psithief says:

    Well, I’d like to agree or disagree with your article Shamus…

    However, until the publisher stops being a complete sack of s***, I won’t be playing Bioshock Infinite.

    Likely that means I’ll never play it.

    You would feel the same if you were being charged US$20 (yes, in US dollars) more than people in the US.

    These people are scum, and I have boycotted all the publishers that engage in this sort of activity, unfortunately for me that’s basically all the big ones.

    * 2K Games
    * Activision
    * Electronic Arts
    * Ubisoft
    * Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
    * ZeniMax

    I’m very much looking forward to seeing the ramifications if and when all of Steam is banned from selling to our country until they stop enabling this practice.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      I’m not sure if it’s the publishers in this case, but don’t quote me on that.

      From a very quick google search, I get things like this that put it down to a problem with the way global economics works rather than any sinister publisher thing. Granted that link is not a researched source, but I’ve seen a lot similar before so if I wasn’t so lazy I could probably find one.

      TL:DR – don’t be so quick to blame publishers. They do have to make money after all. Though I’m not saying you CAN’T blame em if they do naughty things.

      1. Decius says:

        That explanation basically claims that I should be able to buy AUD with USD, buy games in the US using my AUD, sell those games in the US for USD, and everybody makes more profit, including the people trading AUD for USD.

        Or something like that; the claim is that the purchasing power of the Australian dollar is less than the purchasing power of 1.05 USD, (current exchange rate according to Google)

      2. Steve C says:

        That link is pure drivel. It’s nonsense from start to finish. It’s throwing out buzzwords just to confuse. I’m not sure if it’s misinformation or disinformation but it’s total bull.

        Source: My degree in Economics.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          Whether the argument is correct, I don’t have time to find. The argument itself, however, is not implausible.

          The complaint seems to be “why is the same computer game cheaper in the US than in Australia?” Which is analogous the question “why is the same textbook cheaper in Thailand than in the US.” Thailand is a poor place, and therefore also an unproductive place (assuming we believe that incomes=marginal production -and if we don’t then we might as well stop now, because that torpedoes the GDP measure). If there is no trade, we have no exchange rate for the currency -but that doesn’t mean prices must be the same in both countries. In fact, because Thailand is poor, prices and quantities are likely to be lower because the poor have lower demand schedules, but the supply curve hasn’t moved. Now, take a very productive American, drop him in Thailand, and it’s like everything is being sold for pennies.

          It turns out this is not only true, but book publishers make use of this fact to sell books more expensively in the US and more cheaply in Thailand. (The US Supreme Court just decided a case on this -Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley and Sons.)

          As for why arbitrage hasn’t eliminated the price difference given that there is trade between the US and Australia -well, I suspect being on the other side of the world matters -the transportation costs might wipe out the arbitrage benefit -or, as in the US prior to Kirtsaeng, there might be a law preventing the mass importation of American made computer games.

          And if there is a price discrimination story here, there is no guarantee that eliminating it will result in cheaper games, rather it may make them more expensive for everyone. It is entirely possible that Australia -being wealthier -is covering the overhead and the rest of us benefit from being marginal customers. Eliminate the discrimination, and suddenly we all have to pay the average cost. Persistent market segmentation absent a price or quantity control usually exists for a reason.

          1. Humanoid says:

            The Aussie dollar is reaching historical highs – as recently as half a decade ago it was worth $0.60USD, and in the early 00s it dropped as low as $0.48USD. For the whole time though, retail PC game price held steady at $90, so to an extent you take the good with the bad. As far as I remember, retail prices for software did not change either when the GST was introduced, despite it having effectively raised the tax on software from near-zero (technically I think the cost of the media was taxable even if software itself was not) to 10%. (Aside, the introduction of the GST inversely *reduced* the price of computer hardware from 22% to 10%)

            Ultimately the problem is that the accepted price was set during the more stable years before the turn of the millennium, where I’d estimate the exchange rate was fairly stable at about $0.70+, and when the additional costs of retail distribution and sales were unavoidable. At that rate there was still a premium but I don’t think an unreasonable one. What’s happening now is just everyone in the chain taking advantage of inertia to inflate their margins.

            However, the catch is that none of these factors apply to Steam (or any other method of digital distribution) – they have no presence at all in Australia, do not charge in Australian dollars, and are subject to none of the additional costs and taxes associated with trading in Australia. Any price differences created would then be upstream of Steam itself, with the common assumption that it’s a contractual obligation required of Steam by the publishers in a bid by the publishers to protect their retail revenue.

            It’s hardly surprising, a publisher faced with the option of either: a) cutting their retail price to match the online price (or otherwise face a potential retailer boycott), or
            b) raising the price of online sales to match retail, knowing that unless the customer has no other option other than direct import, they will have to pay that price regardless;
            surely would always pick the latter.

            1. Peter H. Coffin says:

              Well, there’s the option to just let the retailers pay the same wholesale as US retailers, set their own retail, and otherwise go hang….

          2. Steve C says:

            “The argument itself, however, is not implausible.”
            No. It’s not implausible. It’s straight up wrong. The points about currency rates and productivity are all backwards. Forget about all of that. It’s both wrong and irrelevant. Here is the reason why games and textbooks are a different price:

            In the case of IP (textbooks, games, movies etc) every single one is a separate legal monopoly. Piracy aside, the publisher dictates the price and that’s the price. They decide based various contributing factors, from demographics, marketing, historical prices etc. That has nothing to do with productivity, GDP etc. In other words they figure out how to maximize the area under the monopoly curve for every separate market.

            But if what Sabrdance or the original link said was correct then it would still have nothing to do with the price of games.

            TL;DR: The price is high because it’s set that way by the people selling it because they can.

            1. Austin says:

              Monopolistic pricing models rely on the absence of substitutes. This makes sense in legally sanctioned monopolies such as US’ NLRB union-only industries (justified by alleged monopsonistic labor demand). Firms must pay higher wages than they otherwise would because they cannot substitute non-union labor.

              But in markets with an abundance of substitutes (restaurants, candy-bars, consumer appliances) the monopoly/monopsony model’s explanation of price divergence between countries breaks down. If Pepsi, who has a IP monopoly on advertising with that brand, triples its price, thirsty folks will switch to Coke.

              The question becomes: is the market for video games characterized by monopoly and the lack of substitutes? Or by competitive markets with an abundance of substitutes?

              If you confine your analysis to the market for video games, you might say there is indeed an argument for monopolistic pricing. Steam controls the bottleneck and nobody else can compete with their IP.

              But video games are part of the market for entertainment in general. A $90-Australian game must compete with a $50 ticket to a football match; with a $25 novel. With television, gardening, surfing, and every other activity Australians care to spend their free time doing. There are a wealth of substitutes that erode any monopolistic power video game companies might think they have over leisure activity.

              The price is indeed that high because people setting that price can get away with it; this is true for every voluntary transaction ever made. But it’s not because there’s some monopoly over Australian spare time.

              1. In practice there’s a good deal of grey area, I’d say. There are lots of products which would lose sales to competitors if they tripled prices, but which nonetheless have sufficient uniqueness, advertising power or whatever to charge a premium.

              2. Steve C says:

                “But it's not because there's some monopoly over Australian spare time.”
                I didn’t say anything about that, you did. What I said was if anyone in the world wants to buy BioShock Infinite then there’s exactly 1 source for that game – 2K Games. If you want to buy The Witch Watch then there’s exactly 1 source for that book – Shamus Young. Every IP is a monopoly. Those monopolies then enter into rights contracts with resellers. But because they enter into separate contracts for each country they can price discriminate geographically. Price discrimination in a world marketplace instantly feels unfair when it’s done to one subgroup that feels they are no different because it is unfair. It’s giving a discount to all seniors except people who are 73 yrs old… cause fuck people born in 1940.

                “General entertainment” is too broad of a definition of the market. I’m sure there are a ton of Aussies that decide $90 is too much for a game and decide to spend that on wind surfing instead. It’s not relevant to this discussion of why it’s $90 in the first place.

                1. Austin says:

                  “Every IP is a monopoly.”

                  In that case every person has a monopoly over the sale of their own labor. Everyone selling candy has a monopoly over that particular candy. Only McDonalds can sell Big Macs. Which means every transaction should be priced according to monopolistic models!

                  Except they aren’t.

                  Goods are consistently sold at prices cheaper and quantities greater than monopolistic models of production would predict.

                  “It’s not relevant to the discussion of why it’s $90 in the first place.”

                  Of course it is. If Australians have a relatively inelastic demand curve for video games because they have fewer alternatives for entertainment than Americans, then you would expect to see a price difference. If raising the price from $60 to $90 drives away 50% of the American market but only 20% of the Australian market, the profit-maximizing manager is surely more likely to raise the price in Australia, no?

                  Do IP’s convey a monopoly? Sure. But your ability to leverage that monopolistic power over sales is going to be hobbled by your consumers’ alternatives. The fewer the alternatives, the more leverage you can exert. The market for Bioshock: Infinite does not exist in a vacuum.

                  Do I know for sure this is why? No. Like Sabrdance I’m trying to show how this argument for price divergence is plausable. The income effects that he mentioned and the demand effects I talk about both cut the same way: the market is broad.

                  Why do you think the relevant market regarding pricing is limited to only individual games?

          3. Steve C says:

            The US Supreme Court case -Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley and Sons – was an example of coming to the right decision for all the wrong reasons. It won’t last long either. The court instructed how the law should be changed to get the desired outcome: The erosion of First Sale Doctrine and favorable laws for Americans at expense of the rest of the world.

    2. Psithief says:

      I was quite there was going to be a loud ignoramus spouting his drivel in reply, so let me remind you:

      BioShock Infinite if you’re in the US: US$59.99
      BioShock Infinite if you’re in Australia: US$79.99

      There is no currency difference here! This is plain price gouging.

      1. MrGuy says:

        The reasons are probably historical.

        Twas a time when this pricing level was more “fair.” As little as 10 years ago, the AUD/USD purchasing power difference was far greater (XE.com has it as 1.4/1, rather than the current 1.05/1), and such pricing would actually have made the game CHEAPER in Australia.

        Game publishers like “price points” – “resting” places where games are priced similarly. Gamers tend to like this too, actually – why is this game $64.99 when similar games are $59.99? Very few publishers use pricing that differs from the “standard” market resting points – you see few games for $58.32, even if that’s the “best” price for them.

        Over time, the “price points” for games tend to go up, both with general inflation, and with rising development costs. The usual game is to “hold the line” on a price point – there’s usually a “that’s too expensive” penalty on the first game to jump over the “fair” price point established by other games. Then a second game will jump through it. Then a third. Then everyone’s idea of “fair” moves, and people use the “new” fair price. This is sometimes “good” for gamers – games that might want to charge more might charge less for fear of being punished for being the “too expensive” game.

        The publsiher’s mindset is on whether the price is ratcheting up or not. “Should prices move down?” isn’t really in their head – if anything, they’d consider it “breathing room” until the prices need ratchet up again. Could someone get the beneficial reverse of the “too expensive” effect by setting a lower price point? Probably. Is it enough to offset the lost money? Maybe, maybe not.

        They’re not really thinking about global currency fluctuations. They probably SHOULD be, but they don’t.

        By the way, the reason for this isn’t necessarily evil – given the premise that price stability is a desirable thing, would we be happy in a world where prices changed every month? Where no two games were the same price, and prices were like $68.23? Maybe – not sure. It would certainly be a very different landscape. Aussies would probably be sufficiently more happy with cheaper games to offset any “confusion” costs.

        At least in the short term – what happens when the currency markets start going the other way?

        Steam and other on-line services can be agents of change here over time – they can react with prices more quickly than others. But really, they can only do this with older games where they’re the primary market. For games that are still in stores, Steam almost certainly isn’t allowed to undercut physical delivery with online prices, even if they wanted to. The publisher sets the “in store” price.

        Or maybe it’s just that Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by 2K Games. So I can clearly not choose the Bioshock Infinite in front of you.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          No offense, but as a European I’m already in a world where prices are €38.54, €48.19 and other such nonsense, because through on line sales; we often *do* get the same price as the US, but it fluctuates through currency value changes.
          In a store, of course, those tend to be set at €39.99 and so on, but on Steam or GOG, I pay an equal amount.
          Australians, by contrast, don’t. It’s horribly unfair for them, and it’s 99% price gauging.

          1. MrGuy says:

            Is this true for all games? Or just older games (year or more, that are no longer in retail stores)? I’m surprised if you’re paying different prices for retail vs. online for “still in stores” games.

        2. Last paragraph is brilliant!

          1. Steve C says:

            I reread that last paragraph many times and it was inconceivable to me… but then I got it. MrGuy, I hold you in the highest respect.

      2. Austin says:

        Would you mind defining price gouging?

        1. Steve C says:

          Price gouging=
          Charging $1000 per night for a hotel room that’s normally $100 because it’s a blizzard out and you’re the only hotel in town.

          In this case it’s charging $20 extra on a digital download because you typed in “Australia” when you created the account.

          1. Austin says:

            So price gouging is charging a higher price than “normal”?

            Do you have similar feelings about price dumping?

    3. agree or disagree? With the many-worlds interpretation, you can do both! And not buy the game, as well!

  5. Pete says:

    Well, Id comment on the video itself but youtube comments tend to be, well, yeah, so Ill just do it here:

    Pausing at 10:30, Id just like to say that while I dont think its entirely fair to compare Bioshock Infinite to Dishonored, considering it got released at the tail end of B:Is developement cycle, I did find myself subconciously reaching for the Blink hotkey hours into the game. Make of that what you will.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      Watching Josh use blink makes it look like more fun than cats, and I almost forgive the games industry for getting rid of leaning and mantling.

      1. Eldiran says:

        You can also lean and mantle, though.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well you can always comment about any errant signal here if you want to avoid youtubeness.

  6. Klay F. says:

    Suffice it to say, that I disagree with nearly everything Campster complains about. I’ve accepted that I’m one of the weirdos that liked the combat, but c’mon, why the hell should the game HAVE to comment on the racism? Isn’t it enough to see its effects on people and see it informing the worldviews of the characters without being proselytized to? There is also no mention of my main problem with the game, the fact that the whole game is about Elizabeth and her growth as a character, then out of nowhere it switches to being about Booker, all for the sake of a twist that, while being mostly consistent, I still consider lazy metaphysical bullshit.

    I’d also say that the linearity is very much in service of the story. You are trying to escape from Comstock, at least initially. The story would certainly lose every bit of meaning if you could just dick around on the other side of the city from where you were supposed to go.

    EDIT: I realize I sound overly hostile here. It wasn’t my intention and I apologize in advance if Chris or anyone else takes offense.

    1. rrgg says:

      If early on the game makers decide that “racism will now be the player’s primary motivation for wanting to kill a bajillion people” then yeah, it would be kind of nice if the game at least had something interesting to say about it.

      (Note this is the actual player’s motivation, Brooker’s motivation I assume doesn’t go far past “too stupid to cover up my hand”.)

      1. Klay F. says:

        Racism informs the worldviews of every speaking character in the game with the exception of maybe Elizabeth. Isn’t that enough? Would it be better if the game gave a little pop-up reminding us all that “racism is bad mmkay”?

        1. Zukhramm says:

          But what’s the point of it? It doesn’t make the story any more interesting. The entire racism/revolution plot seems to me to have nothing to do with the quantum physics/choices/religion/baptism story.

          And for once, I’m actually not questioning why this post ended up caught by the moderation filter.

          1. Minnow says:

            “The entire racism/revolution plot seems to me to have nothing to do with the quantum physics/choices/religion/baptism story.”

            It’s certainly thematically relevant; as it turns Columbia into a city at war with itself through ideology [just like Booker].

            It’s a way of expressing the core themes of the narrative through visuals whilst acting as the reveal of the dark underbelly of the idyllic Columbia and ultimately assists in fuelling the narrative as the two societal ideologies end up battling amongst the streets, in no small part due to racism and class discrimination.

            It gives justification for the violence throughout [as it displays how happy Columbia’s citizens are to ignore overt societal issues – alongside the religious imagery it’s beyond doubt you’re attacked with such hatred and viciousness by waves of enemies loyal to Comstock who have been propagandised against Booker – the false Shepard] and makes the city feel more like a real place, with real struggles and real problems that were faced in the period it draws heavy inspiration from.

            Infinite doesn’t say anything about racism [nor should it need to] because it’s using racism to tell its story of individual and societal reactions to cognitive dissonance.

            1. Humanoid says:

              False Shepard – so Booker is Conrad Verner?

            2. Zukrhamm says:

              All the could be done without having Booker fight for the Vox Populi, which is seemingly there only to give youu two different kinds of people to shoot and add couple of hours to the game.

              1. Minnow says:

                “and add couple of hours to the game.”

                Ignoring the rest of your post [because it’s not really a discussion I’m interesting in having, needless to say it’s a little odd you make that statement when we were discussing racism within the game….] why is that a problem? Those sections allow the developers to further introduce the tears and set up later narrative hooks that losing those two hours would diminish.

                1. Zukhramm says:

                  Because it feels like the game’s confused at best, or stalling at worst.

                  1. Minnow says:

                    I don’t agree with that at all. The section is necessary downtime from the core objective and advances the plot via way of exposition [introducing both the bloody nose and reinforcing the notion that Elizabeth can step through tears] whilst completing two side-stories – the fate of Fink and Fitzroy.

                    Could you go into more detail on the topic?

                    What specifically didn’t you like? Why does it not work for you? [On levels beyond being tedious from a gameplay perspective [despite being perhaps the section most similar to the original Bioshock] – it’s not like it doesn’t suit the game thematically to have Booker fighting for the ideology Comstock opposes, or doesn’t introduce important plot points.]

          2. Klay F. says:

            I know I’ve had this argument before, so I’ll repeat myself. If you are going to ask about the “point” of it, you might as well ask the same question about literally everything else that isn’t in singular service to the magic doors to other universes plot.

            But besides all that, I’d say it DOES make the story more interesting, at least until it went completely twist-crazy.

            1. Zukrhamm says:

              It’s not the only thing I dislike about the game.

        2. rrgg says:

          They did do that. In fact, the game basically says “racists = video game monsters to shoot” which creates quite a bit of dissonance when compared to any themes of “everyone is influenced by racism.”

          But that’s still missing the main point which I think is every issue being finally resolved by “Ha ha, doesn’t matter. it was all a dream anyways!”

          1. Kavonde says:

            But you’re not shooting them because they’re racist; you’re shooting them because they’re psychotic religious zealots who are trying very hard to kill you, and because Booker isn’t particularly opposed to murdering a lot of dudes. The fact that they’re racists doesn’t really enter into the player’s motivations, unless the player chooses to make it their motivation.

            Much like the game doesn’t present any real romance between Booker and Elizabeth, but players might choose to perceive it anyway. And then need a long shower.

            1. Deadpool says:

              Your first example of racism is also your first moment of violence. Booker is specifically stated as not being racist (I guess he grew out of that by not being baptized? For reasons?).

              The racism IS used as a blanket “these are bad guys, don’t feel too guilty about killing them” excuse. Know what would have made the whole racism thing resonate better? Make Booker a racist (not uncommon at his time) and Elizabeth not.

              1. Luhrsen says:

                “Your first example of racism is also your first moment of violence. Booker is specifically stated as not being racist (I guess he grew out of that by not being baptized? For reasons?).”

                This is my problem with the world they made. The game says it is not possible, no matter how many universes you try, to become baptized without also becoming a racist megalomaniacal villain.

                1. Kavonde says:

                  Agh. No, no it does not.

                  Comstock became a racist megalomaniacal villain because a wire crossed somewhere in his head and he believed that not only was he absolved of the horrible things he had done, he was a hero who should be celebrated for doing them. Either he, or someone close to him, convinced him of this; it led to a career in politics, friendship with Fink, the growth of his personal fortune, his meeting Lutece, and the founding of Columbia.

                  There are an infinite number of other realities where Booker may have been baptized at a later date, and in a different frame of mind. He might have still taken the name Comstock in some of them. But the series of events that led to him founding Columbia and buying Anna wouldn’t have happened, or at least not in the same way. He would have been a different person. It was only that very specific version of Comstock that became the game’s villain.

                  Now, there’s a line of argument to be had vis a vis Comstock’s morality being based on a similar doctrine to Calvinism, but that would probably take us too close to the “no religion or politics” line for comfort.

              2. Kavonde says:

                That first moment of violence happens after a choice; you can throw the ball at the couple, you can throw it at the announcer, or you can do nothing. The violence happens regardless, because someone spots the scar on your hand and recognizes you as the False Shepherd, because they are psychotic religious zealots.

                Racism doesn’t enter into it. If it eases the player’s conscience to know that the people he’s killing are bigots, that’s his or her choice.

                As for Booker, the lone snippet of dialogue where his views on race are actually expressed seemed to communicate apathy on the whole subject rather than a strong stance one way or another. He clearly used to care about race when he was 16 and fought at Wounded Knee, but twenty-two years later, he doesn’t really give a damn anymore. That’s a non-racist view, certainly, but it’s not like he’s gunning down cops because he’s fighting for racial equality.

          2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            This has bugged me. It seems like a derivative of cheap grace -“oh God, I thank thee that I am not like these other men.” It’s the same problem that attached to Larry in Walking Dead. It reduces the character to a walking target that we can guiltlessly drop a saltlick on. Larry has just enough extra character that we can almost give it a pass -and Kenny in the same game is enough of a character that the question of his potential latent racism is an interesting question and an interesting character quirk. But this is in a game which doesn’t make much hay about it.

            In a game which is going to start with a lynching, you should do something with it, else at best it is the aforementioned cheap grace, or at worst it is grotesquely exploitative.

    2. Duffy says:

      Just to clarify, while the end kinda seems to segue to about Booker it is still all about Elizabeth. Booker didn’t need to die to stop Comstock per say, he needed to die to stop multiple possibly amoral pans dimensional beings from coming into existence (the muliple Elizabeths) and to allow the Lutece twins to cease their quantum existence. So yes, it is a bit about Booker it’s more about stopping Elizabeth from existing and instead just leaving Anna.

    3. MrGuy says:

      Also, isn’t the game more about classism than racisim? Yes, Daisy is black. The gunsmith is oriental. But quite a lot of the vox are immigrants/poor (“no Irish need apply” types).

      Certainly some ethnic groups were generally of the lower classes, so there’s a lot of overlap, but it very much seems like the “social class” warfare is the thing that’s central to the game, not specifically on racial grounds.

      Even the conversations you overhear (early in the game) are more talking about immigrants than other races – “I think I detected our waiter has a hint of an accent!” The barker at shooting game where an avatar of Daisy appears calls her “the Anarchist Daisy Fitzroy,” not using a racial epithet.

      I rather like the Escapist’s “Bioshock Infinite Primer” articles (there’s an original and a Part II) for the historical context. They’re MUCH more nuanced than “OMG racism!”

      Which is the long way for saying I disagree with Chris too.

  7. rrgg says:

    The reading I liked the best is that the primary issue wasn’t just stopping Comstock in every universe, but that due to his dimension hopping shenanigans there did not exist a universe where his plan failed. Until the end of the game there was no universe where Brooker was able to keep Anna because in every single one some Comstock from some other universe would always figure out how to take her away.

    That said, maybe I missed some important audiolog somewhere (probably) but Comstock himself still doesn’t make much sense to me. So he’s a charlatan who doesn’t believe a word of what he’s preaching, but is still willing to drop everything in order to pursue some vague prophecy? He is able to see everyone’s the future but can’t really come up with any more pro-active strategies than “send waves of mooks at Brooker”? How the heck did he go all the way from “alcoholic gambler” to “supreme overlord of a flying city-state” With a single dunk in the water?

    As near as I can tell the message is supposed to be “The power of sunny optimism will let you build magic sky-cities, but it will also make you racist and want to destroy the world!”

    1. Tombsite says:

      Where did you get that his plan could not fail? In fact I can point to a universe where it did. The one you play in. Comstock is dead and Elizabeth safe and not disillusioned. Dewitt’s original universe did not have a Comstock so it should technically be safe.
      Some would say that a unrestricted Elizabeth turned evil in one universe could destroy ALL the universes but the game does not even hint at this.

      There really isn’t any compelling reason to kill all the Comstocks other than him being a terrible person, as far as I can see.

  8. This was a useful article. I’ve kept an eye on this game, and what people are saying about it. What I’d read about the plot didn’t seem to make sense to me. And spoilers were never an issue for me, since I never intended to purchase the game.

    I remain unconvinced. I still won’t play it. But at least now I think I get the gist of it.

    Now, do you have an explanation for why the game just swiped “Amazing Grace” and put new lyrics over it?

    1. mixmastermind says:

      “Amazing Grace” is actually “New Britain” with different lyrics.

      EDIT: Actually, what song are you thinking of?

    2. Jock says:

      Are you thinking about “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” That’s just its melody, and though it sounds similar it’s actually distinct. You can in fact tell that it’s a different song because you can’t sing it (or at least not the chorus) to the tune of Gilligan’s Island, which all songs in the Common Meter (like Amazing Grace) can be.

      1. Eric says:

        “Amazing Grace” is in 3/4, not common time (4/4).

        “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is also a traditional hymn, same as “Amazing Grace”.

        1. Why’d they use those songs? Two reasons:

          1. They add to the game’s religious themes.
          2. They’re in the public domain.

        2. Jock says:

          Common Meter is different from Common Time. Meter in this context is more related to poetry, in that it deals with how long the lines in the lyrics are, as well as the structure of the words within them. If two sets of lyrics share the same Meter then they can use the same melody. Try singing Amazing Grace, but to the tune of Gilligan’s Island. Their timing is different, obviously, but you’ll note that the words fit in quite well with the tempo of the song

          1. MrGuy says:

            Right. “Will the circle be unbroken” is metrically different. This is why Diva Girl is complaining about one of the lines not being “long enough” at the beginning of the video.

            By the way, while the performance is really nice, is the point of that video to make me think Diva Girl is a completely insufferable human being? Because boy did it work.

          2. Eric says:

            You are absolutely right. Looks like I jumped the gun on this one. Apologies.

  9. Shamus, in your article on the Escapist, in the next-to-last graph, it reads:

    “This means no Elizabeth and no universe-hoping to kill Comstock.”

    Is that supposed to be “universe-hopping“? I dunno if you can edit that, but I thought I’d let’cha know.

  10. arron says:

    I did consider whether in the drowning, both sides of the split would cease to exist, but then realized that the second baptism scene is different in that you don’t have any spectators. I think this was the important reason why Comstock accepts his baptism whereas Booker rejects his. He is embarrassed by the audience around him, who are in turn judging him. The Booker who is baptized alone just loses his guilt that will torture him and decides to continue on his life without repentance.

    Also if the Booker who survives Columbia is baptized with the memories of the story in the game then becomes Comstock, it also explains quite neatly why Comstock is noticeably older (as he’s twenty years older than the baptism rejecting Booker when they take Anna) and also can recall exactly the journey his past self will take to kill him. Drowning this Booker gives you the No-Comstock/Booker combination that Shamus described in his article.

    The only issue is whether this older Comstock has an AD on the back of his hand..but he could probably have that removed given the technology of Columbia.

    Also, another issue that is raised is what happens to the alternative Bookers and Elizabeths from the two alternative universes that are visited during the Arms quest. Booker in the last one is martyred in #2 but is still present somewhere (probably) in #1. Elizabeth still exists in both #1 and #2 but that isn’t adequately explained given that Comstock is still alive in #2 and doesn’t mention about his Elizabeth when the one before him is clearly a alternative jumping duplicate. Did she die with Booker during the Revolution?

    I guess you can only make the game so complicated before your average teenage broshooter gamer gets all confuddled and their brains pop…! ;)

  11. Zukhramm says:

    I just want to scream at the ending. I want to scream “jumping between parallel universes with quantum physics super powers doesn’t work like that!”. Killing a Booker that rejected the baptism should have no effect on the Bookers that become Comstock.

    That of course, might be a silly thing to think, but to me, having the universe “split” every time there’s a decision makes no sense. The universe should be splitting, all the different variations should always be there, by whatever wave function that describes the whole universe.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You seem to think that the game uses real world physics.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        It does, for the most part. Exaggerated, but still roughly real world physics.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          No,it references real world physics.But it is using it the same way as,for example,spiderman or batman comics.

          1. Zukrhamm says:

            Gravity, fluids, light and electricity all seem to work roughly the same. Although expanded upon and exaggerated, the game is clearly based in real world physics.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Same goes for batman,yet there you have a man able to fly simply by making his cloak rigid.And thats amongst the less ridiculous stuff.

              1. Zukhramm says:

                Yeah, so?

                What you seem to do is using the same old “you can’t complain about wanting realistic character motivations in a story if it has dragons in it”. It’s a nonsense argument.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No,I am saying that infinite never used real life physics for its time traveling stuff.There is a difference between a story that tries to use some real science and botches it and a story that uses its own science.And when a story invents its own rules,what matters is not if they are realistic,but if they are internally consistent.

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      Remember, Bioshock: Infinite is going by the rules realities branch off when you make a choice. In this case, the choice was whether or not to get baptized. Elizabeth made it so that the consequence to doing so is not becoming Comstock, but instead drowning. The priest never chose whether or not to drown Booker, but Booker chose to get baptized.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        I know, what I’m saying it that that is a stupid rule.

      2. Ace Calhoon says:

        That interpretation doesn’t really work though. The Luteces say that they “differ by a chromosome,” which means they were born male/female, and aren’t transgender/crossdressing/etc. Chromosomes aren’t impacted by a decision.

        Even if we wave off the Luteces, this interpretation still has problems. Namely that Booker/Comstock being dead is the result of at least two decisions:

        1. Booker/Comstock allowing himself to be drowned in a shallow pool by someone half his mass.

        2. Elizabeth deciding to drown Booker/Comstock.

        Each of those should have caused a split that allowed Comstock to exist.

    3. Kavonde says:

      Shamus mentioned his theory that the Booker at the end was his teenage self, but with all of his memories because quantums. I saw another explanation elsewhere, though, that posited… well, let me collect my thoughts. Stupid scientific theory.

      Okay, so. Elizabeth gains omniscience. She can now see the outcome of every timeline/dimension, and navigate between them (hence, the lighthouses). In an infinite number of universes, Booker and Elizabeth will defeat Comstock and destroy the Syphon. Then they will journey to the lighthouse ocean thing. And then that infinite number of omniscient Elizabeths will travel to the one point in Booker’s infinite timelines in which he made the choice of whether or not to become Comstock, and they will murder him before he can choose. This means that, if a single Booker ever becomes Comstock, eventually the possibility will rise for an infinite number of omniscient Elizabeths to kill him before he can become Comstock. Basically, if he gets baptized, he dies before he gets baptized. Thus, that choice will always end in paradox, and thus that choice cannot happen, and thus the only possible choice Booker can make is to not get baptized.

      There are still other Bookers that get baptized, and probably even some that take the name Comstock, but none of them got baptized on that day, or in that specific frame of mind; any that did can’t exist.

      Anyway, the drowning of Booker is probably more of a symbolic gesture aimed squarely at helping the audience understand. Elizabeth didn’t need to drown him, and didn’t need to do it in a depopulated facsimile of the actual baptismal pond. If it really needs to be justified, maybe she wanted to make sure Booker wouldn’t interfere. And while she (and the other hers present) were drowning him, other versions of her were off drowning Teenage Booker (or hitting him with a wagon, or shooting him, or whatever) before the baptism.

      1. Syal says:

        If it really needs to be justified, maybe she wanted to make sure Booker wouldn't interfere.

        Or maybe she’s still bitter that he sold her to pay gambling debts.

        1. Kavonde says:

          Or she’s really skeeved out that he spent all day staring at her chest.

  12. Steve C says:

    Consider this in regards to the paradox:
    In a DeWitt many-worlds universe everything that can happen, happens. So that means in some universes Booker is killed by tripping on a banana peel and breaking his neck before the baptism. Him dying is -not- the key to the story. It’s the prevention of Comstock in all universes. But because everything that can happen, happens, this is impossible. The only way to prevent it is by doing something that is actually impossible… like with a paradox.

    1. JPH says:

      That actually makes a great deal of sense.

    2. Asimech says:

      To me it makes more sense that the paradox would just cause that particular universe to be wiped out, meaning all the events in the game now didn’t-happen-happened [sic] instead of just happened.

      I understand there’s a “Happy Booker” clip after the credits. This is the game showing you another universe that still exists and where stuff actually-happens instead of doesn’t-happen-happens [sic].

      But I’m a curmudgeon about parallel universes and time travel*, so it could be just me.

      * Bit of the problem explained here: http://penny-arcade.com/2013/04/10

  13. swenson says:

    From purely Shamus’ article: I have not played the game, nor did I have much interest in doing so before reading that, but… that sounds like an awesome story.

  14. Deadpool says:

    A small note: The scene after the credits is 1893…

  15. Eric says:

    My opinion on BioShock Infinite is that it is basically the Lost of videogames: much ado about nothing. The plot is needlessly twisty and complicated not because it wants to say anything but precisely because it says nothing and leaves it up to the audience to figure things out. It’s cryptic, not intelligent, and vacant, not moving.

    I think this was a deliberate attempt by Irrational Games to create something that people would talk about for a long time but not a very genuine or credible attempt at actually telling a good story (because the number of holes, issues with themes and tone, etc. is sky-high).

    1. JPH says:

      Sky-high, you say? Ohohohohoho!

      1. rrgg says:

        The first two games were a little leaky and now the complaints with this one are sky-high. It almost sounds as though if they took the effort to keep the next one’s plot well-grounded then the game would seem sort of boring and unimaginative.

  16. Tony Kebell says:

    I’ve not watched this, but in the past, whenever you and Chris team up, to double-team review a game, the sheer accuracy and precision of your evaluation is staggering. I beleive if you two ever seriously collaborated and started a site or blog, etc, dedicated to games reviews (with a narrower focus etc, to really hone in on the subject matter) you’d bite away large chunks of the whole IGN/RPS/Gamespot/etc. crowd as you two really know how to orate you opinions and pick apart the pros and cons of a game.

    (You know IF it caught on, which can be hit or miss with the internet and IF the publisher gave you early copies, most of your discussion is weeks behind because you get games as consumer, not a reviewer)

    ANYWAY, bookmarking all this Bioshock stuff for, when I’ve finished the game…

    1. Siskel and Ebert: Video Games Edition. :D

      1. BeardedDork says:

        Only more alive, more alive would be better.

        1. Are you alive? Check all that apply:

          [] Yes
          [] No

          If you answered “Yes”, please continue being alive. Don’t stop being alive until you die.

    2. Jakey says:

      I would read the shit out of it, but the only downside is that the two of them seem to have enough on their plates as it is.

  17. “she provides the dimensional tears that allow Comstock to peer into the future.”
    Not having played the game, for a couple of paragraphs I was imagining this oddly magical physicist woman who cries strange quantum tears that allow the possessor to peer into the future.
    That would have been sort of cool.

  18. Galad says:

    Unrelated to the column, which I haven’t read yet:

    I’m using Vista, and apparently have DX10 installed. Bioshock Infinite seems to require DX11. While there seems to be a workaround for installing DX11 on Vista, it doesn’t seem to work. Anything I can do?

    If all this fails, in what order should I spoilerify myself?

    Thank you.

    1. Astor says:

      Vista can run DirectX 11 (see Update for Windows Vista KB971512). Do you keep your OS updated? you should! In any case the game has Directx 10 compatibility so you should be fine (unless you have an old graphics card).

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.