For over a year I had almost no time to play video games. A few months ago I managed to find some free time again, so I finally played through Mass Effect 3, and now I’m working through Bioshock Infinite. I’m enjoying it while it lasts, because I may well soon lose extra gaming time again. :)
I’m not that far into the game yet, seems like less than halfway. For all its good points, one thing still bothers me – I’m playing a bit of a psychopathic murderer. I’m not referring to the whole “must atone for his violent past and poor life choices” plot line. He was a Pinkerton thug, and before that he “fought” at the massacre at Wounded Knee, and the story arc looks like it’s going to be one of redemption. That’s totally legit, and pretty good storytelling. What I’m referring to is the way the First-Person-Shooter motivation is handled.
Like most video games, the majority of the game play comes from killing tons of dudes. The motivation for this doesn’t have to be complicated – the other side is evil aliens, or mobsters, or Nazis, or even just soldiers from the other side. You’ve got an easy audience here – we signed up for a game were we run around killing tons of dudes, the simplest excuse will work.
Bioshock Infitine sets the stage for you before throwing the enemies at you. You get to walk around the city and meet its inhabitants, and get a feeling for them as people. They have hopes and worries, they gossip and complain. Their two biggest sins are that they are religious zealots, and they’re very racist. First, my parents are religious zealots, and I don’t think that makes them worthy of extermination. Second, this game takes place in 1912, where even people who weren’t bad were a bit racist. To overcome this, the game makes the racist to the point of absurdity. A conversation I overheard could be summed up in this exchange:
A: “Wow, I am so racist!”
B: “Not a racist as me! I’m more racist!”
A: “It sure is great being racist!”
B: “I love being a racist in a city of super-racists!”
A: “You know the best thing about being racist? All the racism!”
B: “God bless racism!”
It goes a bit far at times. Anyway, the infiltration part of the game ends when I have to choose to join in the stoning of an interracial couple or throwing the baseball at an authority figure ordering the stoning. There doesn’t look to be enough baseballs to kill the couple, this is one of those public-flogging types of events that will leave them beaten and bloody, and possibly permanently damaged. Obviously I’m not gonna join in so I chuck the ball at the evil authority figure. Naturally a nearby policeman tries to stop me, and I reply by… bashing his face in with a metal implement until he dies from it, then doing the same to his partner.
After that I take their guns and go on a murderous rampage while the cops try to stop my reign of terror. Call me crazy, but that seems like a bit of an overreaction.
The main objective of the game is to rescue a girl and take her out of the city. If I had her in tow and guys started shooting at me to try to stop me, I’d be ok with gunning them down. Yeah, maybe they think they’re stopping a kidnapper or something, but like I said – I’m an easy audience. I’m here to run around shooting guys, and the excuse of “they’re the security detail that’s stopping me from rescuing the girl” is good enough. That the writers added the “I’m here to kill all the racists” thing at the beginning really makes me uneasy. It has shattered my comfortable veneer of justification by trying to give me too much justification and failing to take into account that maybe I think racism is bad, but not death-penalty-worthy. It’s detracting from my enjoyment of the game. Something keeps bothering me, saying “Dude, wtf?”
But hey, I’m not that far into the game, maybe this was intentional and it’ll pay off.