Bioshock Infinite a look back…
I want to talk some about my thoughts having played through Bioshock Infinite. I’m going to be freestyling here more or less late into the night of “Daily Show Time” but hopefully I think that it’ll come across as at least useful or interesting.
First of all, let me talk about some of the things I love about America.
1: We’re one of the most multicultural places on the face of the Earth as can be seen with the election of Barrack Obama a feat which probably struck some people as about as likely as an Irish guy getting elected (appointed? Doesn’t matter) Prime Minister of England. It helps establish how we as a nation are reaching for that goal of having all human beings created equal.
2: We’re a democracy which is a great thing as soon as you consider any of the alternatives.
3: Separation of Church and State is built right into our Constitution at the very top of the Bill of Rites which is another great thing considering what sorts of things have happened in some places where church and state are not kept apart.
4: We’re a country that preaches social mobility (this goes back somewhat to point one) and how anyone can rise above the station they were born at to make a better human being of themselves and make life better for their children.
5: We’re an extremely technologically advanced country which I like because I’m a lazy fat ass, but it also helps make point four possible somewhat because in theory the more technology someone has at their hands the more options they have.
That should do for now.
Columbia the city in the sky of Bioshock Infinite thus understandably trips all my buzzers about creating an “Uncanny Valley” image of America that calls itself America, but doesn’t actually have anything I like about America in it (other than technology but technology in this case is being used to oppress rather than uplift people so scratch that one off the list also.
1: Racism is so endemic to Columbia that before you get your very first weapon in the game your character ends up being invited to take part in what seems to either be a public stoning or at least humiliation and wounding/maiming of a white guy and black woman who dared to fall in love (with baseballs instead of stones its more AMERICAN that way).
2: Columbia is ruled by Zachary Comstock lock stock and barrel and nobody ever questions if he has a right to be running it.
3: Probably because Comstock is called “the Prophet” and is seen as a religious figure who is leading his flock rather than an out and out dictator.
4: A factory owner named Fink makes people work sixteen hour work days and pays them in company script… while they’re already effectively getting paid in company script on a city wide level (since I doubt that you would be able to use Silver Eagles to buy anything anywhere other than Columbia give or take issues of how much actual “silver” is in them) which is like being forced to live in the middle of a special company house that is already in the middle of a company town.
5: All of the new things showing up in Columbia aren’t even really being invented there, they’re just being cribbed from glances into other worlds and thus it gives Comstock greater control over what sorts of technologies he wants to bring across and which ones he wants to restrict.
6: Oh and did I forget to mention that Comstock is a clear fan of the “lost cause” (seriously they play “Rally Round the Bonnie Blue Flag” outside one of their measuems at one point) with a burning hate-on for Lincoln and being exactly one year old when the Civil War ended does not even have the fig leaf of being one of those actual old timey southern gentleman who is upset that his side lost the civil war? In fact it’s not even really clear if Comstock is actually southern or not (signs point to probably not for reasons I won’t go into explaining) which means that he’s actual a Northern Neo-Conferdate which just further explains how my vision of America and his vision of AMERICA are so different. Honestly it really is a shame that he doesn’t get gunned down by a mechanical Lincoln with a gatling gun, which believe it is not is not anywhere near as improbable as it might sound at first glance.
So yeah the city of Columbia is bizzaro land for me. They loudly proclaim AMERICA while having stripped away everything that made America worth looking up to as a country in the first place. Even more importantly they’ve left the union (because being a flying city means never having to respect federal authority) and floated away. At this point.. at this point I have to question how can they even be considered a parody of American Patriotism/Exceptionalism when they’ve cut ties with America for not being AMERICA enough and seem to have a real dislike of the American idea of obeying elected representatives? It gets to the point were you feel like it’s honestly something of an insult that their security forces are wearing indigo instead of gray!
But this brings up a problem eventually. (Gonna go into spoilers hear folks of the midgame “plot twist/discovery) and the Vox Populi who I will refer to as just the Vox because it’s easier to type. The Vox are chiefly made up of all the people who the Town of Rockridge would not want to have living next to them (IE N*****s C****s and of course the Irish) though strangely you see a lot more Vox Soldiers who fall into category one or category three, possibly so that the computer programers didn’t have to work on coding too many skin tones. Anyway, needless to say this means that they have all the best music in the game, though that is a pointless side note.
As of Mid game the Vox start behaving just as badly as Comstock’s people do by shooting captive soldiers, rounding up all the people with glasses, being ready to kill a kid just because of who his father was, in short doing all the sort of classic “evil rebel” things that are done to show that these people are not worthy of being put in charge.
Now here in lays the problem. Unlike Rapture which is composed of barely functional addicts who couldn’t possibly live anything like normal lives, Columbia is made up of ordinary people who are living in extraordinary circumstances. If they could be taken down to the world below them than they could probably live more or less happy and productive lives though they might have to be a little less racist/xenophobic but it being 1912 and all I’m sure they could get a job shouting about how much they hate immigrants from various town squares as Fox News had not been invented yet. (Kidding) So there’s a real city here filled with real people, and the “Founders” or the upper class of the city have been taking very real advantage of the people who make up the Vox, but at the same time, most of them are unaware of just how much the lower class has suffered due to the fact that they’re (the lower class people) worked around the clock and made to live in an entirely different part of the city.
The problem is that in its haste to trot out its normal “extremism is bad” Bioshock message, Bioshock Infinite basically writes off all of Columbia and never bothers to resolve this particular issue which in theory should be kind of a major point. At the very least since Columbia is so heavily stepped in America’s past and how some people view certain historical figures the question felt like it needed to be asked, when is a revolution justified in taking place?
Have the Vox suffered enough that they have a right to arm themselves and make war against those who have treated them as cattle rather than as human beings? They’re doubtlessly suffering just about every injustice our own Founding Fathers did as just to start with everyone living in Columbia has to give up 50% of what they make to Comstock (oh and its not a Tax, it’s a Tithe, just to further drive me up a wall) which I think goes well beyond taxing letter writing and beverages. These people have been squashed by the system and because of the nature of the system there is no hope for internal change as it was designed SPECIFICALLY to disenfranchise them (other than armed revolt what would their future look like but a boot stomping on their faces forever).
Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive because it is my own sacred cow being gored (at the very least I identify more with the Vox than the Founders) There was another great story that Bioshock Infinite could have told but didn’t. A story about revolutions and when they are justified and when they are not. A story about how to take back a system that has been corrupted or was made warped and twisted from the start in order to give people a fair deal and a chance at an honest life. A story about how to fight to take back control of a revolution that might be threatening to spiral out of control into mindless bloodshed against anyone who is or looks like they might be connected with the former ruling class. A story that would in some ways mirror the struggle of Americas own founders and serve as a counter point to Columbia’s Founders.
But that story never happened and the ending effectively sweeps away Columbia as a setting (meaning that if there is a Bioshock 4 (which I don’t see why not giving how this game is selling) it would be another man, another lighthouse another city entirely rather than a trip back to the previous games destination like Bioshock 2 was) which means that we’re never going to get a chance to tell that story. At least not with the Vox and the Founders. But it is a shame to think that the message that in its rush to say “Extremism is bad” Bioshock Infinite ends up at least partially going out (as the last gun battle you have in the game is against the Vox) “if you mistreat people long enough they will be reduced to rabid animals who become so consumed with hate they will be unable to focus on anything other than bloodshed and not be capable of building better lives for themselves even if given the tools to overthrow their oppressors”.
Frankly I play videogames to go to exciting places and see exotic sites and meet new and interesting people, many of whom I kill in new and interesting ways. If I wanted a metaphor for why the Middle East is going to remain a land of violence ignorance and hatred I’d play Spec Ops the line not Bioshock.