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Video games, as a form, have always lent themselves to being an interactive form and medium. More recently a focus has been made in the gaming industry to make this medium far more cinematic in both cut-scene graphics and general game play. Irrational Game’s Bioshock Infinite lends itself to both the tradition of the first-person shooter, or FPS, genre as much as it lends itself to the cinema traditions of interactive cinema. By becoming a hybrid of FPS and interactive cinema, Bioshock Infinite plays and twists the idea of choice effecting narrative and the psychological impact it has on the player-audience.
Biohock Infinite is the third in a series of games by Irrational Games and follows on the success of the first two games in the franchise. You, the player-audience, play as Booker DeWitt. Booker is a former solider turned Pinkerton turned private detective. You move through the floating city of Columbia with a companion in the form of Elizabeth Comstock in an attempts to , as the game explains, “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” and to escape the religious zealot , Zachory Comstock. Along the way you fight , FPS style, bosses and hoards while collecting narrative enriching voxophones and watching kinetscopes.
In many ways Bioshock Infinite is a remediation of past cinematic tradition. Remediation can be defined as the processes of taking one form of media and recycling it into another. While the process does not mean a shot for shot recreation but rather borrows from one medium to another. Franchise like Bioshock have not only remediation themselves from other gaming franchises but from cinema. One prime example is that the first-person film called Lady in the Lake from 1947. While the game is described as an FPS it still plays like a living film. Just as one would not see star Robert Montgomery, a play sees nothing more than Booker’s hands from reloading and cycled hand animations after one is given power-ups called “Vigors” and only sees Booker’s face once reflection in water.
Within the narrative of the game a player is given both optional choices such as heads or tails and the choice to shoot the seemingly innocent citizens of Columbia as they travel and explore the world. Yet the choices that a player makes seems almost meaningless to the whole game. Most choices , such as the infamous “bird or the cage” choice, only seem to affect the aesthetic values.
This seems to lull a player into following the narrative and focus on shooting the swarms of enemies coming at you. Yet other choices, ones that involve life or death, seem to haunt the future and cause different reactions from Elizabeth and Booker’s programming. Yet none affect the seemingly one true ending that the game strives for.
Much like the film Kinoautomat which has narrative branches but ultimately has a similar ending, Bioshock Infinite uses this to subvert the idea of choice itself. As Elizabeth, upon the aftermath of the climatic battle, states “there’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city.”
No matter how much one plays the game they will always come upon the same ending; Elizabeth drowning Booker to prevent Zachary Comstock from ever being.
However this subversion the game wishes for does not truly come to fruition. There may always be a man, city and lighthouse, but like all media each player-audience has its own relationship to choice. In the diagram by E.P Bucy a viewers own perceptions lead to a subjective experience of what becomes viewed. This subjective experience becomes ones own “man. city. lighthouse.” No one person has the same reactions, choices and game play as another.
In one instance of the game I can choose to pick the bird, my boyfriend can pick the cage. We both interact with the choice with our own perceptions and subjective experiences, ones that we gained by interacting not only with the game play but with the cinematic sequences we watched before making that choice. While we think that this will cause a new narrative path in the game it ultimately does not. Yet when we became confronted with the choice to fulfill a character’s wish to die and left him to live we became subjected to the connotations of our own subjectivity again. Over and over a player is face with the choices in the game but we always come back to a similar ending.
In her writing The Fantasy Beyond Control, Lynn Hershman states that “a (pre) condition of a video dialogue is that it does not talk back. Rather, it exists as a moving stasis;a one-sided discourse…” (Hershman 644). It would seem like the subjective ideas a player puts into this highly-cinematic game would make it seem like the game does not talk back. Yet the fact it does loop to the same inevitable end , how Elizabeth declares her statement and her ultimate killing off all the Bookers there ever are and ever will be seems to make that Bioshock Infinite has a way to talk back. Hershman seems to miss a critical part of cinema to viewer dialogue within this games realm; choice is only an illusion that your own subjectivity makes and that this dialogue can talk back.
For as much as Bioshock Infinite’s own characters and we as player want to control Elizabeth and our interactive choices one can not fully do so. We can only grasp the full control, even in a limited and subjective state, when a player realizes that the interactive choices that we make are a result of our own subjectivity. Only then will we fully interact with the games illusion of choice.
Bucy, Erik P. “Interactivity in Society: Locating and Elusive Concept.” Information Society. 20. (2004): 373-383. Print.
Hershman, Lynn. “The Fantasy Beyond Control.” New Media Reader. (2003): 643-647. Print.
In class lectures
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