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On BioShock Infinite (and Games as a Narrative Medium)

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I’ve spent a lot of time this past week thinking about BioShock Infinite. This is somewhat unusual seeing as how I got into video games only a couple of years ago and am not really a gamer in any real sense of the word. I’m wary of open-world games and military shooters and I cannot play for longer than an hour without getting distracted. I gave up on critical darlings like Dishonored, Crysis 2 and Far Cry 3. I’m that guy.

Having said that, BioShock Infinite was different. I know I’m supposed to mull over what the game has to say about race, politics, feminism, American exceptionalism and religion. Sure, all that’s really interesting. And yes, the game excels at world-building. Columbia is an amazing yet terrifying place – one man’s utopia is another’s dystopia etc. The ending was incredibly complex and satisfying. It was, without a doubt, the most I’ve been invested in a game. Ever.

Plot and game mechanics aside, what BioShock Infinite really changed my mind about is video games as a narrative medium. The more I think about it, it really isn’t possible to distill the philosophy and story of Infinite into a film or even, a book (unless of course, it’s an intertextual tome a la Infinite Jest but that runs the risk of being, well, tedious). A film certainly wouldn’t do the story any justice because a lot of the plot is picked up via ‘voxphones’ and that too, only if you actually listen to them. Many actions in the game are purely optional but every single one of them add to the experience. And the experience is overwhelming.

Ken Levine, Irrational’s creative director has ensured that the story and philosophy is relatively high-brow whilst throwing in references to the Beach Boys and quantum theory. There is even a little fan service (Rapture!) at the very end.

Sure the game has its flaws and I’m positive, like most things that achieve this level of popularity, it will be dissected and derided by many cultural contrarians. I’ve been guilty of that in the past. But that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from picking up a copy of the game or even talking to someone who’s played it.

I’ve changed my mind about video games. I now see how it really is a legitimate artistic form that is often misunderstood and not given enough credit. BioShock Infinite made me think and feel and want to discuss it at length. I’m pretty sure that’s what art is supposed to do.

Categories: Art, Films, Uncategorized.

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