Corey and Liam Debate the Ending to “Bioshock Infinite”

Corey has already written a reactionary piece, ending explanation, and secrets revealed piece all about to hit game Bioshock Infinite, in which the drunken, wayward hero has to rescue a girl from a tower in a floating city in the sky. Corey finished the game quite some time ago, dubbing it a masterfully violent and colorful mess. Liam finished it much more recently and thought it forced, trite, and dull. This has inevitably sparked intense debate, which can be read below:


Booker DeWitt, the protagonist in Bioshock Infinite.

Liam: Oh, by the way, I enjoyed your pieces on BI on the blog. I read them after I finished the game.

Corey: What do you think about the ending?

LM: Ehh, I think that the ending retroactively made the whole story a lot more interesting and worthwhile, but it did nothing the improve combat/actual gameplay, both of which kind of bored me. In the end the multiverse theory that it employs is genuinely intriguing, and unraveling the mystery was a bit of a surprise, but I’m not sure it was all worth it for me.

CP: Understandable.

LM: I do find it sort of weird that the most interesting part of the game – the ending plot twist – had nothing to do with the actual gameplay and that there is a little bit of a “let me explain this to you” feel at the end, like they’re turning to you and saying, “Well we reached the end and it still all doesn’t make any sense so here’s a mess of images to kinda clear it up. Still have questions? Fuck you.”

CP: Haha! Well I don’t think it’s really a mess of images per se. They walk you through it slowly enough, and it comes as quite the shock (typical of the franchise) once you realize the whole Booker-Comstock, Anna-Elizabeth dynamic. But it is definitely jarring and confusing. I think that’s why I originally delved so much into the “secrets” of the game, so I could understand it more. But you’re right, a lot of things kind of seem tossed in there for convenience. The images of the Lighthouses definitely are just kind of thrown at you as a kind of heavy-handed visual representation of what’s going on. They have to condescend to the player by having Elizabeth condescend to Booker with the lighthouses: “a million million lighthouses leading to a million million different universes.”

LM: Right. Also, the brief moment in Rapture was just downright masturbatory.

CP: See I liked it! And I wouldn’t go so far as to call it masturbatory. The nature of the word implies that it’s an action that’s supposed to produce something but it doesn’t. Something that is done as a pleasurable end in and of itself.

LM: Yah. Exactly. Kevin Levine getting his jollies by being able to claim the two games are related. With no real worth or impact on the game itself.

CP: I think that tying Rapture in is self-indulgent in a way, but it also creates a broader multiverse to house all of Bioshock in. Because Levine’s able to do both, it works, even if it doesn’t work the best thematically.

LM: But masturbation is self-indulgence.

CP: It’s a kind of self-indulgence, but not all acts of self-indulgence are masturbatory. I think the whole bit does add to the mythos of the series, to have the multiverse theory that’s already there bring in Rapture. Whenever you have a story that involves time and space travel, stuff like this already happens. Problems and explanations that you’d never expect because the makers always just do whatever they want. Like Doctor Who!

LM: That’s completely different. But the story of the first Bioshock doesn’t involve Booker or Comstock or Elizabeth! Including it here is just the creator winking at the player.

CP: What about the “A man, a city, a lighthouse.” bit? And don’t forget how things like Big Daddies and Plasmids were directly ripped by Fink via tears to manufacture things like the Songbird, Vigors, Handymen, etc. Rapture was there all along in the background. It was there before Columbia both in the overarching Bioshock series and in the world of Infinite. The Lutece’s could have theoretically made the floating city and helped Comstock steal Anna without meddling in Rapture but the influence of the underwater city was felt throughout the whole story. Sure, bringing us there in the end is a very big, very ridiculous wink, but it ties in with this theme in Bioshock Infinite of inter-dimensional travel. Theoretically, Elizabeth’s powers should make her able to go anywhere, including Rapture. Her powers are limitless!

LM: Yah but we kinda already got that from everything else that had happened, so it’s not 100% necessary to throw it in the mix. I’m saying it was Kevin Levine utilizing player recognition as an in-joke for himself and not focusing on trying to tell the story as best as possible.

CP: I’ll grant you that at least. He did do it partially as a bit of an uber-cool in-joke with himself, but I also think that it functions in the overarching narrative. Bioshock 1 and 2 were inextricably tied together, and then all of a sudden Infinite is this crazy city in the clouds that is almost entirely unrelated, like a Final Fantasy-esque sequel where it’s similar but different in almost every way. This is Levine’s way of reeling it in and containing a universe growing too big for its britches.

LM: I guess. But I’m saying that the jokeyness of it supercedes its functionality.

CP: Jokeyness or hokeyness?

LM: Haha. I don’t know. I guess I just thought it was stupid, alright?

CP: Fair. But I disagree. It obviously wasn’t a necessary option for Kevin Levine to tie in Rapture, but i think it works logically when dealing with this whole multiverse theory and even just the name “Bioshock INFINITE“. It implies the infinitude of possible universes, one of which includes Rapture, and one of which includes Gallifrey. Part of me is very interested in the recent DLC as a result, because my impression is that Liz and (a version of) Booker go romping through post Bioshock 1 Rapture to solve some previously unforeseen problems. And from the looks of the trailer, I think this all fits with my interpretation of the ending to Infinite.

LM: But to literally have Booker say, “A city under the ocean? Huh, ridiculous.” I dunno. That just made it more a joke than a thematic moment. It pulled me right out of it.

CP: Yeah that part is definitely more joke than thematic moment. But I also think it opens up a great door for future games, particularly if you interpret the ending of Infinite the way that i do: what if our Elizabeth becomes an omniscient God who transcends the laws of time and space. She doesn’t disappear when the Comstock timeline is erased. And while the Comstock-Booker dies, another Booker still lives out there with a baby Anna. Bioshock Infinite 2: Elizabeth shows up, wounded or something, to Booker’s apartment in need of help. Someone’s using Tears to mess around with Rapture and they need to go stop it. If they don’t, then Rapture is destroyed and then so is Columbia, messing everything up. Inevitably, you’d figure out that you’re actually Atlas from Bioshock 1 or something equally as crazy.

LM: …

LM: Have you read this?

CP: That settles it then…! I saw what FILM CRIT HULK says goes.

LM: I think that we’re reaching a point in video games where the story has become paramount, which is superb. Viewing video games as a platform for the artistic, for story telling, means that the medium will only be pushed to greater heights and greater worth. However, the creators that work in the medium have yet to become worthy of its potential.

CP: I think that’s certainly true. I’ve seen games that excel at telling a story (Final Fantasy VII), create a world you can marvel at (Skyrim), convey an epic scope (Shadow of the Colossus), be incredibly cinematic (Metal Gear games), and just be downright fun to play (Super Smash Bros). But where are the games that try to do it all? Games have the potential to be fun, engaging, entertaining, and convey brilliant stories worth telling. So why do they settle for anything less so often? I think I see what you are getting at now. I think Bioshock Infinite was brilliant in a lot of ways, but it probably could have been a lot better if the right sorts of people were involved with aspects of the story development and things like that.

LM: Exactly. While the story of Bioshock Infinite is intriguing, it is hamfisted at every turn: it relies on bizarre storytelling choices that, for me, ruined the experience rather than create more mystery, that only came into focus once the big revelatory denouement at the end. Now things not making perfect sense until the end is a legitimate technique in storytelling. However, I would assert that the story needs to operate on a logical and organic level in order to earn that big reveal. I would also assert that Bioshock Infinite does not always operate on a logical or organic level. We discussed before the moment when Elizabeth brings up her missing finger in conversation quite randomly. From an organic level that moment is bizarre. Booker and Elizabeth are waiting for skyline cargo to get out of the way and she just says, “You can ask me about it, you know.” Which then launches into the conversation. As a player, yes I noticed her missing finger, but as a character, Booker did not. At least he provided me with no indication that he did. Now I operate in the game as Booker’s agent. I make most of his trivial decisions: who to kill, where to explore, what to collect. The narrative decisions are made by Booker are divorced from my agency as a player. To have this moment be organic, Booker should have called my attention to the missing finger, not me calling his attention, because I can’t do that. My curiosities in the game do not equal Booker’s. But the explanation of her finger is important to the narrative so Elizabeth just brings it up, out of the blue, apropos of nothing. Which shook me out of the moment. I saw a writer coming to Kevin Levine and saying “we haven’t set up the finger, we need to do that.” And thus this moment was born.

CP: In that sense, yeah, that might have just been a lazy add-on from a Story Producer or something of that sort. I think they were relying on more of a blend between player and in-game avatar. When Elizabeth shoved her finger in Booker’s – and our – face, both player and character are made overtly aware of its strangeness. It’s not like I had to shout out, “Woah look at that missing finger!” for it to be recognized. I think it’s possible that they were both just so busy that they didn’t have the time to make idle chit chat about it. And why would Booker even care about it? We notice inconsequential things about people all the time and don’t talk about them. When the opportunity came up for conversation, Elizabeth was the one to initiate, because Booker’s only concern is staying alive long enough to get Elizabeth to New York. It didn’t really detract from my experience at all, but I agree it perhaps could have been executed in a more effective fashion.

LM: Overall, I think at certain point Bioshock Infinite begins to throw everything at the wall in order to see what will stick. As a result any one idea Levine is keen on investigating is lost in the shuffle. Is this game about multiverses? Time travel? The butterfly effect? Redemption? The fallacies of using faith as a weapon? Racism? American exceptionalism? Jingoism? The French Revolution? The Reign of Terror? It is about all of these things, and as a result, its about none of these things.

CP: I admittedly had to look up Jingoism, and I know your sticky wall analogy is one of your personal favorites. It’s one of those commonly useful means of analysis that you can slap on any movie that becomes a clustercuss with too many things going on. I think the same critique could be made of narratives like LOST, Spider-Man 3, and The Amazing Spider-Man (just to name a few). Bioshock Infinite is something of an extreme in that it’s thematic ambitions are broad with very little depth. A shallow survey of all the things you mentioned doesn’t necessarily detract from my enjoyment of the game, but I can see how it makes it into a story that is lacking. You blindly hate Daisy Fitzroy without understanding why, so it just gets chalked up to a race and class war. You’re never really sure if/when the Tears you are traveling through also involve time travel. And all of the political machinations within Columbia clearly draw influences from all over the place without ever giving a clear picture of the resistance and what they stand for. I think that the game could have been done much better had it been considerably longer and delved more into the factions of the war, or even had you spend more time in completely different timelines fighting for each side. Comstock a hero in some and villain in others, but always your enemy? They had that possibility with Elizabeth’s tears as a mechanism – they had infinite possibility! – but they didn’t use it to its fullest potential. Once Elizabeth figures out how to make the larger Tears, things do sort of derail and blur together in an epic, confusing mess of sorts. And it gets so distracting that you can’t really pay enough attention to anything substantive going on around you.

LM: Now I think I’m beginning to get you. Last point: aside from what I thought was some subpar writing of an intriguing concept, Bioshock Infinite doesn’t play well. The controls are loose and imprecise. The combat is stale, repetitive, and repetitive. By the end of the game each coming battle brought a grimace to my face. Another horde of the same enemies descended upon me from all sides as I desperately tried to figure out who the hell was shooting me and could I electrocute him before he blew open my skull. Infinite, for my tastes, was a dull game with an intriguing, but poorly executed concept. In an effort of full disclosure I have only ever enjoyed, really enjoyed, one first-person shooter and that was Metroid Prime, which as far as I’m concerned, is the pinnacle of the genre.

CP: See I think it’s just because you don’t play very many FPS games (First-Person Shooter). When you compare Infinite to something more typical like the Call of Duty franchise or even a more similar sci-fi game like Halo, the combat system in Infinite is dynamic and exciting. The variety of Vigors is just darn cool and the weapons are somewhat simple albeit pretty retro and/or steampunk, but it all fits with the period and style of the game. To really get the best out of the combat system, you have to figure out the best Vigors and weapons to use for any given environment and any given enemy, which only gets more bananas when you factor in the Skyrails and your Skyhook. I’ve never played Metroid Prime, but I actually log the Bioshock games as my favorite examples of what FPS games should do to keep the gameplay engaging. The Crysis games are also worth mentioning for that, but for me Bioshock revels in a battle system that is necessarily simple yet just complex enough. But for me, the form of the game in its stylistic beauty worked damn well even if it slipped up on the overall function at times.